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Should I buy a petrol or diesel car?

Not long ago, the choice between whether to buy a petrol or diesel car was a clear cut one. Diesel cars were much more fuel efficient than petrol cars, but that saving came at a cost in performance and power. The best petrol cars were smooth, fast and costly to run while diesel cars were relatively slow and noisy but far cheaper to run.

In the last decade, however, things have changed dramatically.

What’s happened to petrol cars vs diesel cars?

  • The hike in oil costs has been kinder to petrol cars, partly due to the environmental advantages of unleaded petrol compared to diesel. Per litre, diesel has been costing about the same, if not a few pennies more, than unleaded petrol for a while now.
  • Petrol cars have also become much more economical, so although the cost of a tank of petrol has gone up, it takes you further.
  • On the flip side, diesel cars have become smoother and more enjoyable to drive. They are not nearly as slow and noisy and their style matches that of any petrol model.

Decisions, decisions

With so many changes, what do you now use to make a decision between the two?

You now need to consider a range of factors, the biggest of which will be your total mileage. Since diesel cars generally cost between £1,000 and £2,000 more than the equivalent petrol model, the more miles you cover, and the more fuel you save, the quicker you will recoup the extra outlay. Tests by Which? showed that you need to do more than 11,000 miles per year for it to be worth paying the extra for a diesel car.

Other cost factors to consider are:

  • The price of fuel, which favours petrol cars.
  • The cost of servicing, which favours diesel cars.
  • The cost of van or car insurance, which is generally cheaper for diesel cars, although this can vary between makes and models.
  • The size of your tax bill. Since UK vehicle taxes (car tax and company car benefit calculations) are based on emissions, you will make considerable savings on both by choosing a diesel car.
  • Depreciation – a final cost factor to consider is that diesel cars hold their value better, so while you may pay extra upfront, you are likely to get more back in the end.

Finally, before deciding on buying a petrol or diesel car, you need to reflect on your driving style and the journeys you make. Diesel car engines give you more torque or pulling power at low revs, ideal for motorway overtaking. Petrol cars tend to give a more lively performance overall, making driving more responsive.

Remember, many of the advances in diesel car engines have come in the last five to ten years, so if you are choosing a second hand diesel car, you may find that the old image of noisy, sluggish and slow still applies. Always take a test drive to see exactly what you are getting into before deciding – buying a petrol or diesel car should be an informed choice.

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