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Is It Time To Ditch The Diesel Engine?

 Published 1st September 2017
Driver Guides 

DESPITE the recent spike in anti-diesel sentiment it's unlikely we will witness the demise of the diesel engine any time soon.

That doesn't mean there aren't issues with diesel that don't need to be addressed. It would be difficult to argue that growing concern over levels of nitrogen oxides emissions is unjustified. That we should try and keep the air we breathe as clean as possible would, we hope, be simple common sense.

The problem we face is finding a way to juggle these emissions when we know both are harmful.

But we still need diesel. There is no immediately obvious replacement that could offer the same level of efficiency as a diesel engine, and until there is, we are stuck. We can switch to electric buses, electric lorries, electric anything else you can think of. Aiming high is great, but none of it is going to happen overnight.

So the question of whether or not it's time to ditch the diesel is going to depend entirely on you. We know that's not particularly helpful but it's the best we can do.

If you live in a city and rarely travel more than a handful of miles in your car then please consider driving an electric vehicle. As well as being cleaner at the point of use they can also save you a useful chunk of money. Driving a purely electric car will also exempt you from the various “toxicity tax” proposals being touted for London and other major cities.

If you live in a city you might already have reasonable access to a charging network so an electric vehicle is a viable option. If you don't, it may be less so. The government is proposing a bill that will go some way to resolving this gaping hole in the infrastructure but it's a long road before it becomes law. When it does it will release investment and incentives to develop a nationwide network of fast-charge points and hydrogen filling stations. The infrastructure is coming but it will inevitably take time.

If the electric option isn't open to you at the moment then you could consider a hybrid: both petrol hybrid and plug-in hybrid are a good option and there's plenty of choice. They do run on petrol but because a hybrid engine is typically smaller and works in conjunction with electric motors the CO2 emissions fall significantly. Combining electricity and petrol does wonders for your fuel consumption too.

A hybrid is never going to be quite as clean as a pure electric car, nor is it going to be as economical as a diesel, but they do offer a good balance between emissions and fuel economy. You don't have to worry about finding a charging point so long journeys are dealt with in the same way as a regular petrol or diesel option.

Daily life, for most people, is a mixture of short and long journeys. Most of the time you will be taking relatively short journeys which the electric side of a hybrid can easily achieve. For longer journeys you can rely on the petrol side of the equation taking the strain and either powering the car, or in the case of range extenders like the BMW I3, recharging the battery as you drive. Either way, as long as there is fuel in the tank a hybrid will keep going. It doesn't take such a fundamental shift in driving habits to make the switch to a hybrid.

For some people it may be the case that the current crop of smaller, more efficient petrol engines are the best option. They are a lot cleaner than they used to be in terms of CO2 so as well as improving fuel consumption the cost of VED can be reduced too. If your car never clocks up more than ten thousand miles per year then you could consider sticking with - or going back to - petrol.

But here's the problem. There are an awful lot of people in the UK who regularly travel in excess of twenty thousand miles per year. Not to mention who knows how many vans and heavy goods vehicles. If you are one of them you will already be well aware that when it comes to efficiency nothing can touch a diesel over those kinds of distances.

Let's not forget that in the early days the diesel engine proved popular in the marine industry for the sole reason that there are no petrol stations in the middle of the ocean. Diesel is popular because it's the most efficient form of internal combustion engine we've managed to mass-produce successfully.

So if you are one of those drivers who travels long distances why should you be forced to sacrifice your most efficient means of transport?

You shouldn't. If a diesel is currently the best option for you today then it will likely still be the best option tomorrow. If that is the case then next time you replace your car, replace it with another diesel. At the end of the day it's up to you.

As we said at the beginning, it's highly unlikely the diesel is going to disappear quickly. The government clean air proposal suggests that sales of new diesel and petrol cars will end by 2040. That's 23 years from now. If a week is a long time in politics two decades is positively geological. A lot can happen in that time.

Most people will change cars five or six times in twenty years, maybe more in some cases. New technologies like the current crop of hybrid/electric cars have developed massively in the last five years. The point is that you don't need to lose too much sleep over changes that haven't actually arrived yet.

By 2040 the entire landscape may have changed. We may have the infrastructure for every single vehicle in the UK to be electric. We may all be driving hydrogen-fuel vehicles. There may be an even better option we haven't figured out yet. Human civilisation may have collapsed entirely, plunging all of us into a nightmarish, anarchic hell where gangs of teenagers scour the earth in a desperate yet futile search for a mythical working iPhone.

No, we don't think the last scenario is likely either. The point is, if you can make the switch to an alternative fuel vehicle then you should. If you can't, then don't. If everyone who could go electric did so it would at least help to balance out those who can't.

As we so unhelpfully pointed out, whether or not you choose to ditch diesel really does depend entirely on you. If you're still not sure you can always give us call to discuss the options.

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