Years ago there was a time when no one drove a diesel car. Few were available, and those that were had terrible performance and an expensive premium to pay over the petrol model. Thanks to better diesel engine technology and increasing prices associated with running a petrol car, more and more of us have switched to save money on our driving. But is diesel still the best option for the economy-minded, and can you still have more fun in a petrol car?
Firstly the age old question of driving performance. Even with all the improvements engines have seen in the past decade, the essentials of how they work remains the same. This means that petrols and diesels still drive differently, and adjusting from driving one to the other can take some time. Always test drive a car prior to buying it, especially if you’re changing fuel type, as you might not like the way it drives.
Diesel cars tend to accelerate without needing as many revs, which is partly the source of the fuel economy in these cars. This changes the driving style, as it means you’ll need to change gears quicker as you accelerate. You’ll also feel the power of the car in the form of a surge of acceleration as you reach the point that you need to change gear – technically called the peak torque point. Many drivers love this brief sporty feeling, but others prefer the more constant acceleration found in petrol cars. Even if the two cars have the same 0 to 60mph rating, you’ll find the way they get there different. If you prefer a more hands on approach, petrol will be the best option, while those who prefer the car to do most of the work typically prefer diesel.
Looking at the prices at the pump for diesel and the extra cost for choosing the diesel option, you’d think that no one was saving any money from switching to the fuel. But many are, especially as diesel cars retain their value for longer than petrol cars. Depreciation might be a hidden cost, but it’s by far the biggest cost of car ownership. And diesel cars maintain their value for longer than their petrol equivalents do, meaning that when it comes time to upgrade to a newer model you’ll receive more from the sale of your diesel than your petrol – often far more than the additional cost of choosing the diesel model in the first place.
The other main advantage of diesel is in taxes and insurance. Insurers see diesels as safer to drive, and typically bought by safer drivers. The premiums on them tend therefore to be far lower than their petrol equivalents. So called road tax is cheaper for diesel cars precisely because it isn’t actually a road tax anymore – it’s an emissions tax. Diesel cars tend to be in lower bands than petrol cars, and some even call into band A which doesn’t pay any car tax at all.
But petrol cars can still be cheaper for some drivers. It all depends on how much you drive and what type of car you drive. Larger cars typically have smaller costs for the diesel option, meaning that it makes more sense to go diesel if you prefer an estate sized car. Despite costing more per liter than petrol, the greater efficiency means that the more you drive your diesel, the more money you save compared with the petrol alternative. For this reason diesels have long been favorites of company representatives and traveling salespeople.
Will diesels stay the cheapest option in the future? There’s increasing recognition that CO2 isn’t the only car emission worth considering, and in others like nitrous oxides diesels are far worse polluters than petrols. This may eventually lead to a change in how vehicles are taxed to reflex this, which will push up the car tax paid on diesels. Petrol engines are also quickly catching up with diesel counterparts thanks to direct injection technology. While at the moment diesels are cheaper for people who drive big cars a lot, it might not always be that way.