Which car fuel? How to choose the right car for you

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One thing that people often put to the back of their mind when choosing a new car is the fuel it uses. Usually the focus remains on size, looks, price or even miles to the gallon, but not necessarily what powers it.

Yet while the car fuel scene has had a couple of new arrivals in recent years due to the ever-growing conscience we’ve developed over more sustainable means of power, the choice still rests between the two major options: petrol and diesel. Now that alternatives to these are becoming better-known, we’re going to take a look at the positives and negatives of each option so you can weigh up the pros and cons of any future car purchase.

Petrol

Once the standard choice – even in the days of four-star – petrol cars are quieter than their diesel equivalents, and continue to be much cheaper to buy, whether new or used. According to a report by the Telegraph, petrol versions of popular models offer a £1,400 saving over their diesel counterparts for compact, saloons and hatchbacks. This only stands to grow with more expensive models. For every positive, however, there’s a negative: petrol cars also depreciate more readily.

Petrol’s other major benefit, of sorts, is in its environmental impact when compared directly to diesel – yet with the arrival of genuinely green alternatives, and the fact it’s still a fossil fuel, these are negligible in real terms.

Finally, there was one thing in petrol’s favour for a long while – being consistently 3p-5p cheaper than diesel. However, in recent months (and as of August 2015), diesel’s actually become the lowest-priced option of the pair. However long that will last, no-one knows – but petrol’s cost crown has been knocked off its head.

Diesel

Diesel engines are, without a shadow of a doubt, far more fuel efficient; they can do an average of eight miles more to the gallon, effectively meaning nearly £100 of savings per year for those filling with diesel and not petrol. As we noted earlier in petrol cars’ comparable cheapness, though, you may have to own a diesel car for 14 years before you see the benefit of the spending.

While diesel cars cost a significant amount more to insure – up to 15% than petrol alternatives – their road tax is generally less, as fuel efficiency results in lower CO2 emissions. That said, it’s still not cleaner – diesel also results in more NOx emissions, which are much worse for the environment.

So, diesel or petrol? As far as we’re concerned, long drives and regular commuting will probably suit you better to a diesel car, while the lower initial outlay costs of a petrol car will be better for anyone else.

But what about the new kids on the block?

Fuel cells

While they’re still only just gaining traction, hydrogen fuel cells may be the only way we travel in decades to come. There are only two options available to prospective car owners at the moment: the Hyundai ix35 and Toyota Mirai. They’re not the cheapest, either, at between £35,000 and £40,000. As with any technology, though, this’ll only be driven down by more competition in the coming years.

The sad fact about these is that the fuel hasn’t been optimised properly; according to Transport Evolved, which covered Toyota’s appearance at the JP Morgan Auto Conference last year, its Mirai costs twice as much to run as its famous Prius. Perhaps it’s worth waiting on this fuel alternative indefinitely.

Electric cars and hybrids

While the electric car has long been a dream and, in one limited way or another, a reality for decades (cap doffed to Clive Sinclair), the modern electric car really got going just under 20 years ago with the aforementioned Prius. Since then, it’s gained traction, notably from the company Tesla, as well as Nissan’s Leaf.

Electric cars are still expensive, but only on the initial cost; they come in at an average of £8,000 more than petrol models, according to the Beeb, but the government does offer grants to those who buy them – capped at £5,000, but effectively covering as much as 35% of the cost of one (if they’ll ever be priced that low).

So long as you have a charging point at home, you’re okay – though naturally your car use will be courtesy of power or E.ON, not BP or Shell. The only problem is the scope of travel that you can get from one full charge – the Leaf barely does 70 miles on a single charge, for example.

Hybrids, meanwhile, may be the best option for those looking to do their bit for both their wallet and the environment. Used models can cost as little as £10,000 these days, and give you the added kick of cutting your fuel costs by a quarter.