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Is Diesel Better Than Petrol?

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 20 Mar 2012 | comments*Discuss
Diesel Petrol Driving Motorists Driver

It is the motoring debate that has been raging for years. Which is better, diesel or petrol?

Ask most motorists which is the ‘better’ fuel, then the likelihood is that any driver of a diesel car will tell you that diesel is best. Petrol users on the other hand are usually convinced that petrol is the fuel of choice for the serious motorist.

The reality is that as the technology behind both fuels improves, the differences between the two are increasingly coming down to no more than personal preferences.

First, let's look at the traditional arguments for and against petrol and diesel. Petrol cars are known as being faster, quieter and cheaper than their diesel equivalents.

The positive characteristics for diesel cars traditionally have been mainly to do with vastly better economical fuel consumption, plus the greater torque supplied by a diesel engine, which leads to better pulling power and less frequent gear changes, all of which supposedly helps to make driving diesel cars a more comfortable driving experience.

So are these traditional arguments still valid? Well diesel engines do use less fuel than petrol cars, meaning that over the longer term they do work out more economical to run in fuel terms.

In the shorter run, however, the savings are less clear cut. For example, although less fuel is used on shorter journeys, such as town driving, on motorways the fuel consumption differentials are less pronounced.

It is also worth pointing out that in the UK, diesel fuel is priced similarly to unleaded petrol, even a little dearer, whereas in France diesel is considerably cheaper, approximately two thirds the cost of petrol.

Stronger Engines in Diesel Cars?

Another commonly held belief among motorists is that a car with a diesel engine will last much longer, and clock up more miles, than a similar car with a petrol engine.

Whether this is actually still true, given the sophisticated engines in modern cars however, is a matter for debate. Nonetheless, there remains quite a strong second-hand market for diesel cars that have covered 75,000 miles or more.

As a result, if you own a diesel car, then should you decide to sell it on, the chances are that even with a high mileage you will still have a few interested potential buyers when the time comes, than you would with a petrol version.

Of course, there are some well known arguments against owning a diesel. One of the major bugbears with many motorists – and their neighbours – is the noise diesel engines make. Despite technological advances made in recent years, diesel cars are always noticeably louder, particularly on cold winter mornings.


The performance of diesel cars is still an issue with many drivers. Petrol engined cars still offer more horsepower for their size when compared against diesel engines. This means that they tend to have higher top speeds and a quicker acceleration from 0 – 60 mph.

Although it is fair to say that the performance of traditional diesels is poor when compared to petrol cars, the introduction of the ‘turbo-charger’ has helped put an end to some of the unkinder comments relating to diesel performance.

A modern turbo-diesel car has comparable performance with a petrol version and will even out-power it when in fourth or fifth gear, making them particularly nippy when driving on motorways.

Differences between diesel engines can be quite marked, however, depending on the car manufacturer. The best types of turbo engines are those known as ‘common rail’ engines. These apply direct injection technology, but are considerably less noisy than previous versions of turbo diesel engines.

It is true that petrol engines offer better refinement, than diesel engines and for many people the fact that they are cheaper to buy makes the choice a simple one.

For most people, the fact that a diesel car might return 45mpg compared to the petrol car’s return of 35mpg is simply not as convincing an argument as the fact that the list price of a diesel version might cost a few thousand pounds more to purchase. Perhaps the debate between diesel and petrol simply comes down to the difference between short term cost efficiencies and long term savings.

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