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Choosing Between a Petrol or Diesel Car

Choosing between a petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric car

We’ve pitted petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric against each other, listing their plus points and pitfalls to help steer you towards the perfect car

In the past, buying a car meant choosing between petrol and diesel. But no longer. Now, a new generation of hybrid and electric engines means there’s more to think about on the forecourt – from efficiency and performance, to how emissions might affect car tax. We’ll focus on petrol and diesel engines first, before getting on to hybrid and electric cars a bit further down.

Petrol vs diesel

Do petrol or diesel engines last longer?

Engine longevity is not an exact science, as any mechanic will tell you. While diesel engines traditionally tended to last longer than petrol engines, most modern petrol engines should be able to rack up lots of miles without too much trouble. Diesel engines can fail prematurely if they get blocked up with soot. Keeping up with routine servicing and maintenance is the best way to ensure your engine lasts as long as possible.

What laws are there for petrol and diesel engines?

The focus of government policy at the moment is on hybrid or completely electric vehicles, partly due to recent controversies that have seen diesel become less popular. The recent dismissal of diesel is quite a big turnaround – when Gordon Brown was Chancellor, he actually wanted to encourage drivers to buy a diesel as they do, in fact, create fewer CO2 emissions than petrol cars. 

Is there a difference in the cost to run petrol or diesel?

Fuel economy is what everyone concentrates on when it comes to these two types of car. If you drive more than 12,000 miles a year or so, diesel will cost you less in fuel over time. It’s also worth looking at the cost per litre of fuel – if diesel is drastically more expensive, you may not see any savings compared to a petrol car. Additionally, diesels need to be driven a lot so, if you’re a lower-mileage driver, look at other fuel types.

Electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrids explained

Electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars are all increasingly common on our roads, with advances in technology making them a realistic option for more and more owners. However, there is still a little confusion surrounding what each entails and the differences between the three. So, before we delve into the pros and cons of each, here’s a quick guide into how they differ.

All three engine types at least partly use electricity to power them forward, but the major difference is how reliant they are on this form of energy. An electric vehicle (sometimes abbreviated to EV or BEV) is entirely powered by electricity and requires charging to keep it on the road. 

A hybrid vehicle (HEV) uses electricity to power short bursts, but is reliant on diesel or petrol for acceleration and driving at higher speeds. A hybrid doesn’t require charging up, with its battery powered by regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine.

A plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is somewhere in between the two. The battery can be charged in the same way as that in an EV, but it doesn’t have the same range. The battery can power a PHEV for roughly 20-30 miles before the petrol or diesel engine kicks in and takes the car further. 

All three engine types are considered more environmentally friendly than traditional petrol and diesel cars – with purely electric vehicles having the least environmental impact. Purely electric vehicles can be affected by range limitations, but these days most family EVs will manage 200 miles from a charge.

The pros and cons of major engine types

Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of different engine types, so you can get an idea of the car that would be right for you.



  • Cheap to buy
  • Affordable running costs (tax, fuel and insurance)
  • Fun to drive
  • Easy access to petrol
  • Low servicing cost
  • Reliable on short journeys


  • High rate of depreciation for new petrol cars
  • Rising petrol rises mean running costs will go up
  • Not the most fuel-efficient
  • Produces greenhouse gas emissions



  • Some diesel models are affordable to buy
  • Excellent fuel efficiency on long journeys
  • Good performance on faster roads
  • Easy access to diesel


  • High tax rates for new diesel cars
  • Produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions
  • Expensive to service and maintain (particularly if you only do short trips)
  • Rising diesel prices mean running costs will go up
  • Insurance can be expensive for premium diesel cars



  • Excellent fuel economy and efficiency
  • Low rate of depreciation means hybrids hold their value well
  • Low (or free) car tax and no congestion charges
  • Petrol/diesel engine means no range limit


  • Expensive compared to the equivalent petrol car
  • Specialist maintenance means expensive servicing and repairs
  • Higher emissions than an all-electric car (but less than petrol and diesel)
  • Plug-in hybrids can take a long time to charge (between 90 minutes and eight hours)
  • Shortage of charging points for PHEVs
  • Performance can dip when one engine is operating alone
  • Fuel AND electricity costs to consider



  • No harmful greenhouse gas emissions
  • No car tax or congestion charges
  • Cheaper to recharge
  • Minimal noise pollution
  • Excellent performance, with instant acceleration
  • High residual value


  • Expensive
  • Limited range (typically 100-150 miles)
  • Long recharge times
  • Shortage of charge points
  • Specialist maintenance means expensive servicing and repairs
  • Lack of variety

Things to consider when choosing an engine type

Before you pick your next car, you should take time to weigh up your options. What is important to you as a driver? How will your car help with day-to-day life? And how much can you feasibly spend on buying and running a car? 

Consider the following points and you’ll be well on your way to finding the car that’s right for you.


When budgeting for a new car, there are two things to think about: how much you can spend on the car itself, and how much you can afford to run it. 

If you’re not looking to spend a lot on a car, a petrol or diesel is probably the best option. Hybrid and electric cars have a higher starting price, and this can offset the benefit of lower running costs for some drivers.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to buy a more expensive car, a hybrid or electric model has the added benefit of cheaper running costs in the long-term. For electric cars, in particular, you’ll likely make big savings on tax (it’s free in many cases), and keeping it fuelled.


Lots of drivers want their car to do more than get them from A to B; they want them to be fun and exciting to drive, both in town and out on fast, country roads. So, if performance is important to you, you should definitely think about engine type before you buy your next car.

For years, petrol has been the go-to fuel type for those who want driving to be a fun experience. You only have to look at all the great hot hatchbacks, like the Ford Fiesta ST and VW Golf GTI, to see that even small petrol engines offer a great combination of performance and reliability.

Diesels are often focused on economy, but high-powered diesel engines from the likes of BMW and Mercedes don’t skimp on performance, either. 

But let’s not forget about EVs and hybrids. Manufacturers including Tesla have shown that electric cars can be just as fun to drive as their petrol counterparts, with superb instant acceleration that never gets old. Hybrids have also come on a long way since they hit the mainstream, with models such as the Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid and the VW Passat GTE offering outstanding performance over short and long journeys.

So, whether you want the good old revs of a petrol or the directness of an electric, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a car for its performance. Weighing these things up alongside budget and what a car is like to live with should help you find the model you’re looking for.

Whatever you want from your next car, Motorpoint will make sure you drive away happy. With finance options that put you in the driving seat and the best prices guaranteed, look no further for your next car. For more information and to browse our full range, visit the homepage or call 01332 227 227.