For more than two decades researchers have been working on thermal barrier coatings to improve the performance of diesel engines. However, these coatings have still not achieved widespread application in conventional diesel engines. The original motivation for this work was the improvement of fuel economy, since even a few percent improvement would result in huge savings in the transportation industries, but the coatings also effect exhaust emissions, component wear, and the sensitivity of engines to fuel quality. Wear at high temperatures, where conventional lubricants are not effective, is a serious problem in low heat rejection engines. Ceramic materials such as thermal barrier coatings in cylinder liners must have an acceptable wear rate and coefficient of friction. In this work we compare the wear behaviour of nanostructured thermal spray zirconia coatings with conventional zirconia coatings. First, process parameters that allowed the nanoparticles present in the feedstock powder to be retained in the coating were found. Then pin on disc wear tests of the two types of coatings were carried out at room temperature. The coating containing retained nanoparticles exhibited a lower coefficient of friction and less wear loss under discontinuous testing than the conventional coating.