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Should I Buy a Diesel Car in 2017?

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April 20, 2017
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Should I buy a diesel car?

Diesel cars have come under fire in the last few months across the globe with several cities such as Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City all stating that they are set to ban diesel cars from entering their respective city centres. Diesel usage has long been under extensive scrutiny due to the harmful impact diesel pollution has on air quality.

In response to this, London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has revealed his plans to introduce the Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London in April 2019. Khan’s “toxin tax” will see cars that emit high levels of unhealthy pollution pay a fee of £12.50 to enter the city of London. However, Prime Minister Theresa May has immediately responded to this plan by making her own assurances.

May has recognised the government has in the past championed diesel cars and has suggested that drivers with older diesel vehicles could be incentivised to trade theirs in. That being said, figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed that March saw some 244,263 diesel cars sold nationwide – the highest month ever and a rise of 1.6% YoY. Based on that data, we can safely say diesel cars still remain hugely popular.

What’s the difference between diesel and Petrol?

There are several key technical differences between diesel and petrol engines. For the consumer, Diesel has a higher efficiency level over petrol so you can get more from your fuel on a longer journey and put more load on the engine. However, because of this diesel engines tend to require a little more maintenance than a petrol engine.

Petrol engines on the other hand tend to be cheaper in fuel costs and don’t require as much maintenance compared to diesel. However, petrol cars are less fuel efficient and don’t offer the refined power of a diesel engine. Petrol engines tend to have a lower flat torque which means the vehicle is likely to require more frequent gear changing.

Diesel cars are unfortunately not as environmentally friendly in comparison to petrol. Whilst diesel engines produce 15% less CO2, they also generate four times as much nitrogen dioxide pollution and a staggering 22 times more “particulates” – small microscopic particles that can cause harm to humans. Therefore, diesel cars are traditionally associated with producing much dirtier air pollution and are viewed as being more environmentally harmful than petrol cars.

However, advances in low sulphur diesel fuel and eco-friendly improvements to diesel engine technology, means modern and future diesel cars may be significantly better than their predecessors. Also, Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel (ULSD) has been developed to reduce diesel emissions and in some cases is 97% cleaner than standard diesel fuel.

Why do diesel cars cost more?

If researching car prices, you’ll quickly realise that there’s a higher cost associated to diesel vehicles compared to petrol. There’s a number of reasons for this:

  • Diesel engines have higher compression rates in comparison to petrol – this means that generally, diesel cars are more powerful, more efficient and provide higher torque.
  • The technology behind a diesel car is more expensive in order to produce this extra power and efficiency.
  • There are more materials and resources required to build a diesel engine in comparison to a petrol engine, again adding to the cost.

What are the benefits of a diesel car?

There are a number of key benefits for buying a diesel car rather a petrol car, these include:

  • Diesel cars are better choices for drivers who make longer journeys more regularly. Diesel cars have better fuel efficiency, so although diesel fuel costs slightly more, a diesel engine can achieve a higher MPG (miles per gallon).
  • Diesel cars provide more power and tend to be equipped with a turbocharger to allow for faster acceleration.
  • Diesel cars provide more power but a lower RPM, this means the car doesn’t need to be revved higher to accelerate which provides a more comfortable and smooth journey.
  • Due to diesel’s superior power, they have a better towing ability in comparison to their petrol counterparts. It is for this reason that most heavy-duty lorries/vehicles use diesel engines rather than petrol.
  • Data from research firm ALG shows that diesels held 63% of their value after 3 years in comparison to petrol’s 53% and hybrids 55%, making a diesel car perhaps a more attractive financial investment.

What are the downsides of a diesel car?

Whilst there are many advantages of buying a diesel car there are a number of considerations to take into account that may affect your decision including:

  • Though diesel fuel is now only marginally more expensive than petrol, there is a higher demand for diesel fuel in trade and industry, so don’t expect to see its cost fall.
  • Cleaner diesel fuels have advanced and no longer require excess water to be “bled” out of the system. However, some diesel vehicles do still require their separators to be emptied. This is just one example demonstrating why diesel vehicles are higher maintenance.
  • When something goes wrong in a diesel car it often costs more to repair the fault than a petrol vehicle, as the technology and parts are generally more expensive.
  • Diesel cars are unfortunately not as environmentally friendly when compared to petrol.

Are diesel cars a better purchase?

There’s a number of different reasons why diesel cars may be seen as a better purchase.

Firstly, the choice to purchase a diesel over petrol car can be as simple as offering a smoother and more comfortable drive. Diesel drivers tend to be travelling long distances and as such, comfort is an important factor. Diesel car drivers tend to appreciate the comparably more calming driving experience.

Secondly, whilst the initial cost of a diesel car may be more upfront, diesels tend to depreciate more slowly in value. And as already referenced, diesel cars can retain up to 10% more residual value than a petrol car after 26 months.

Thirdly, due to fuel efficiency, a diesel car could save you substantially more on fuel over the lifetime of the car, especially if you’re using your diesel car to drive long distances regularly. With a much higher MPG for motorway driving and long journeys, depending on your travel needs, the cost saving could outweigh the additional amount you initially paid for a diesel engine.

We conclude, that financially speaking your decision to buy a diesel car should be primarily based on whether you expect to be driving long distances regularly and consequently, need a car that is highly fuel efficient. You should however not take the decision lightly and consider the current dialogue from environmental and political bodies regarding diesel cars. Initiatives like diesel specific legislation and potential government scrappage schemes do give indications that diesel may be in the firing line, but it isn’t yet clear how this will play out over the next few years and what the financial implications will be.

Ultimately, car buyers need to weigh up the importance of fuel economy and comfort versus environmental factors and uncertainty about the future of diesel.

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