Electric v diesel v petrol: how do they compare?

Choosing a new car can be overwhelming. There are so many different types and models available, where do you begin?

To help decide which type of car is best for you, we’ve assessed petrol, diesel and electric vehicles (EVs) against the most common purchasing considerations.

Costs

Vehicle value

EVs can still be regarded as new technology. As recently as 2010, there were only 12,500 of them in use on public roads in the world. This figure now exceeds 200,00 and is rapidly growing. Therefore, it’s not surprising that buying an EV tends to be more expensive than buying a petrol or diesel vehicle. This cost difference can be quite large, and electric vehicles may not be possible for those sticking to a budget.

However, there are other factors that are worth considering. While petrol vehicles tend to be the cheapest to buy, their value depreciates quicker than it does for diesel or electric options. At the other end of the scale, EVs retain value much better.

The government is also actively encouraging EV ownership and offers a Plug-in Car Grant that contributes £3000 towards the cost of purchase.

They’ve also introduced a new bill that means only electric vehicles will be sold from 2035. This is unlikely to affect the current buying cycle but does mean you’ll one day have to make the transition to electric.

Fuel costs

When it comes to fuel costs, petrol and diesel struggles to compete with electric. The average energy tariff for a kWh of electricity in the UK is only 14.4p. For most electric vehicles, that means you can fully charge the battery for less than £10.

Petrol is generally cheaper than diesel, but both fuel prices can be subject to rapid variations.

Of course, fuel economy is also important. A study by JCT600 compared the cost of using either an electric, diesel or petrol vehicle. Each of the costs were generated using the average fuel price at the time of writing.

The study compared the journeys taken by the diesel, petrol and electric versions of Volkswagen’s Golf and produced the following results.

e-Golf

Golf 1.5 TSI

Golf 2.0 TDI

Fuel type

Electric

Petrol

Diesel

Price per unit

14.4p/kWh

121.03p/litre

130.32p/litre

Cost/mile

3.7p

14p

13p

Although diesel is more expensive per unit, it still proved cheaper per mile than petrol. Electric was far cheaper than both, and you could make big savings over the course of a year of driving. Something to consider when comparing the cost of electric cars versus petrol and diesel.

Zap Map have a handy calculator that allows you to compare the journey costs of various cars.

Servicing and maintenance

Knowing which type of car will cost you more in servicing and maintenance is difficult to know, as the answer lies more in the make and model of the vehicle.

However, when things do go wrong, the costs to replace or repair diesel vehicles are usually more than they are for petrol equivalents. As a result, car insurance is often cheaper for petrol vehicles.

As electric vehicles don’t have a combustion engine, they have fewer moving parts. Theoretically, this means there are less things that can go wrong. However, as they feature high levels of technology which can be expensive to replace, their insurance costs can be much higher than for diesel and petrol vehicles.

When it comes to servicing and maintenance, we suggest you research the reliability of certain models. You can find lots of car reliability surveys over at WhatCar. 

Range

Range for each type of car can vary depending on the size of a vehicle’s fuel tank or battery. However, as a general rule, electric cars have a shorter range, with the average sitting at below 200 miles.

Filling up with fuel is generally easier for petrol and diesel vehicles too, with plenty of petrol stations available.

When it comes to EVs, most owners charge their cars at home via a specialised charging point. However, the number of public charging points has increased rapidly in recent years and continues to rise, which should help alleviate the range anxiety associated with electric vehicles. Zap Map provides an interactive map of all the charging points in the UK, which shows the extensive charging point infrastructure that now exists. Plus, many of the charge points found at motorway stations are rapid charge points that can boost a battery by up to 80% in as little as 30 minutes!

However, not all electric vehicles are compatible with rapid charge points. Plus, when it comes to day to day usage, a home charging point is all but a necessity for electric vehicles. For those who only have on-street parking, this means an electric vehicle isn’t an option. 

Emissions

It will come as no surprise to hear that electric vehicles are by far the most eco-friendly choice.

With no tail-pipe emissions, they are a great way of reducing your carbon footprint. Now recognised as a great way to tackle climate change, the government have created many initiatives to help encourage EV ownership. This includes the Plug-in Car Grant, the OLEV Grant for the installation of electric charging infrastructure, no road tax and no congestion charges.

In comparison, petrol and diesel vehicles release far more emissions. They are also subject to an emissions test which can cause a car to fail an MOT.

It’s these environmental factors that have influenced the government’s decision to ban the sale of all diesel and petrol cars from 2035.

Performance

Love the feeling of instant acceleration whenever your foot touches the pedal? It may surprise you, but electric cars provide the best acceleration, with their motors creating instant torque. Many also have ‘one pedal’ driving modes that allow you to control both acceleration and deceleration with one pedal.

Diesel engines also produce high-torque and accelerate quickly. However, their biggest strength is their life span, with diesel engines lasting much longer than petrol alternatives. They also tolerate higher mileage better.

Of course, nothing can match the sound of a petrol engine. For many car enthusiasts, the guttural sound of a petrol engine is irreplaceable. For others, the near silent driving experience of an electric vehicle is more desirable.

When it comes to performance, there are certain differences which may influence your buying decision. However, unless you have very specific needs, you’ll more than likely find that each type of car will provide you with more than adequate performance.

Should I buy a diesel, petrol or electric car?

The best car for you will depend on your individual needs.

If you regularly complete long journeys, a diesel can prove more cost efficient than petrol. An electric car will cost even less but will require recharging along the way.

Electric cars are a great all-round choice as they have enough range for the average distance travelled per week, are eco-friendly, and their charging costs are cheaper than filling a tank of fuel. However, they require a home charging point which isn’t possible for those who only have on-street parking.

Some may simply love the driving experience of a petrol engine. It’s best to weigh up the factors in this article against your needs and select a vehicle type based on this.

For lots more great motoring advice, head over to our advice guides.

You can discover more about electric vehicles over at our Electrification Hub.