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Petrol vs Diesel vs Hybrid: Which Is Best For Me?

Petrol vs Diesel vs Hybrid: Which Is Best For Me?

Twenty years ago, it was a simple choice: petrol or diesel. Today, there are nearly ten different fuel types to choose from. From petrol to plug-in hybrids, each one has benefits and drawbacks depending on usage.

But this can make choosing between petrol vs diesel vs hybrid even more of a challenge. Buying the wrong type could result in higher fuel costs, reduced practicality and even untimely repair bills. We're here to help you avoid this.

This expert-approved guide will highlight each fuel type, its pros and cons, and its best use cases. Scroll down to become an expert in minutes!

A quick overview of the fuel types

There are many benefits for each fuel type and also many drawbacks to consider. So, don’t rush your decision! Take your time to mull over this guide.

Petrol cars might catch your eye due to their lower price. Diesel cars might tempt those who make long-distance journeys or want better fuel economy. Hybrids are a great option if you’re not ready to go fully electric.

However, it’s not always this simple. Each fuel category has different car types, and we’ll discuss these below.

What are the different types of hybrids?

There are three types of hybrid cars. All use an electric battery and a combustion engine, but some significant differences exist. Plus, one is very similar to a diesel/petrol car.

Here’s everything you need to know about hybrids:

Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs) — These allow you to drive using your electric battery or standard fuel. The key difference here is that the battery in these cars is larger than that of other hybrids. They get plugged into an electric charging point for top-ups, but you must charge them regularly for the best experience.

Mild Hybrid Vehicles (MHEVs) — Mild hybrids are closest to diesel and petrol cars. These have small electric generators that run air-conditioning and start the car. Ultimately, the combustion engine will be the primary power source for movement.

Full Hybrid Vehicles (FHEVs) — These cars run entirely on fuel or an electric battery. They can even use energy produced by braking to charge the battery, meaning you won’t have to plug into a charging point. These are also known as self-charging cars.

Pros and cons of hybrid cars

Weighing up whether or not to buy a hybrid car? Here’s how they measure up against petrol and diesel alternatives.

Pros of hybrids

  • More efficient than a petrol or diesel car  
  • Better for the environment due to fewer emissions 
  • Electricity provides a smoother drive  
  • Some hybrids reduce idling by turning the engine off when stopped 
  • No need for lifestyle changes (e.g. don’t have to change refuelling habits)

Cons of hybrids

  • In general, more expensive
  • Some cars require you to change your habits (e.g. plug-in hybrid cars)
  • Less boot space

What about petrol vs diesel cars?

If you’re not ready for a hybrid car, your options are petrol and diesel cars. These run on the fuel you put in them and don’t require charging. No lifestyle changes here! 

We will explain the pros and cons of each type of fuel and hybrid below, but we’ll quickly compare petrol and diesel to help you decide.

Petrol car strengths

  • Petrol is usually cheaper than diesel 
  • Great for short drives
  • Quieter driving experience
  • Lower particulate emissions 

These are the key petrol car strengths. But remember that petrol has a lower fuel efficiency than diesel and still leaves an environmental impact. Not ideal for your carbon footprint! 

Diesel car strengths

  • Good for long journeys
  • Great for towing caravans or trailers

Diesel cars are ideal if you’re a frequent long-distance traveller. However, they have a higher environmental impact and require expensive fuel.

Petrol vs Diesel vs Hybrid: Pros & cons of all fuel types

Choosing between petrol vs diesel vs hybrid isn’t easy. So, we’ve researched for you. See the advantages and disadvantages of each type below.  

1. Petrol

Petrol is the one we're all familiar with and arguably the simplest of all in terms of mechanical complexity and cost.

In its basic form, petrol is burnt inside the engine to create mechanical power. The lack of various components compared to diesel (e.g. Diesel particulate filters, exhaust gas recirculation valves, dual mass flywheels and turbochargers) means fewer parts go wrong.

Petrol cars typically don't do as many miles to the gallon as diesel, though. Petrol is quite high in cost per kW compared to electric, although less so than diesel.

Although the ULEZs (Ultra Low Emission Zones) still permit most petrol cars without charge, there are plans to cease the manufacture of petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030. 

Great for:

  • Low average mileage
  • Short journeys 
  • City driving*
  • Remote locations with little charging infrastructure

*ULEZ rule changes permitting

Not great for:

  • Lots of miles due to poor economy
  • Environmental impact
  • Higher tax

Best for drivers:

Who do a mix of long and short journeys and don’t want to splurge. If you drive less than 15,000 miles per year, a petrol car will be cheaper than diesel. However, you could save more if most of your journeys are low-speed, short urban routes.

2. Diesel

Diesel engine cars became popular in the early 2000s, mainly due to advancements in turbochargers and fueling technologies, allowing smaller diesel engines to compete (and exceed) petrol cars in fuel economy whilst still being powerful.

Economy figures upwards of 60 MPG can be seen from many common examples, even large vehicles such as VW Passats. Many people favour the power delivery of diesel and prefer driving them.

Since the 2000s, systems have been developed to help achieve these high performance and economy figures whilst lowering emissions. These include Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs), Exhaust gas recirculation valves and high-performing turbos.   

However, diesels are still falling out of favour among car manufacturers. This is due to their higher emissions. More carcinogenic NOx (nitrogen-oxygen) is released by these cars, so many makers are avoiding them in order to meet green targets.

Great for:

  • High mileage
  • Long trips on motorways or rural areas
  • Remote locations with little charging infrastructure

Not great for:

  • Short journeys - cause blocked DPFs
  • Environmental impact
  • Higher tax

Best for drivers:

Who drive long journeys and have higher-than-average mileage. They’re also great for those who frequently tow caravans or trailers.

Related Reading: Does My Diesel Car Need AdBlue? 

3. Self-Charging Hybrid

When they released the first generation Prius Hybrid, Toyota took the world by storm. It achieved extremely high fuel economy through petrol and electric power usage.

Since then, almost every auto manufacturer has included at least one hybrid in their range. From two-door sports cars and family saloons to pickup trucks and commercial vehicles. Clearly, they’re popular with the public, but what benefits do they offer?  

It’s important to note that many different types of hybrids exist, including parallel systems, mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and more. All of these can also be offered with a petrol or diesel engine.

Self-charging hybrids have a battery and motor system powered by the combustion engine and regenerative braking. The basic premise is that both engine and motor can power the wheels but are only used in the best conditions for each.  

When pulling away, the motor will do most of the work. Once up to speed, the petrol engine will directly drive the wheels the majority of the time. The car splits power from the engine and electric generator as and when required to keep the batteries topped up.

The benefit of this system is that fuel economy is greatly improved, both due to optimisation of the power types and regaining otherwise lost energy when braking.

Great for:

  • Town and city driving
  • Long journeys through towns/constant short trips
  • Remote locations with little charging infrastructure

Not great for:

  • Long motorway journeys
  • Longevity due to battery tech

Best for drivers:

Who want an improved fuel economy and aren’t ready to go 100% electric. Self-charging hybrids are great for low to medium-mileage drivers but are not ideal for long journeys.

4. Plug-in Hybrids

PHEV cars use similar tech to self-charging hybrids but do not contain a generator to allow the combustion engine to top up the battery. Most still use regenerative braking because the already present electric motor performs this.  

In terms of user experience, they are different from conventional hybrids and internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in that you are required to fill them up with fossil fuel and charge them from the grid.

Many PHEV systems offer a mode whereby they operate on electric power only. With ranges usually sub 40 miles, it can be the perfect vehicle for someone with a sub-20-mile commute. No petrol would be consumed here - as long as it can be charged each night.

The petrol or diesel engine allows extended journeys without needing to plan for charging stops, which can be an issue with electric-only vehicles. However, this is not their ideal scenario, as once the battery power is depleted, the combustion engine must carry the extra weight of the empty batteries and motor.

Great for:

  • City driving
  • Short commutes but occasional long drives
  • Remote locations with little charging infrastructure

Not great for:

  • Higher annual mileage
  • Motorway driving

Best for drivers:

Who mostly make short commutes. However, they can cover long drives when needed. This is also a good option if you’re ready to switch from fuel but don’t want a completely electric vehicle.

Learn more about hybrid batteries with our guide on hybrid battery replacement costs and FAQs.

5. Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles have existed for many years, but recent battery and motor technology advancements have allowed for much better range and performance figures.

Charge at home or a service station, and an electric motor converts the stored energy into propulsion. EVs are reasonably simple mechanically, but as their adoption is still not widespread, you may find few and far between independent repairers and spare parts will be costly.

Electric vehicles have the apparent advantage of not needing fossil fuels. An old argument was that energy is still generated using coal and oil, but in 2021, over 40% of the energy produced in the UK was from renewable sources.

This makes EVs a much more environmentally friendly option. Another benefit is the lack of air pollution added to towns and cities, which will help with the quality of life in years to come.

They do have their downsides, though. Retail prices are still at least 30% higher than combustion-engined equivalents, but that is reducing yearly as manufacturing tech improves.

If the initial purchase price is not an issue, if you lease your cars, for example, then EVs' main benefit is their running cost. Even with 2022’s elevated energy prices, it will typically only cost £8 to fully charge a typical EV.

Assuming a range of approximately 250 miles, that makes fueling your car around 8x cheaper than a diesel doing 40 miles to the gallon. Over a yearly mileage of 15,000 miles could result in savings of up to £2,000.

Great for:

  • Any journey length (as long as you have a charger network close by)
  • Reducing carbon emissions
  • Low Vehicle Emissions Duty (AKA road tax)

Not great for:

  • High upfront cost
  • Long journeys in remote areas

Best for drivers:

Who are ready to go green. Electric cars require a larger upfront cost but don’t require expensive fuel. They’re also great for drivers who live near charging stations. If you don’t have a local charging network, an electric car might not be best for you.

About low emission zones

Low emission zones are another factor to consider. While some drivers won’t come into contact with them, others will want to opt for ULEZ-exempt cars to avoid hefty fees.

London’s ULEZ zone is one of the largest and charges larger, more polluting cars £12.50 per day on entry. The aim is to reduce the emissions in the area.

Luckily, most petrol cars after 2005 are ULEZ exempt. If you want a diesel car, you’ll have to buy a car after September 2015. In contrast, all hybrids are exempt.

If your city doesn’t have a low-emission zone yet, it might have one in the works. Oxford, Birmingham, York, and other UK cities are considering adding clean air zones in the future.

FAQs

Where can I charge an electric car?

You can charge your electric car at home by plugging it into the mains. You can also use the UK’s network of public charging points. There are over 51,000 charging points as of 2023, which will only keep growing.

Why is diesel more expensive than petrol?

Diesel cars tend to be more expensive than petrol vehicles as they need extra hardware to comply with EU laws. However, after this initial cost, they have better fuel efficiency — even though diesel costs more than petrol.

Is it easy to sell or buy second-hand hybrid cars?

Yes. The second-hand hybrid car market is healthy, and there’s demand for all-electric and hybrid cars. You shouldn’t have an issue reselling in the future.

What's the average range of an electric car?

Studies suggest that the average range of an electric car in the UK is 212 miles. But this can range from 60 to 395 miles, depending on the car and the weather.

Petrol vs diesel vs hybrid: What’s best for you?

There’s no clear answer for everyone. To work out which fuel type is best for you, consider these questions:

  • How long is your average drive?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Is a “green” or low-emission car your priority?
  • Do you want a high fuel economy?
  • Are you happy to switch from fuel to charging?

You may also want to consider the long-term outlook. If you live in a low-emission zone (or a soon-to-be one) choosing a ULEZ-approved car can save you money in the future. If you live in a rural area or make longer journeys, this may not apply to you.

Hybrid cars will likely have a better resale value, as more people make the switch from petrol and diesel to electric alternatives. 

You can also use the list below for the critical information. We’ve added fully electric vehicles into the mix for comparison.

Hybrid

Advantages

  1. Reliable
  2. More economical than petrol

Disadvantages

  1. Less economical than diesel 
  2. More emissions than electric 

Petrol

Advantages

  1. Cheapest
  2. Fewer emissions than diesel

Disadvantages

  1. Least economical
  2. Higher emissions than hybrid

Diesel

Advantages

  1. Good for towing & long drives
  2. More economical than petrol 

Disadvantages

  1. Most emissions
  2. More expensive than hybrids 

Electric

Advantages

  1. Zero emissions
  2. Cheaper than hybrids, diesel, and petrol

Disadvantages

  1. Longest to charge/fill up
  2. Can’t do over 300 miles on one charge

The bottom line

Choosing between petrol vs diesel vs hybrid cars isn’t always simple. But it is easier with an all-encompassing guide. Bookmark this page to make sure you don’t lose it!

No matter what type of car you drive, Bumper is the ideal partner to help spread the cost of servicing and repairs, completely interest-free! Get started with a dependable local dealership or garage near you now.

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