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Premium vs. top-tier diesel? Which diesel fuel type should you use?


Fueling up a diesel truck often creates questions at the pump with new diesel fuel types. Should you use premium vs. top-tier diesel? One is clearly better.

As the owner of a new 2023 Chevy Silverado with the 3.0-liter LZ0 Duramax diesel, there’s a pretty steep learning curve on diesel engines. For example, the owner’s manual recommends top-tier diesel, and that fuel type is nearly impossible to find these days. This lead me to wonder about premium diesel instead.

Premium vs. top-tier diesel

The premium vs. top-tier diesel is a top of discussion for diesel truck owners, yet this debate should be long over after talking through the history of diesel fuel with Garth Redifer, vice president of sales for Power Service Products.

Our conversation, found in the video below, covered a wide range of topics mostly discussing using diesel fuel additives. Before we talked about additives, we discussed fuel types.

Redifer shared the history of top-tier diesel and how it is now an afterthought due to a variety of problems.

“I think it was 2017 when it kind of really started, and it kind of flattened out pretty quickly because there were a lot of supply issues,” Redifer said. “There’s some requirements. It was cumbersome and expensive for the retail gasoline and diesel distributor locations in order to put it out there.

It fell short on a lot of the other issues that are happening within diesel fuels. It specifically looked at detergent and kind of grouped the diesel needs in with what the gasoline needs have been with top tier gas.”

Most gas station retailers have since dropped the product.

Premium diesel is using a different strategy.

“The National Council of Weights and Measures said in 2019, here’s what we need to do for a premium diesel so then it became a competition of top-tier versus premium diesel fuel,” Redifer said. “Once the NCVW actually put a premium diesel standard out there that dealt with fuel tank hygiene, winterization, cetane as well as detergent standards that really took over and took place of what top-tier was trying to do at that point.”

These advanced diesel fuel types are important since, unlike gasoline, there is no real standard for diesel fuel. As Redifer told me, “diesel fuel is just diesel fuel.”

By adding in additives to the diesel fuel, it improves the product allowing for better long-term reliability and performance for diesel engines through better lubrication of the injectors, less water and bacteria build up in the fuel tank and a higher cetane level (aiming for 50 cetane and above) meeting the needs of new, advanced diesel engines like the Chevy Silverado 3.0-liter Duramax diesel engine.

Brands like Cenex are pushing premium diesel and highlighting its benefits like: “A premium diesel has a higher cetane number, better lubricity and includes detergents that provide injector-cleaning capability versus standard No. 2 diesel. Cetane measures a fuel’s ignition delay. Higher cetane equals a shorter delay and better ignition quality for quicker start-ups and less pollution.”

The bottom line

With a diesel truck, fuel matters as do additives to improve poor quality fuel. It seems like every long-time diesel owner has either a gas station brand or an additive they swear by keeping costly repairs done and keeping up the performance of their truck. I certainly will be paying much more attention to where I get my diesel fuel, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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