Does Off-Road Diesel Smoke More? (Off-Road Diesel Guide)

Off-road diesel or red diesel is a type of fuel destined mainly for farming or construction vehicles and machinery that do not travel on public roads. It is tax-free and therefore, it’s a lot cheaper than the so-called clear diesel (on-road diesel). On the downside, there are some myths about this off-road diesel, like it smokes more!

Off-road diesel doesn’t smoke more. Using off-road diesel in your four-wheeler should not imply any changes in the amount or in the color of the smoke your quad is releasing. Red diesel is chemically identical to regular diesel. The red dye is added to its composition as a marker, in order to make it easy to detect in case of fraudulent use. Because it is used only for vehicles and machinery that don’t operate on public roads, it is completely tax-free and therefore, a lot cheaper than the regular diesel.

If you’re an avid quad rider who often goes on adventures in the wilderness, you probably want to save all the money you can on fuel so you can invest them in cool and exciting accessories for your four-wheeler. If you are worried if off-road diesel is a good choice for you, keep on reading to find out all you need to know about it, from whether it is any different from the regular diesel to where to buy it and when you can use it.

image showing if off-road diesel ATVs smoke more

What is Off-Road Diesel?

Off-road diesel, also known as red diesel due to its red dye, is a type of diesel fuel that is intended for use in non-road vehicles and equipment. Unlike regular on-road diesel fuel, which powers everyday vehicles like trucks and vans, off-road diesel is specifically designed for machinery that doesn’t operate on standard roads, such as tractors, heavy construction equipment, and generators. However, you can also use it for ATVs. The primary distinction between off-road and on-road diesel lies in its tax status and sulfur content. Off-road diesel is typically not taxed at the federal or state level in the same way that on-road diesel is, making it a more cost-effective choice for industries that rely heavily on heavy machinery.

The red dye added to off-road diesel is more than just a coloring agent; it’s a legal marker. It indicates that the fuel is tax-exempt and therefore should not be used in vehicles that operate on public roads. This distinction is significant because using red diesel in on-road vehicles is a federal offense due to the tax evasion it represents. The dye is formulated to be detectable even if the fuel has been mixed with on-road diesel, allowing authorities to identify misuse and enforce penalties when necessary. Additionally, off-road diesel used to have higher sulfur content than on-road diesel, but recent regulations have significantly lowered the sulfur content in both types of diesel to reduce emissions.

Does Off-Road Diesel Smoke More?

Off-road diesel does not smoke more, nor does it change the color of the smoke that is emitted by the exhaust. This type of diesel has exact same composition as regular diesel, with the addition of red dye to make it stand out. However, the red dye doesn’t impact the performance output of the quad’s engine, the smoke it emits, or the color of the smoke. In general, off-road diesel is the same quality as regular diesel and the only difference other than the red dye is that it’s tax-free. This is because it’s designed for farming and construction vehicles.

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If you do notice that your four-wheeler is emitting more smoke than usual, then it means that you are dealing with a mechanical problem. There are many things that can cause this such as ATV running rich, for example, and it’s why I highly advise you to visit a mechanic’s shop and have the problem diagnosed as soon as possible.

Is It Bad to Run Off-road Diesel on Your ATV?

Since off-road diesel is basically the same as regular diesel and it costs less, it should be a “no-brainer” that running this type of diesel is the best decision. You will save money and the four-wheeler will run without any problems. However, there are some cons that you still need to take into consideration. Here’s a list of pros and cons that will help you decide whether using off-road diesel is a good idea for your ATV:


  • Cost-Effective

As previously mentioned, off-road diesel is tax-free. This means that it’s much cheaper than the regular on-road diesel that you put in your car from the gas station. Using off-road diesel will make your ATV adventures more affordable.

  • Same Performance

Despite being priced lower and having a red dye to make it stand out, off-road diesel will not impact your ATV’s performance. The four-wheeler will run at the same speed and the engine will not smoke more.

  • Easy to Access

This might come as a surprise, but off-road is available at many fuel distributors. While you might not be able to get it from all gas stations, you can still find it quite easily, especially in regions with high agricultural activities where people need red dye diesel for their farm trucks.


  • Illegal for On-Road Use

The biggest con of using off-road diesel is that you will get fined if you ride the four-wheeler on public roads. You should only use it for vehicles that ride on the trail.

  • Environmental Impact

Even though off-road diesel has the same chemical mixture as on-road diesel, unfortunately, it doesn’t meet the same environmental regulations. This is another reason why it’s illegal to use it for vehicles that drive on public roads.

Off-road diesel for ATV is beneficial only if you plan to ride the four-wheeler exclusively on trails. My advice is to use regular on-road diesel if you plan on riding on public roads often because the fine is not worth it.

For What Purposes Can I Use Off-Road Diesel Legally?

Red diesel is the Government’s way of saying they support the agricultural and construction industry and they want to help them avoid unnecessary expenses and increase profitability. But off-road diesel is not only designed to serve workers in the agricultural or construction industry. It is designed for any type of vehicle or machinery that does not set “foot” on the public road. It can be used to fuel power generators, as heating fuel, and as fuel for tractors or trucks used in festive parades.

You can definitely fuel up your four-wheeler with off-road diesel, as long as you don’t ride it on public roads. So, if you are planning an off-road adventure for the weekend, make sure you find a way to get your quad to the site without driving it there.

Final Words

In conclusion, off-road diesel or red diesel is essentially the same as regular diesel when it comes to chemical composition and quality. It should not affect in any way the good functioning of your vehicle. The major difference between the two is their price, with the off-road diesel being a lot cheaper than the regular one, because of the tax exemption.

A special solvent is added to the off-road diesel to make it red, in order to be easily identified by authorities if it were to be used on public roads. It is completely illegal to run your personal car on red diesel if your car is licensed and you drive on public roadways and you can face serious charges, including criminal charges as using this type of fuel in a fraudulent manner could be considered tax evasion.

Bob Kelly

Hey there, my name is Bob and I've been riding ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs for most of my life. Going on outdoor adventures has always been my passion. I love sharing tips and tricks with beginners who are getting ready to join the world of outdoor enthusiasts. You can reach me at if you want to get in touch.

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