Higher petrol prices are making diesel an increasingly popular fuel for cars, according to the Automobile Association.
Its senior policy analyst Mark Stockdale says diesel cars now make up 17% of the market for new cars, with diesels being aggressively pushed by a number of European manufacturers.
“Audi recently launched is luxury car, the A8, with only a diesel model.’
With petrol costing around $2.07 a litre, diesel enjoys a significant price advantage, with latest pump prices of $1.51 a litre.
But Mr Stockdale says diesel also has another big advantage. “Diesel is more efficient. It uses 30% less fuel than an equivalent petrol car. That could amount to $500 a year in lower fuel costs.”
Diesel also has more torque, meaning it is ideal for vehicles using a lot of energy, such as SUVs and cars towing caravans or boats.
Technical problems that in the past have seen diesel vehicles categorised as noisy-smoke belchers have also been resolved.
However, diesel is harder on engine parts, with filters needing to be changing more frequently than is the case for petrol cars.
Mr Stockdale says diesel makes sense for drivers who do more than 20,000km a year. But petrol remains the best option for low-use drivers - as lower fuel savings will be outweighed by higher maintenance costs.
While diesel users have to play road user charges, Mr Stockdale says they amount to much less than the tax on petrol.
While availability of diesel is not an issue – Mr Stockdale says its price is even more volatile than petrol’s. “Diesel is used as a heating fuel and by power stations to generate electricity. If there’s a harsh northern winter, there’s an increase in demand and price.”
What will happen to the relativity between the diesel and petrol over the next few years is anyone’s guess, although Mr Stockdale believes it will move in petrol’s favour. “In the long-term changing to diesel is a gamble. But in the short term it’s definitely worth it.”
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