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What is Diesel Oil?

By Jodee Redmond
Updated May 23, 2024
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Diesel oil, more correctly called diesel fuel, is a heavy fuel that is used to power a wide variety of vehicles. Most diesel is derived from petroleum, in which case it is called petrodiesel, but renewable materials can also be used to make synthetic or biodiesel. There are pros and cons to using this fuel, both in terms of vehicle use and health.


This fuel is made by distilling hydrocarbon components out of crude oil. The resulting product is called petrodiesel, since it's made from petroleum. This is not the only way to make diesel though. Synthetic diesel oil is used to fuel cars, trucks, and some aircraft. It can be made from such items as:

  • Corn
  • Food scraps
  • Garbage
  • Hemp
  • Straw
  • Wood

Another form of this fuel is biodiesel. Vegetable oil or animal fats form the basis for this product, which is a being used more often to fuel modern engines. Diesel oil made in this way runs cleaner than the more traditional petroleum product. It can be blended with petroleum-based diesel, or petrodiesel.


Both petrodiesel and biodiesel can be used to power a wide range of vehicles. Since it's often generally more efficient than gasoline when it comes to heavy loads, it's commonly used in farming equipment, military transport, off road vehicles, mining and logging equipment, and for fueling generators. Besides this, some private vehicles have diesel engines, and a few models can use biodiesel. There are also kits that people can use to retrofit their cars to accept biodiesel made from waste kitchen oil, which some people do to make their cars more environmentally friendly and save money on fuel.

Illegal Uses

Different mixtures of diesel oil are designed for different purposes, and using them for an unauthorized purpose is illegal in some countries. For example, blends that are used for off road vehicles or agricultural equipment is often higher in sulfur than those used for regular private vehicles. Since it's not used as an on-road vehicle fuel, it's taxed at a much lower rate than regular diesel, which makes it significantly cheaper, leading some people to substitute it for the more expensive on-road diesel. This is usually illegal, and can lead to heavy fines.

Pros and Cons

Diesel is a popular choice for heavy machinery and vehicles, since it's less flammable and explosive than gasoline. It's also less likely to cause an engine to stall. Despite this, it is heavier than gasoline, and can be affected by cold weather. In terms of health, diesel emissions are associated with increased risk of cancer. They also aggravate respiratory conditions, like asthma, and increase a person's risk of heart disease. While people who work in close proximity to vehicles fueled by diesel oil are most at risk, those who commute or drive often are exposed to emissions as well.

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