Diesel cars vs petrol vs hybrid: what are the pros and cons

Thinking about getting a new car? One of the important considerations you need to make is what fuel type to go for. We’ve previously looked at some things to help you decide if an electric car is right for you, but here we look at the other options that are available: diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles.

Keep reading to find out some of the key differences between the different fuel types – so that you can choose the right car for your needs.

Understanding the different fuel types

If you’re choosing a new car, your first thought might be to go for a petrol or diesel car. Petrol cars offer less local air pollution, quieter engines and a lower price, compared to their diesel counterparts. However, diesel cars are often viewed as being better for long-distance journeys and having a better fuel economy.

You may be less familiar with hybrids, but they are also a great option to consider if you’re not yet ready to make the switch to electric. Essentially, they are cars that combine two different energy sources: electricity and a standard fuel type (petrol or diesel).

But it’s not quite as simple as comparing a hybrid against a petrol or diesel car. There are a few different types of hybrid that are available, so you’ll need to know what’s what before considering which car type to go for.

What are the different types of hybrids?

There are three types of hybrid, although one of them is very similar to a normal petrol or diesel car. All of them use an electric battery alongside a combustion engine, but there are a few key differences. The three types are:

  1. Mild Hybrid Vehicles (MHEVs). A mild hybrid is the most similar to a standard petrol or diesel car. It has a small electric generator that can be used to start the car or run some systems like the air-conditioning. The combustion engine will always need to be the main source of power to get your car moving.
  2. Full Hybrid Vehicles (FHEVs). Also known as self-charging hybrids, these cars can run solely on their electric battery or on standard fuel. They use the energy produced from your car braking to charge the electric battery, which means you don’t have to plug them in.
  3. Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs). These cars also allow you to drive using a standard fuel or your electric battery, however the battery in these cars is bigger than in other hybrids. You can plug them into an electric chargepoint to top up the battery – but remember, you’ll need to charge them regularly to get the best use out of them.

Pros of hybrid cars:

Elsewhere, we’ve looked at the pros and cons of hybrid cars compared to their fully electric counterparts. Here, we’ll be focusing on how they compare to petrol or diesel vehicles.

  • Better for the environment. Because they don’t use as much fuel, hybrids usually give off fewer emissions than both petrol and diesel cars, making them a greener option.
  • More efficient. Generally speaking, hybrids are more efficient than a car that runs on just petrol or diesel.
  • Electrification can provide better performance. The addition of an electric motor usually means that a car’s engine can run more smoothly. Plus, most hybrids will switch power sources automatically, which can be useful when driving.
  • Less idling. Particularly useful for city driving, some hybrids can allow you to reduce idling by turning the engine off when the car stops and restarting it when the accelerator is pressed.
  • No lifestyle changes needed… usually. If you opt for a mild hybrid or full hybrid, you won’t have to change any of your habits when it comes to refuelling your car. You can benefit from travelling a reasonable distance in electric-only mode, without having to think about electric charging. If you go for a plug-in hybrid though, you will need to charge up regularly to get the best use out of it.

Cons of hybrid cars:

  • Less boot space. The additional battery and electric motor can take up some space in hybrid cars, which means there can sometimes be less space to carry luggage or any mobility equipment you might need. Remember that you can filter cars by boot size using the Car Search on our website.
  • Higher cost. Hybrids can be slightly more expensive, although there are plenty of choices on the Motability Scheme that suit a range of budgets. 
  • You might need to change your habits. If you go for a plug-in hybrid car, you’ll need to make sure you charge it regularly in order to benefit from lower running costs and achieve the best electric driving range. If you don’t think that will fit into your routine, a plug-in hybrid is probably not the best option for you.

What about petrol and diesel cars?

Unlike hybrids, a pure petrol or diesel car will only run on the fuel that you put in them. There are lots of great petrol and diesel cars available on the Motability Scheme, and they can offer more familiarity for drivers who are used to a traditional car.

Pros of petrol cars:

  • Petrol is typically cheaper than diesel. Although hybrids can be more cost-efficient than a standard fuel car, refilling with petrol is generally cheaper than diesel.
  • Lower particulate emissions. Both diesel and petrol combustion engines emit CO2 and other particulates into the air, but generally, petrol engines will produce lower particulate emissions that can be particularly harmful in high-traffic urban areas. If this is a concern for you, then a hybrid that can be driven in ‘full electric’ mode might be an even better choice.
  • Good for short trips. If you do lots of short drives, a petrol car may be a better option than diesel. You may also want to consider a hybrid, as these are also good for short journeys.
  • A quieter drive. Compared to diesel cars, petrol vehicles can offer a smoother and quieter driving experience. However, if you’re driving a hybrid car in ‘full electric’ mode, you’ll notice that it’s even quieter and smoother than a standard petrol car. 

Cons of petrol cars:

  • Lower fuel efficiency. Petrol cars are less fuel-efficient than diesel cars. Even though the fuel itself is cheaper, you’ll need more of it to drive your car – so you may want to consider if it’s the most economical option for you.
  • Environmental impact. Fossil-fuelled cars are worse for the environment, so if you want to go green, consider switching to a hybrid or fully electric car instead.

Pros of diesel cars:

  • Good for long journeys. Vehicles with a diesel engine can travel further on a full tank, which is great if you often travel long distances.
  • Good if you need to tow. Diesel cars are usually good for towing trailers or caravans because they have lots of torque, which means the engine doesn’t have to work as hard.

Cons of diesel cars:

  • More expensive fuel. You may have noticed that the price of diesel is typically higher than for a petrol mode – so expect to pay more at the fuel station for a diesel car.
  • Environmental impact. Similar to petrol cars, diesel cars are also worse for the environment than hybrid or fully electric vehicles. They produce more harmful particulates when driving, contributing to air pollution.

Hybrids: the best of all worlds?

Essentially the idea of a hybrid is that it offers the best of both worlds – the driving range of a petrol or diesel model, plus the lower emissions and smooth running of an electric vehicle. A hybrid will often choose which mode to drive in, be it using the combustion engine or the electric motor (or a combination of both). This makes them very easy to drive and to live with, although you will have to get used to plugging in if you choose a PHEV.

All of this means that with a hybrid car, you generally won’t have to change the way you drive or what you do. For those who are not yet ready to switch to a full battery-electric vehicle or are looking for familiarity in their next car, a hybrid can be a great option. There’s a wide selection of hybrid models available through the Motability Scheme.

How the Motability Scheme works

The Motability Scheme offers an all-inclusive package to help you stay mobile. If you receive a qualifying mobility allowance, you can use it to lease a car, scooter, powered wheelchair or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV).

Get a free information pack



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