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Duramax Diesel 101: Basics and Benefits

What’s a diesel engine? Why would you want one in your pickup truck? Learn the basics and benefits of opting for a diesel engine, including the Duramax Diesel engines available in the GMC Canyon and GMC Sierra HD.

From driveline to cab configuration and everything in between, there are many options to consider when buying a new pickup truck. One decision involves the choice of engine. Some pickup trucks – including the GMC Canyon and the GMC Sierra HD – also offer a diesel engine as an available option.


What’s a diesel engine? Why would you want a Duramax Diesel in your next GMC pickup? Here are some of the basics and benefits of a diesel engine.



Fundamentally, diesel engines operate much like a gasoline engine. Within the engine itself, a controlled combustion within a cylinder chamber causes pistons to move up and down, which in turn causes a crankshaft to rotate. That force is essentially the power that ultimately moves your truck.


However, a diesel’s combustion process is much different from a gasoline engine. Most gasoline engines are known as spark-ignition engines. In these designs, internal combustion is produced once a mixture of fuel and air is ignited within a cylinder head by an electrical spark plug.


Diesel engines are known as compression-ignition engines. Diesel fuel – which is far different than gasoline -- is injected into the combustion chamber at high pressure once the air inside the cylinder has already been compressed to a high pressure level. Because the air inside the cylinder grows hot when it’s compressed, it’s warm enough to ignite the diesel fuel without needing a spark, or a spark plug.


But why choose a diesel over a gasoline engine? Diesels, like the Duramax Diesel turbo-diesel 2.8-liter I-4 offered in the GMC Canyon small pickup truck, and the 6.6-liter turbo-diesel V-8 available in the GMC Sierra HD, offer distinct advantages that may be beneficial in how you plan on using your new truck.


  • Low-End Torque: Torque is the measure of an engine’s ability to move heavy loads, whether it’s a payload in a pickup box or a heavy trailer attached to the hitch. Having more torque is always a good thing, but having a substantial amount in the lower ranges of the engine’s rev band makes it easier to quickly and confidently launch a loaded truck. That can be quite advantageous when pulling a heavy trailer on a highway on-ramp. Because of their high cylinder compression and long piston stroke, diesel engines are generally able to produce a substantial amount of low-end torque. Certainly, GMC’s latest Duramax Diesel 6.6-liter V-8, available in the 2017 Sierra 2500 HD and 2017 Sierra 3500 HD, provides plenty of pulling power. This state-of-the-art diesel engine produces a tremendous 910 lb-ft of torque, with over 90 percent of that power available just over 1500 rpm. Even our smaller Duramax Diesel, the 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder available in the GMC Canyon, offers 369 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm.


  • Enhanced Trailering: Diesel trucks often provide higher trailering ratings than comparably-equipped trucks with a gas engine. For instance, a two-wheel drive Canyon crew cab equipped with the 3.6-liter gasoline V-6 has a max trailering rating of 7000 pounds. A comparably-equipped two-wheel drive Canyon crew cab equipped with the available Duramax Diesel 2.8-liter I-4, however, has a max trailering rating of 7700 pounds – the highest towing rating of any midsize pickup.1


  • Exhaust Braking: Both our Duramax Diesel engines are offered with an exhaust brake, which leverages engine compression to help slow the vehicle down and provide the driver with enhanced control, especially on steep hills Using the exhaust brake can slow a truck on long, steep stretches with reduced wear on the conventional brake system.


  • Improved Efficiency: There’s no better example of a diesel engine’s ability to operate efficiently than the Canyon Diesel. Canyon’s available 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder allows it to offer impressive EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings. Two-wheel drive Canyon Diesel models are EPA rated at an estimated 31 mpg highway – the best fuel economy rating of any pickup truck on the market.