Diesel cars were once a very popular choice for drivers. In 2005 we saw changes made to car tax which were amended to reflect the CO2 emissions of vehicles. Diesel cars greatly benefited from this and it incentivised many to switch to a diesel engine to curb the emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.

But over the last decade, the future of diesel cars has been put into question. This is a result of stricter emissions testing, higher tax rates, initiatives such as the Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) and Clean Air Zones (CAZ) and the proposed 2035 ban on all new diesel and petrol cars.

For many people, diesel cars still offer a more practical and economical solution compared to petrol cars, particularly as newer Euro 6-compliant diesels enter the market. However, these recent pain points along with the imminent 2035 ban on new diesel cars have begun to make people question if buying a diesel car is worth it.

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of diesel cars to help you decide if buying a diesel car is right for you.

Reasons why you should get a diesel car

Better suited for long-distance driving

If you regularly drive longer distances, then a diesel car will likely be a more suitable option. Diesel-powered cars are capable of delivering more torque at lower revolutions per minute (RPM). This means they do not need to work as hard as petrol engines to deliver the same power and performance.

Better fuel efficiency

Diesel fuel contains more energy than petrol when comparing the same volumes. On average, diesel engines have an mpg figure of between 60 and 70mpg compared to petrol engines which are around the 40 to 50mpg mark. If you regularly drive long distances, then a diesel car could save you money, despite the difference in fuel costs.

Durability and endurance

Diesel engines are typically built to be more robust to handle the high compression force of the ignition cycle. Because of this, diesel engines are renowned for being incredibly reliable.

The composition of diesel also helps to lubricate the engine and its moving parts when it’s in use which can further improve its longevity. On the other hand, petrol is a solvent. Over time, this increases wear within the petrol engine which can lead to higher maintenance costs.

Higher used values

Generally speaking, when it comes to used cars, newer large diesel cars hold their value better than petrol alternatives. As we’ve discussed, diesel cars are renowned for their robustness and this is often reflected in their price, even on the second-hand market.

That being said, with the 2035 proposed ban on new diesel and petrol cars, it can be hard to predict if this will always be the case.

Towing capabilities

Diesel engines have a high compression ratio, which results in greater torque. Put simply, the more torque your engine has, the greater amount of pulling power it can produce.

This torque makes diesel cars more suited for tasks that involve towing heavy loads such as a caravan, horsebox or trailer.

Reasons why you shouldn’t get a diesel car

Short journeys are less efficient and can harm the engine over time

Diesel engines work best when fully warm and short journeys don’t give the vehicle enough time to warm up to the optimal level. Driving lots of short journeys in a diesel car puts additional strain on the engine, which can lead to more costly repairs over time.

Petrol and electric cars are much more suited for shorter commutes around cities and towns. Whereas diesel cars are more suited for long-distance and motorway driving.

Newer models can be more expensive to buy

Newer diesel models can be more expensive to buy due to advancements in technology that strive to make them more eco-friendly. If you regularly make long journeys, taking into account that better fuel economy can sometimes outweigh the initial price tag.

If purchasing a brand-new diesel car is out of your price range, you could consider purchasing a used diesel car. You can often find high-spec models at a lower purchase price. You could also consider using car finance to spread the cost rather than buying the vehicle outright.

Subject to CAZ and ULEZ charges

Some diesels are subject to Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) or Clean Air Zones (CAZ) charges. If you live or commute within these zones, then this is something you should consider.

For ULEZ, Non-compliant vehicles are subject to a daily charge of £12.50 in all London boroughs and for CAZ, the charge and restrictions vary by city.

A diesel vehicle must comply with Euro 6 standards to be exempt from these charges. This is usually most vehicles registered with the DVLA after September 2015. However, Euro 6 standard diesel cars are usually more expensive. Therefore, you should weigh up the savings you would make on fuel and running costs with these potential CAZ and ULEZ charges.

Older diesels can be more polluting

Although diesel cars emit fewer regulated pollutants, they do emit more noxious gases and particulates. This is particularly prevalent for older diesel cars which have been deemed as a major contributing factor in air pollution in the UK.

Newer Euro 6-compliant diesel cars have improved technology to combat this. However, this usually comes with a higher price tag.

Legislative changes

A ban on the sale of new diesel cars has been proposed for 2035. This proposal is also expected to apply to petrol and hybrid cars too. Whilst this proposed ban is not expected to apply to existing vehicles on the road, it is unclear how this potential ban will affect the second-hand market.

Diesels will remain on the road for several years after this ban. However, like any car, they will eventually require maintenance and replacement parts. In the future, sourcing these parts may become harder and more expensive as diesel cars are phased out.

The future of diesel cars

It was initially announced that the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles would be banned by 2030. This date has since been pushed back to 2035. However, this only applies to new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and the sale of second-hand cars won’t be affected.

You will still be able to drive your old petrol or diesel car post-2035, but after this date, you will be limited to only purchasing used diesel cars. It is unclear what effect this will have on the second-hand market but many are predicting that the market value of these vehicles will decline.

Whilst buying a new petrol and diesel car will still appeal to many, others are looking at their options when it comes to fully electric cars.

Is it worth buying a second-hand diesel car?

Buying a used diesel car can offer very good value for money compared to buying a brand-new model. Despite the decrease in new diesel car sales in recent years, there has been a shift in demand towards the used diesel car market. Diesel cars are renowned for their longer service life, which can make a second-hand diesel a more reliable option than petrol. Of course, this will depend on the age of the vehicle and how it has been maintained.

For advice on purchasing a used car, you can check out our used car checklist for advice and tips on what to look for when purchasing a used car.

Should I still buy a diesel car?

For some, diesel cars offer a good value for money, even after additional taxes and charges. The money spent on these charges can often be recuperated from the money saved on fuel. However, for others, owning a diesel car wouldn’t be suitable for the amount they drive and what they intend to use the vehicle for.

Deciding whether it’s worth buying a diesel car comes entirely down to personal preference and circumstance. As we’ve discussed there are many pros to owning a diesel car, but similarly, there are some downsides too. In summary:

You should buy a diesel car if:

You drive over 12,000 miles a year
You regularly drive long distances and on motorways
You use your car to tow heavy trailers and caravans
You want a car with a durable, hard-wearing engine
You care about fuel efficiency
You need a company car and cannot have an electric car

You will benefit less from a diesel car if:

You drive less than 12,000 miles a year
You only drive short distances
It was built before September 2015 and you live near or within the London ULEZ or other CAZ
You want to pay less road tax

Frequently asked questions