We've had a few customers enquire about the implications of using diesel engines given the recent attention in the media to the health problems associated with diesel emmissions. We've had customers who have opted for older (Euro 5) vehicles in preference over newer (Euro 6) engines, we've also had customers who have opted for Euro 6 to try and 'futureproof' against banning of diesel engines. As a purely personal opinion on the matter, I thought it's worth reproducing an email exchange I had with a customer as it helped them see the facts behind the diesel fumes!
"...the issue that concerns us is whether we need a EU6 engine. Many of the guidelines for major cities across the EU that are planning to exclude diesel vehicles will exempt EU6 (at least initially). This ability to drive our van into a city could be important for us if we are using this vehicle as a family car...."
I used to work in the steering body for Mercedes-Benz on emission levels for heavy trucks, so I’ve seen this happen before with cities putting exclusions on various classes of vehicles. London was the very first back in the 80’s with their ‘low noise emission’ class. I know there is debate in some environmental circles about banning diesel vehicles in cities altogether which concerned you. My personal opinion is that this is a pipe dream. There isn’t a commercial vehicle built nowadays that isn’t diesel powered, so if they want things delivered into cities, it will be pulled into town by a diesel engine. One fact we used to quote when people claimed that trucks and vans were nasty evil polluters is that everything we eat, wear and consume in any shape or fashion has been transported at some point on a truck or van. So like it or lump it, without diesel engines there is no essential or consumer goods available to the masses!
However, banning, or more likely, taxing diesel cars is something they may try to phase in as they try to force commuters to consider alternative modes of transport. This is where you might have a problem. Technically, once your van is converted into a campervan, it’s registration class changes from light goods vehicle (a van) to motorhome (a passenger car), the technical change is N1 Goods Vehicle (below 3.5tonne) to M1 Passenger Vehicle (less than 8 seats). I personally wouldn’t like to guess how long it would be till they banned diesel cars in cities. Given that some 60% of cars purchased now throughout Europe are diesels and less than 5% are hybrids or electric, my guess is that we’d be looking at a minimum of 20 years before any carpet ban was placed on diesels as quite simply the alternatives aren’t there. Yes, the later the emission level (e.g. Euro 6) the ‘longer’ or cheaper for you that you will be allowed with your camper into major cities that impose ‘clean zones’. London for example is currently pushing through a ban on Euro IV and older (12 year old technology) on heavy trucks and it’s filtering down to vans, although not yet cars.
With regards to longevity of an E6 as current technology, we have actually reached the end of the planned emissions reduction programme – the manufacturers and scientists have told the EU parliament that the cost of development is exponential and that they won’t fund research for Euro VII levels. My understanding is that this has been accepted by the WG responsible for the directives concerned. An analyst I knew has identified that with a E6 engine, a commercial vehicle actually generates more ‘particulates’ from the wearing out of tyres and brake pads than escapes from the diesel engine.
With the politics covered, what are the practicalities for you with a diesel campervan?
A Euro 6 typically uses three systems to reduce the three target emmisions:
1. A catalytic converter to reduce the CO emmisions.
2. A diesel particulate filter to reduce the particulates or ‘soot’ (often called a DPF)
3. A selective catalytic converter to convert the NOx gases (often couples with exhaust gas recirculation to help get the temperatures right for the process).
Selective catalytic reduction uses a chemical called adblue (primarily urea) to ‘dose’ the exhaust gases. This effectively turns the Nitrous Oxides into ammonia and other environmentally harmless chemicals (useless fact for you - if you’ve ever wondered why the plant life at the sides of the roads seems more rampant nowadays, it’s because of the nitrous oxide ‘fertilizer’ coming out of the exhausts of all the high powered diesels we drive, great for plant life – not so good for us!). From a practical perspective, there is another ‘tank’ to top up that holds the Adblue. Realistically, you need to top up the tank once every few thousand miles.
A problem that occurs with DPF’s is that if they are only used for short runs, the exhaust doesn’t get hot enough to burn off the particulates in the filter. Some manufacturers (e.g. BMW) have an integrated system where they can heat the DPF in the workshop and burn the soot off – but they like to charge a tidy sum for this service (even though all they do is plug it in to the mains and leave it sitting for 4 hours!). The more practical way is just to ensure that you take your vehicle for a good run up and down the motorway every so often.
Other than the topping up of the Adblue and making sure the exhaust gets good and toasty every now and then, there is no real downside to a E6 engine. They’ve been operating in heavy commercial vehicles now for over 4 years and the ‘technology’ has been honed and proven there before it has filtered down to light commercials and cars. So I wouldn’t have any concerns about the reliability of the technology in E6.
If you want to look further into the longevity of the various Euro levels, you could start with Wikipedia, although I noticed that the dates are wrong on here as we ended up with derogation for light commercial vehicles to Dec 16 in Euro 6 and it was not mandatory in 2014 as listed in Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_emission_standards
Probably a very long answer for what you thought was a quick question – so sorry about that – but hopefully this will help you to gauge how long your investment would last.