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Alternative fuels: should I buy petrol or diesel?

Today there is much focus on what is being loosely termed 'alternatively fuelled' cars. For the most part this refers to electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrids. The market is expanding now though and is not quite as simple anymore. You can always plump for an EV, but very soon you will see hydrogen fuel cell cars on the market. The hybrid market is more complex.

Today there is much focus on what is being loosely termed 'alternatively fuelled' cars. For the most part this refers to electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrids. The market is expanding now though and is not quite as simple anymore. You can always plump for an EV, but very soon you will see hydrogen fuel cell cars on the market. The hybrid market is more complex. Here you can go for a petrol hybrid or diesel hybrid. But there are also now 'plug in' hybrids which at least in part are designed to benefit from government grants. The difference between these cars is that in the standard hybrids the electric motors are recharged from energy recovered from braking and also from the petrol or diesel engine directly. In a plug in hybrid on the other hand, the electric engine can be recharged from the mains.

All of this is quite complex but it brings us back to an engine choice that has been around for a lot longer and still concerns many more drivers today than a choice of alternatively fuelled cars. So, should you buy a petrol or diesel car?

Each has its champions and its strengths but there are some broad rules of thumb to consider. Many petrol engines these days are turbo charged and that means that they heat up very quickly. This in turn means that they achieve their optimum fuel efficiency very quickly, so these cars are great for motoring which involves lots of short drives, such as the school run and the supermarket shop. A diesel car on the other hand takes longer to warm up but once it does it can usually achieve greater fuel efficiency. This makes diesels a more economic choice for cars that do regular long journeys.

So far it is an easy choice then but there are some complexities to be considered before splashing out on that new car. Diesel cars tend to attract a higher purchase price than their petrol equivalents so this must be taken into account when working out which car is cheaper overall. Depending on the car, a driver needs to cover between 20,000 and 30,000 miles a year to recover the extra purchase cost of the diesel. That economy over high mileage is why they are so popular as company cars. Diesel fuel is more expensive too. With new legislation arriving soon which is set to make diesels even more expensive to buy, you have to think really hard before plumping for that oil burner.
 

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