Kerosene Vs. Diesel – Do They Differ Much?

Vehicle engines require fuel for combustion. There are different kinds of fuels that engines run on, the most common being gasoline and diesel. What about kerosene? Can engines run on it? There are engines designed to run on kerosene but not as many as diesel and gasoline-run types. The kerosene vs. diesel discussion is common among car pundits, with many focusing on their similarities and interchangeable application.

You are in the right place if you want to learn more about kerosene and diesel. Sit tight as we take a comprehensive look at these two petroleum extracts.

What Is Kerosene?

Kerosene is a flammable petroleum product with multiple uses, mostly household in stoves, heaters, and lamps. It is used as fuel in jet engines and sparingly in vehicle engines. You can use kerosene to clean engine sludge. Also known as paraffin or lamp oil, it has a pale yellow to clear appearance and a low viscosity.



The history of this fuel dates back to the ninth century when Razi, a Persian scholar, wrote about its extraction with other hydrocarbons from petroleum. The Chinese used kerosene during the Ming Dynasty by purifying crude oil and using it as lamp oil.

Coal oil, a byproduct of coal gas and coal tar production, is chemically similar to kerosene and was extensively used during the 18th century. Abraham Gineo, a Canadian geologist, discovered this fuel in the 1840s after experimenting with several hydrocarbons. Abraham initially named the product keros elain from the Greek word for wax oil. He later renamed it kerosene.

Samuel Martin Kier takes credit as the first person to refine petroleum into kerosene. This fuel replaced whale oil as a better lamp oil alternative.


As previously hinted, kerosene was initially acquired from coal before petroleum became the go-to source via refinery. Refining involves fractional distillation, where crude oil is heated to separate components with different boiling points.

Components with low boiling points, like naphtha, are the first to get extracted. Kerosene comes second after naphtha, extracted between 302- and 525 degrees Fahrenheit. The extracted kerosene enters a merox treater to eliminate mercaptans.

The treater’s environment should be alkaline, achieved by using ammonia or caustic. The reaction requires a catalyst, and the mercaptans convert to hydrocarbon disulfides.

K1 vs. k2 kerosene, what is the difference? The difference between these two kerosene varieties is the sulfur content. K1 is the most commonly used variety and contains low sulfur, courtesy of merox treatment. K2 kerosene may have as much as ten times the sulfur content as k1.

Kerosene As Fuel

Due to its low viscosity, kerosene is the go-to fuel for jet engines, as it doesn’t feel ‘gummy’ like gasoline. Additionally, kerosene has a higher flash point and lower freezing point than gasoline, plus it is cheaper.

What about kerosene for cars? During the 20th century, some engines could run on kerosene, mostly tractors. These vehicles used gasoline to start and shift to kerosene after the engine warmed up. Several cars ran on kerosene during the Post-War era, especially in Europe, due to this fuel’s affordability.

You can use kerosene in diesel engine, but you will compromise performance and efficiency.

What Is Diesel

Diesel is the most commonly used fuel in diesel engines. This fuel comes from several sources, primarily crude oil and sometimes goes by petrodiesel. Biodiesel comes from vegetable oil and animal fats. In contrast, synthetic oil comes from carbonaceous materials like coal, biomass, and natural gas.

The color of this fuel can be clear, red, green, or blue to differentiate its applications. The colored varieties have dyes.



Rudolf Diesel, a German scientist, and inventor laid down the blueprint for diesel fuel for his compression ignition engine, which he invented in 1892. He experimented with crude oil, gasoline, and kerosene for his engine, which showed promising results.

The first diesel engine produced in 1898 used shale oil, especially in Scotland and France, as other options were pricey. Diesel engines ran on cheaper options before the standardization of diesel. The fuels varied depending on the country; for instance, in the US, the fuels came from petroleum distillation, while coal-tar creosote was the alternative in Europe.

Over the years, the diesel engine underwent several modifications, notably the combination of turbocharging technology in 1925 by Swiss scientist Alfred Buchi. The improvements in the engine led to its use on motor vehicles in the 1930s. This milestone called for top-grade fuels for efficiency, thus, the standardization of diesel after World War 2.


Diesel production is mainly through crude oil refinery. The oil gets heated in a distillation chamber to separate its components depending on their boiling point. Diesel gets extracted between 392-662 degrees Fahrenheit.

Synthetic diesel production mainly relies on the Fischer-Tropsch process to extract fuel from carbon feedstocks like natural gas and coal. Many fuel production companies prefer this method of diesel production, as the fuel has a low sulfur content.

There are two types of diesel depending on quality. These are diesel 1 and 2: the former is premium quality diesel that is light and ideal for winter driving. Diesel 2 is the regular diesel found in most filling stations and is cheaper than diesel 1.

Many countries in North America and Europe use ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD), which has low sulfur. The use of ULSD helps emission control.  

Kerosene Vs. Diesel Differences

Kerosene and diesel are middle distillates in petroleum refining, with diesel extracted right after kerosene. We will examine the differences between these two liquid fuels depending on several facets, as highlighted below.

kerosene vs diesel


Kerosene is mainly used in domestic applications for lighting, cooking, and heating. It is fuel for lighting lamps, kerosene heaters, and stoves in various parts of the world. Furthermore, it powers jet engines due to its low viscosity, affordability, and higher flash point compared to alternatives like gasoline. It can power diesel engines; some opt for it as a cheaper propellant.

You can also use kerosene as a cleaner for oil-based stains or a thinner for oil-based paint, courtesy of its miscibility with organic compounds. Kerosene can function as a lubricant with a low chance of burning.

Diesel is the primary fuel for diesel engines in vehicles, industrial machinery, and marine vessels. Diesel engine-powered aircraft ran on diesel, though they are fewer nowadays. Diesel engines on planes had advantages like affordability, minimal fire incidents, and reliability. The downside is that the engines were heavy.

Low-grade diesel is handy in the extraction of palladium from a nitric acid solution. This hydrocarbon is the main component in oil-based mud drilling fluids.

Flash Point

A liquid’s flash point is the lowest temperature, where it vaporizes to ignite in the air. Diesel’s flash point varies between 126- and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, with an autoignition value of 410 degrees Fahrenheit. Kerosene’s flash point is between 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 162 degrees F, and it auto-ignites at 428 degrees Fahrenheit.

The flash point is crucial in determining whether a liquid is flammable or combustible. Flammable liquids have a flash point below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas combustible liquids have a flash point above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Kerosene and diesel are combustible as their flash points are above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some kerosene varieties may have a lower flash point, making them flammable. This calls for proper storage to avert fire hazards.


Kerosene and diesel have different boiling points, which is handy for their separation from crude oil. The boiling point of kerosene is around 349 degrees Fahrenheit, while diesel’s ranges from 392-662 degrees Fahrenheit. With a lower heating point, Kerosene gets extracted first, then diesel follows.


The kerosene vs. diesel density discussion reveals the latter to be denser. Its density ranges from 0.85g/cm3 to 0.96g/cm3 at 59 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same temperature, kerosene’s density shifts between 0.789/cm3 and 0.81g/cm3.

Diesel, with a high density, is prone to gelling when temperatures drop. Diesel will gel at 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, while kerosene gels at roughly -40 degrees Fahrenheit.


The British thermal unit (BTU) denotes the heat content of fuels. Diesel’s BTU is around 140000 per gallon, while kerosene trails at about 134000 per gallon. It means that a gallon of diesel produces more energy than a gallon of kerosene, translating to efficiency.


Fuel scent is crucial in their identity. Kerosene vs. diesel smell, is there a difference? Kerosene has a pungent oily smell, which is overwhelming in K2 kerosene due to its sulfur content. Diesel’s scent is similar to kerosene but stronger, owing to its sulfur composition.

Synthetic diesel has a milder smell, as it does not have sulfur, though some people describe it as weird.


On the kerosene vs. diesel price discussion, you realize that kerosene is cheaper, which is why some people opt for it. Despite kerosene’s affordability, you should be careful when using it on your diesel engine, as it may damage it, besides sacrificing efficiency.


Q: Can I Use Kerosene in A Diesel Engine?

Diesel engines can run on kerosene. The main benefit of kerosene in diesel engine is its affordability. You will spend less on fuel refills. Moreover, kerosene is light and doesn’t gel easily when it is freezing. People in cold areas sometimes mix kerosene and diesel to avoid gelling.

Substituting diesel with kerosene presents problems, such as lower efficiency, as kerosene has a lower BTU. Kerosene doesn’t have excellent lubricating properties as diesel causing engine wear or fuel pump failure. You may also face penalties for using unvetted fuel on public roads.

Q: Why Use Kerosene Instead of Diesel?

You may use kerosene instead of diesel in several instances, like if you want a cheaper energy source. Kerosene is an excellent choice for diesel engines when it is cold. Diesel quickly gels when it is freezing, making its transmission difficult. Kerosene can withstand icy conditions, remaining stable up to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

K1 kerosene vs. diesel, which is better? K1 kerosene is a better choice due to its low sulfur content, meaning the emissions will be low. However, ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD), the diesel you will find in most filling stations in the USA and parts of Europe and North America, has a low sulfur content. It beats K1 kerosene in efficiency and engine protection.

Q: Are Diesel And Kerosene The Same?

Diesel and kerosene have several similarities, such as both being middle distillates in petroleum refining. In addition, their scent is almost the same, the diesel being more pungent. Despite the likenesses, the two fuels are not the same.

They have different uses, boiling points, and flash points. Kerosene is largely a household fuel used in lamps and stoves, whereas diesel powers diesel engines.

Q: What Are the Disadvantages of Kerosene?

If you use kerosene instead of diesel, you should be ready for some shortcomings. First, kerosene is less efficient than diesel, so the engine may not perform as you want. Kerosene performs poorly in engine protection, as it lacks additives present in diesel, like detergent and lubricant. Continuous use of kerosene may lead to engine degradation and the wearing of parts of the fuel system.

Q: Can A Car Run on Kerosene?

You can power your vehicle with kerosene, though you might experience some problems, especially with gasoline engines. Diesel engines may run smoothly, as the flash points are almost similar. Using kerosene on gasoline-run cars may result in stalling and difficult starts, particularly when cold.

Frequent use of kerosene on cars may lead to engine wear. Nevertheless, with the right modifications, your car can run on kerosene, though the efficiency will drop.

Q: Is Kerosene Stronger Than Diesel?

You weigh a fuel’s strength by checking its British thermal units (BTU). Diesel has a BTU of roughly 140000, which is more than kerosene’s at 134000, meaning diesel is more robust.

Q: What Is Cheaper, Kerosene, or Diesel?

Price is a crucial factor when looking for suitable fuel for your vehicle. In the case of kerosene vs. diesel, the former is cheaper, a reason why many people choose it for their diesel engines. While diesel is expensive, you get your money’s worth in performance and engine protection.

Q: Why Is Kerosene So Expensive?

The cost of kerosene is quite steep for several reasons, such as production, transportation, and storage. Inflation may also affect its price. While kerosene is expensive, it is cheaper than other fuels, like gasoline and diesel.

Q: Is Kerosene the Same as Jet Fuel?

Most jet fuels are kerosene-based. Jet fuel A is unleaded kerosene, while jet fuel B is based on a naphtha-kerosene blend. Kerosene is ideal for aviation because of its low freezing point. It will remain stable as the plane operates in high altitudes with low temperatures. Kerosene’s low viscosity, flammability, safety, and affordability are other factors that favor its use as jet fuel.

Q: How Many Years Will Kerosene Last?

Kerosene’s shelf life is 2-5 years if stored correctly. Condensation is the primary antagonist that reduces the life of kerosene by adding water. Bacteria and mold in kerosene are also troublesome, as they cause sludge formation.

It is advisable to store kerosene in tightly-sealed metal containers and put them in a cool and dry environment, away from potential fire sources. Adding a stabilizer to kerosene can improve its shelf life.

Final Word

Can you use kerosene as diesel engine fuel? The kerosene vs. diesel debate answers this question and many more concerning these two petroleum products. Kerosene is a worthy replacement for diesel in diesel engines, supported by its low cost and stability in low temperatures.

The downsides of fuel substitution are depreciating performance and engine wear. You might also face some penalties due to the unregulated use of kerosene as vehicle fuel. Always be keen on the fuel you use for your vehicle or machinery for the best service and longevity.


Hi there, I am R. Hasan Tito, a mechanic, and owner of this website. My friend and I created this website to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience with our fellow mechanics' community and car users. I am a specialist and certified automotive mechanic (Both Heavy Commercial and Private Cars). I worked as a Mechanic and Mechanic Supervisor for over fifteen years at Global Rebound Automotive companies - Toyota, TATA, BMW, Nissan, TVs, and Others. Now, I enjoy my new role of leading a team of automotive experts (in their respective fields) and publish new content on a regular basis on my website and social media.

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