Petrol vs Diesel - which car is right for you?

Caroline Cassidy

With fuel prices hitting record highs and CO2 emissions affecting the cost of car tax, buying the right car is an essential for financially-strained drivers. But the matter of which fuel type is best, petrol or diesel, is no longer as clear cut as it once was. If you're unsure what car is right for you, here are a few pointers to help you make the right decision.

petrol vs diesel
petrol vs diesel

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Buying costs
Diesel cars are still more expensive to buy. Diesel engines need to be stronger to cope with the explosion this fuel type creates within the engine cylinders, and stronger, heavier engines inevitably work out more expensive.

With European regulations on exhaust emissions becoming ever-more stringent, emission control systems on diesel cars also bump up the cost, while turbochargers increase the price even further. All in all, the diesel models of many new cars will cost over £1,000 more than their petrol counterparts.

Having said that, diesel cars are in high demand and usually hold their value better than the petrol alternatives, so if you regularly change your car, diesel may well be the better option.

Fuel costs
It will not have escaped any driver's attention that fuel prices have risen dramatically in the last few months. Where diesel used to be the cheaper option, these days it's more expensive at the pumps, costing somewhere between 5p and 7p more per litre than unleaded.

If, however, you make regular, long journeys a diesel car will almost certainly save you money in the long run as a diesel engine will get somewhere in the region of an extra 10mpg on average, possibly even more.

Bear in mind though that diesel particulate filters (DPF), often fitted to diesel cars to meet emissions regulations, mean you'll need to make regular long runs, sometimes at a high engine speed, to effectively clean the filter.

Tax costs
It's good news for diesel fans on the tax front because, due to their efficiency, they generally fit into a lower tax band than the comparable petrol model, and that could save you a packet, particularly if you're looking for something with a sizeable engine. Some diesel cars are even tax exempt.

Servicing and repair costs
In the past, diesels have had a reputation for being more expensive to service but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, servicing costs for both petrol and diesel show no significant price difference over a typical three-year period. Be warned though - major repairs on diesel engines often cost considerably more and, if you do have a model fitted with a DPF and are not making the long, high-speed journeys required to clean the filter, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise at the garage.

There was a time when the petrol car was smoother, faster and quieter than its diesel rival. These days though, the diesel car is an altogether more refined motor. More advanced technology means even acceleration isn't the issue it used to be - choose a turbocharged model and you'll find the diesel is closely matched with its petrol cousin. More torque at low revs also makes diesel a better option if you are doing a lot of towing. It is still, however, a little noisier than the petrol alternative.

So what's the verdict? Which fuel type you choose really depends on what kind of driving you do. If you regularly make long motorway journeys (and drive 10,000 miles a year according to Glass's Guide), the fuel-efficient diesel could save you a packet at the pumps, not to mention the saving on tax. If, on the other hand, you're making short, daily trips to the shops, struggling though stop-start traffic, a small petrol car just might prove the cheaper option.