Ever wondered which is better for your car, motorway driving or city driving? When you come to buy a used car it’s an important question to ask. Why? Well, one type is easier on a vehicle than the other, which can actually wear the car down more. You might be surprised to find out the answer.

So, join us as we discuss the ins and outs of motorway driving vs city driving. We’ll tell you everything you need to know, from the difference between the two, to which one is best when buying a second-hand car, and more.

What’s the difference between motorway and city miles?

Also often discussed as town mileage vs country mileage, there is a difference between the two on how it affects a vehicle. So, is motorway driving bad for your car? You’d be forgiven for asking this question. After all, it would be easy to assume motorway driving is worse for a vehicle than city driving, what with the greater miles and higher speeds.

However, the opposite is actually true. That’s why dealers or private seller sometimes try to sell a car with it advertised as having ‘only driven motorway miles.’ Wait, so are motorway miles better for a car?

Yes, they are! That’s because motorway miles are actually easier on a vehicle. Gathering miles on the motorway is better for a car than doing the same miles in the city. And when you break it down, it becomes clear why that’s the case – which we’ll come to in just a moment. Firstly, though…

City Driving

What’s it like? When city driving and driving around town, there are more cars on the road with lots of other commuters, leading to heavy traffic, rush hour queues, and obviously more cars to observe and manoeuvre past or park beside. And don’t forget the bikes, buses, taxis, and other commercial vehicles on the road.

And the road conditions? They’ll see more wear and tear with the increased traffic, so there’s likely to be potholes to avoid. You’ll face traffic lights, zebra crossings, and speed bumps with city driving too.

But what about fuel efficiency? You might think city driving offers the best fuel economy because of the 30mph and 20mph speed limits of a city. Whilst lower driving speeds do generally result in lower fuel consumption, the nature of city roads puts it behind a motorway. Braking and accelerating from a standstill affect fuel efficiency. And you’ll be doing a lot more of both of those in the city, with the increased traffic and traffic lights.

And CO2 emissions and eco-friendliness? Increasingly, cities are looking to cut down on their carbon footprint and CO2 emissions. Along with London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), major cities like Birmingham and Edinburgh are looking to start their own clear air, low-emission compliance zones. This means non-compliant vehicles that don’t meet the CO2 standards will have to pay a surcharge penalty for driving in such areas. However, electric cars and hybrids are perfect for city driving, allowing buyers to add to their eco-credentials and make savings on fuel in the process.

Best cars for city driving

The best cars for city driving are unsurprisingly those designed for the city. In other words, small cars, city cars, and superminis. Their smaller dimensions make them easier to navigate through busy streets, easier to park, nimble, and more fuel efficient compared to SUVs, saloons, and estates. Electric vehicles and hybrids have quickly become some of the best city cars too, providing a daily commute across town on battery power alone.

Top 10 cars for city driving

Perfect for navigating the busy streets of busy cities, our top 10 cars for city driving tick all the right boxes. They’re practical, fuel efficient, and great for parking in tight spaces.

  1. Hyundai I10
  2. Nissan Leaf
  3. Ford Fiesta
  4. Kia Picanto
  5. Renault Zoe
  6. Volkswagen Up!
  7. Peugeot e208
  8. Toyota Aygo
  9. BMW i3
  10. Suzuki Ignis

Want to know the more about the top vehicles for daily commuting? Check out our top 10 best city cars for commuters and the best economical cars for commuters.

Motorway Driving

What’s it like? The long open roads of a motorway allow you to drive at a consistent speed in a consistent gear. Sure, there may be the occasional lane closure for road works or the occasional jam, but by and large motorways allow swift travel at a steady pace.

And the road conditions? Motorways are typically kept in top condition for the higher speeds and for safety. That means smooth roads without potholes. You won’t have to deal with traffic lights, speed bumps, or sharp corners like you would in a city.

Are motorways more fuel efficient? Yes, motorways are the most efficient roads. You can drive at a consistent speed on a motorway and that is better for fuel economy and less taxing on the car, compared to city driving where you’ll be accelerating from a standstill, and braking lots for traffic queues and cornering. On a motorway, you can leave it in top gear and activate cruise control. And for the best motorway fuel efficiency, stick to a consistent speed around 55-65mph – going above this speed will decrease fuel efficiency.

And CO2 emissions and eco-friendliness? Unlike cities, there are currently no plans for motorways to have low-emission zones and surcharges, according to a vehicle’s CO2 emissions. However, some sections of the motorway in England and Wales have had their speed limits reduced to 60mph and 50mph, respectively.

Why? Well, consistent lower speeds will result in less fuel consumption and a decrease in CO2 emissions. In addition, electric cars are becoming increasingly more practical for the motorway too. Today, there’s an excellent choice of long-range electric cars and versatile hybrids that are well suited to motorway driving.

Best cars for motorway driving – diesel vs petrol vs hybrid vs electric

The best cars for motorway driving offer good fuel efficiency, high levels of comfort whilst driving, and a quiet cabin. But, what’s the best type of car for motorway driving? Diesel, petrol, hybrid, or electric? Good question. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each type.

Diesel cars

Whilst diesel cars are more expensive upfront and the fuel more costly, diesel engines typically last longer than their petrol counterparts. Although, fewer new diesels are being launched and older diesels can emit high levels of dangerous nitrogen oxides, new diesel cars have cleaned up their act to meet emission standards.

+ Diesel cars offer the best fuel economy and miles per gallon on the motorway and long journeys

+ Large cars benefit from diesel engines, which are great for towing with the high levels of torque

Diesel cars can be less reliable than petrol vehicles, hybrids, and electrics

Petrol cars

Petrol cars are cheaper to buy than their diesel, hybrid, and electric counterparts. They’re also cheaper to insure compared to diesels. Plus, it’s the most common fuel type, meaning there’s a wide choice of used cars available.

+ Petrol cars are often quieter and more refined on the motorway than diesels

+ Petrol vehicles can be cheaper to repair compared to diesel ones

Petrol cars use more fuel compared to diesels, meaning long-distance driving can be more expensive

Hybrid cars

Hybrid cars can be said to provide the best of both worlds: they offer low-running costs when driving in the city, yet they’re also comfortable driving long-distances on motorways. On top of that:

+ They are the most fuel efficient for driving equally between motorways and cities

+ They can be cheaper to run and more eco-friendly than diesel and petrol cars

Hybrid vehicles are generally more expensive to buy

Electric cars

Electric cars have come a long way in recent years. And their success continues to grow, as does the roster of electric vehicles (EVs). They’re getting better all the time too, with longer range and greater performance. And more and more leading marques are jumping on the all-electric bandwagon. And we think that’s brilliant. After all, EVs:

+ Offer very low-running costs, a very quiet ride, and impressive acceleration times

+ Are environmentally friendly, producing zero exhaust emissions

However, EV driving range can still be an issue or a concern to long-distance drivers

So, which is best petrol, diesel, hybrid, or electric?

As with all things considered best in driving, it usually depends on your needs, your car requirements, and what you want. Hopefully, this little face-off between the different types will give you some food for thought and help you make the decision that is right for you.

Bear in mind: the combustion engine is being phased out to lower carbon emissions. New petrol and diesel cars and vans are set to be banned from sale in 2030 in the UK, with new hybrids following in 2035. However, second-hand vehicles will be exempt from the ban, allowing sales to continue on the used car market. Nonetheless, it’s an important factor to consider as in the long term the combustion engine will no longer be an option for new buyers.

Top 10 cars for motorway driving

Spacious, quiet, and comfortable, these fuel-efficient steady cruisers are able to eat those motorway miles with ease… Why, it’s our top 10 cars for motorway driving of course:

  1. Tesla Model 3
  2. Skoda Octavia
  3. Hyundai i30
  4. BMW 5 Series
  5. Jaguar XF
  6. Citroen C3
  7. Volvo S60
  8. Ford Mondeo
  9. Volkswagen Arteon
  10. Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Are you a professional who does an equal share of city and motorway driving? Then check out our best executive cars for commuting – they project a strong image in the city and are great on the motorway.

Photo by Dylan Calluy on Unsplash

Why motorway miles are better than city miles

Now we know more about motorway driving and city driving – as well as the best cars for each – let’s move on. It’s time to answer the big question – Why are motorway miles better than city miles?

With city driving, the roads are often not as well kept as the motorway, with potential damage from potholes and more wear on the suspension. In addition, you’ll hit rush hour traffic queues, speed bumps, lots of stopping and starting at traffic lights, and you’ll be using the brakes more too. That means you’ll be shifting gears more often as well. Naturally, all these aspects have an impact on car performance. Because of these reasons, city driving:

  • Puts more strain on the engine, brakes, and gears
  • Has higher fuel consumption
  • Does not let the car reach its optimal operating pressure

With motorway driving, the opposite is the case. Here, you’ll drive long stretches on well-maintained roads. And whilst you might do more miles, you won’t be stopping and starting as much or hitting the brakes as often or changing gears as frequently. Because of that, the car will:

  • Get to operate at optimum condition
  • Cruise at more consistent rpms
  • Have less stress on the brakes and transmission

Motorway driving can also be beneficial, providing a constant charge to the battery and alternator. However, a motorway driven car will likely have higher mileage.

City driving, on the other, may provide a shorter commute and less miles on the odometer. However, city driving can actually wear the car down more.

Motorway miles vs City miles – What’s best when buying a used car?

What’s best when buying a used car? Even though it may have higher mileage, motorway driving is the clear winner here. If you can find a used car that’s largely been driven on the motorway, it should be in a better condition than a similar vehicle that’s mainly driven in the city. It’s also why used car buyers shouldn’t ignore a car with high mileage. Instead, find out whether it’s mainly a city or motorway driven car.

Of course, regular servicing and proper maintenance are the best ways to keep a vehicle in tip top shape. After all, whether we drive in the city or motorway is often out of our hands and down to our work commitments and family lifestyles. For used car buyers, you’ll want to look at the service history just as closely as mileage. Do a car history check before buying and find out about the vehicle’s past care and maintenance.

How to tell if a used car has motorway miles or city miles?

Whilst you can ask the seller this question outright you can’t necessarily take their word for it. Thankfully, there are a few checks you can do when buying any make or model of a pre-owned car that can point to whether it’s been mainly used for motorway driving or city driving. For example:

  • A new car in good condition and with high mileage is usually a sign it’s a motorway driven vehicle
  • Door dents, body scrapes, and wheel curb rash on a used car are typically signs of navigating city driving and tight city parking spaces
  • To be 100% certain of which, you can hire a mechanic to check the second-hand car over – they’ll be able to tell if it’s been mainly used as a city or motorway vehicle from the suspension and general wear of other components

Does high mileage make a difference?

Mileage is a subject that used car buyers often focus on. However, less car mileage does not necessarily mean the car is better. Nor that a high-mileage car is worse. As we’ve discussed, the type of miles the car’s driven has an impact on the vehicle too, whether it’s predominantly been used for motorway or city driving. Plus, there are other factors to consider. These include the car’s age vs mileage and the vehicle’s service history and care, which you can view with a car history check.

Low-mileage used vehicles can be very attractive, but you’ll typically pay more for them. You’ll still want to make sure they’ve been well looked after too. Also remember, cars are at their best when being driven regularly. Vehicles with low mileage – particularly older models – that are very rarely driven and sit on a driveway for months on end could require more servicing as rubber parts grow brittle from lack of use.

High-mileage used cars can be very tempting with fantastically low starting prices, yet their resale value will be lower – the higher mileage having sped up car depreciation. It can also lead to more general wear and tear too. However, once the car reaches around 5-8 years of age, its depreciation rate will have slowed down. And whilst you may worry about unscheduled repairs for an older vehicle, their cheaper prices could still save you money in the long term – although that’s not guaranteed.

The takeaway from this is simple: when buying a used car always do your research and shop around. Ultimately – whether it’s a used Citroen, Land Rover, Porsche, or any other make and model – go for the car and mileage that best fits your needs, budget, wants, and lifestyle.

There’s one winner in the city vs motorway driving debate: the motorway. Despite faster speeds and greater mileage, the motorway is easier on a car. Smoother roads, less stopping and starting, and less brake and transmission wear, mean motorway driving is more fuel efficient and less taxing on a car.