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Should I Choose a Petrol or Diesel Car?

Understand the key differences between these two common fuel types and the pros and cons of each with Savvy.
Published on December 7th, 2020
  Written by 
Adrian Edlington
Adrian Edlington is PR & Communications Manager at Savvy. With a keen interest in personal finance, car loans, the mortgage industry, cost of living pressures, electric vehicles and renewable technology, Adrian's research includes conducting primary data surveys and analysis of up-to-the-minute secondary Australian data sources. His work on behalf of Savvy has been featured on ABC.net.au The Conversation, the Sydney Morning Herald, AFR, News.com.au, The Age, Herald Sun, Adelaide Now, SBS On The Money, 7News, Car Expert, Which Car, Drive.com.au and more. In his spare time, Adrian enjoys mountain biking and business podcasts.
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Bill Tsouvalas

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Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is the managing director and a key company spokesperson at Savvy. As a personal finance expert, he often shares his insights on a range of topics, being featured on leading news outlets including News Corp publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, Fairfax Media publications such as the Australian Financial Review, the Seven Network and more. Bill has over 15 years of experience working in the finance industry and founded Savvy in 2010 with a vision to provide affordable and accessible finance options to all Australians. He has built Savvy from a small asset finance brokerage into a financial comparison website which now attracts close to 2 million Aussies per year and was included in the BRW’s Fast 100 in 2015 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. He’s passionate about helping Australians make financially savvy decisions and reviews content across the brand to ensure its accuracy. You can follow Bill on LinkedIn.
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Whether to choose a petrol or diesel car is an important consideration for many drivers in Australia. When it comes to making a decision, understanding the differences is key. From fuel efficiency to maintenance costs and environmental impact, each fuel type has its own set of pros and cons. In this blog, we explore the factors you should consider when deciding between petrol and diesel vehicles, helping you make an informed choice.

Petrol vs diesel – what’s the difference?

Petrol and diesel are two types of fuel commonly used in vehicles, each with distinct characteristics and applications. The main difference between petrol and diesel engines lies in their ignition systems and combustion processes. Petrol engines use a spark plug to ignite the fuel-air mixture, while diesel engines rely on the heat generated by compression to ignite the injected diesel fuel. This fundamental difference results in variations in engine design, performance characteristics, fuel efficiency, emissions and maintenance requirements between petrol and diesel vehicles.

In Australia, recent years have seen a decline in the number of diesel-powered passenger vehicles on the market, particularly when it comes to smaller models like sedans. The majority of Australians now drive petrol cars, with just 28.3% using diesel in their vehicles. However, there are still a number of diesel models to choose from and it’s important to weigh up a variety of other factors when making your choice.

What factors should I consider when choosing between a petrol or a diesel car?

Choosing between a petrol or diesel car in Australia depends on various factors, including your driving habits, budget and environmental concerns. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Fuel efficiency: diesel cars generally offer better fuel efficiency, especially for long-distance driving or towing heavy loads. If you frequently travel long distances or require towing capacity, a diesel vehicle might be more cost-effective in the long run.
  • Purchase price: diesel cars often come with a higher upfront cost compared to their petrol counterparts. Consider your budget and whether the potential fuel savings over time justify the higher initial investment.
  • Maintenance costs: while diesel engines tend to be more robust and durable, they may incur higher maintenance costs. Petrol engines are typically simpler and may have lower maintenance costs over time.
  • Resale value: in Australia, diesel cars have traditionally had a higher resale value than petrol cars, though this may change due to lower demand.
  • Environmental impact: diesel cars typically produce lower CO2 emissions but emit higher levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx). Consider your environmental priorities and the impact of your vehicle choice on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Government regulations: keep in mind any current or future government regulations regarding diesel vehicles, including emission standards and potential restrictions on usage.
  • Driving conditions: think about your typical driving conditions. Diesel engines perform well at lower speeds and are well-suited for towing or carrying heavy loads. However, if you mainly drive in urban areas or for short distances, a petrol engine may be more suitable.
  • Personal preference: ultimately, the choice between petrol and diesel comes down to personal preference and priorities. Consider test-driving both types of vehicles to assess their performance, comfort and suitability for your needs.

What are the pros and cons of petrol cars?

Pros:

  • Lower initial cost: petrol cars typically have a lower upfront purchase price compared to diesel cars.
  • Widespread availability: petrol is more widely available at fuel stations, making it easier to refuel, especially in remote areas.
  • Ideal for urban areas: petrol engines perform well in stop-and-go city driving and short trips, making them ideal for urban commuters.
  • Variety of options: petrol cars are more prevalent in the Australian market than diesel models, offering a wider range of vehicles to choose from.
  • Quieter operation: petrol engines tend to run quieter compared to diesel engines, providing a smoother and more refined driving experience.

Cons:

  • Higher fuel costs per litre: while the upfront cost might be lower, petrol typically costs more per litre than diesel.
  • Lower fuel efficiency: petrol engines generally offer less fuel efficiency compared to diesels, meaning you'll need to fill up more often, especially for long-distance driving.
  • More frequent maintenance: petrol engines may require more frequent maintenance, including spark plug replacements and tune-ups, compared to diesel engines.
  • Higher emissions: petrol cars tend to produce higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared to diesel cars, contributing to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the pros and cons of diesel cars?

Pros:

  • More fuel-efficient: diesel engines offer better fuel economy than petrol engines, translating to potentially significant cost savings on fuel, especially for high-mileage drivers.
  • Higher torque: diesels offer greater pulling power, making them a good choice for towing heavy loads or frequently driving uphill.
  • Potentially longer lifespan: diesel engines can sometimes have a longer lifespan than petrol engines, though proper maintenance is crucial for both. Diesel engines are known for their robust construction and durability, often lasting longer than petrol engines with proper maintenance.
  • Lower CO2 emissions: diesel cars tend to produce lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared to petrol cars, contributing to lower overall greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Suitable for long distances: diesel engines perform well on highways and long trips, providing excellent fuel economy and range.

Cons:

  • Higher upfront cost: diesel cars tend to be more expensive to purchase than petrol cars.
  • Higher maintenance costs: diesel engines can have more complex components and require specialised maintenance, potentially leading to higher servicing costs.
  • Higher emissions of pollutants: while some modern diesels are becoming cleaner, they can still produce higher levels of certain pollutants compared to petrol cars, especially older models without advanced emission control technology.
  • Limited availability: the number of diesel options, particularly in smaller car segments, has shrunk in recent years. This reduced availability can limit the pool of potential buyers for used diesel cars.

Looking to the future: the growth of electric vehicles

As the automotive industry continues to evolve, one notable trend on the horizon is the increasing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). In Australia, demand for EVs is steadily growing, driven by various factors including environmental concerns, advances in battery technology and the expanding EV infrastructure.

Furthermore, states and territories are also incentivising people to buy electric cars. The Australian Capital Territory has even suggested banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in the region from 2035.

While EVs currently represent a small fraction of total vehicle sales in Australia, their market share is expected to rise significantly in the coming years as more manufacturers introduce new electric models and infrastructure investments accelerate.

Choosing between a petrol or diesel car requires careful consideration of your driving habits, budget and environmental priorities. Ultimately, the best choice depends on your individual needs.

Whether you’re embracing the convenience of petrol and diesel vehicles or transitioning to an electric car, if you need a car loan, Savvy can help. We can search offers from more than 40 Australian lenders to find a car loan to suit your needs and circumstances. Get started today!

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