Diesel has fast become a dirty word in the car industry, ever since the emissions news the spotlight has well and truly been on the fuel type. It was once hailed as the modern saviour of the automobile, but after a slew of bad press should you even buy a diesel car?
The Big U-Turn
For years the UK Government under Labour pushed the diesel agenda, and it was down to a new sliding scale of car tax making Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) cheaper for cars with lower emissions of carbon dioxide; the greenhouse gas which has created global warming.
As diesels create less CO2 compared to petrol engines this meant that VED was lower for diesel cars, they’re also more efficient in the way they burn their fuel, thus producing more miles per gallon.
No real consideration was given to the fact that they pump out more harmful pollutants including nitrogen oxides, and particulates so fine they’ve been found in brain tissue.
Back then a few ministers raised the issue that diesel shouldn’t be in the same sliding scale, but not wanting to penalise diesel drivers nothing was done. In the resulting 17 years from 2000 the number of diesels on our roads jumped from three million to 12 million, and in the last few years diesel has made up around half the new car market.
Unbeknownst to the average Joe, millions of us Brits switched to driving cars that were highly polluting compared to petrol, all while being told it was less damaging to the planet. Sadly all those nitrogen oxides and particulates damage people instead. They’ve been linked to heart attacks, cancer and respiratory problems across the globe.
How polluting are diesel cars?
Technological advancements since the year 2000 mean that the current crop of diesels, Euro 6, are the cleanest diesel engines in history.
Nineteen years ago the Euro 3 emissions regulations meant a diesel could only emit 0.64 mg/km of CO2, and 0.50 mg/km of NOx or Nitrous Oxides. Euro 6 gives the maximum number of 0.50 CO2 and 0.080 of NOx, that’s 6.25 times less than the figure in 2000. CO2 has also fallen along with the particulate matter size; these are the ultra-fine particles emitted from the exhaust after combustion happens. These have dropped from 0.05 under the Euro 3 standard to 0.005 nowadays.
While they still currently produce particulates, the amount of nitrous oxide is nearly as low as the 0.060 level that petrol engines have to hit. Making diesel practically as clean as petrol.
But what about the diesel car tax increase?
April 2018 marked an increase in tax for diesel drivers, so how does that affect new diesels and older ones?
Firstly, the increase only applies to new cars purchased after 1st April 2018; second hand cars aren’t affected by this.
Secondly, the increase is for the most part only minor. It means you’ll be charged the next band up for just the first year of road tax. After that, it defaults to the correct band. More importantly, it only applies to diesels that don’t currently meet the latest Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test; the majority now should as this came into effect in September 2017.
Simply put, if your car produces between 111 – 130 g/km of CO2 you’d pay £165 for the first year of road tax, from April 1st 2018 you now have to pay the same as a car that emits 131 – 150 g/km which equates to £205 for the first year.
After that, tax is charged at a flat rate of £140 a year for everything but EV’s and cars costing over £40,000 – the latter have to pay an additional £310 per year for the first five years.
Should I buy a diesel?
That totally depends on one thing, the miles you drive.
Diesel cars often cost a bit more than petrol ones, roughly £1,000 on average. Then the diesel fuel is more expensive as you squeeze greater MPG out of it, factor in the additional cost for first-year tax and it can take a long time to recoup the initial extra outlay if you’re only pottering around town.
Slogging up and down motorways is a different proposition. This territory is where diesels shine, and their MPG far outweighs that of even the current hybrid crop.
Buying a second-hand diesel means you’ll escape the new first-year tax hike, but there could be more penalties on the horizon to deter diesel owners. A number of cities are mulling over the idea of establishing a Toxin Charge to make driving diesels untenable in urban environments.