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Is Petrol, Diesel or Biofuel the Best Option?

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 26 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Diesel Petrol Fuel Biofuel Option Green

The most popular types of fuel in the UK are still petrol and diesel, but more environmentally friendly motorists can opt for biofuel, electric or hybrid cars. Choosing the right fuel type is one of the key decisions when buying a used car and getting it wrong can be an expensive mistake.

Motorists who clock up many miles should check how many miles to the gallon the car burns and bear in mind that diesel, although more expensive than petrol, is generally more efficient. Diesel has lower carbon dioxide emissions too, and the more carbon dioxide a car emits, the higher the road tax will be.

But petrol is the best option for drivers who want peak performance and a smooth ride. It is responsive, quieter than diesel, faster revving and, in general, petrol engines are cheap to repair. It is the most popular fuel with UK motorists, but petrol produces more carbon dioxide than other fuel types, it's non-renewable and petrol engines are not as environmentally friendly as their diesel counterparts.

Octane Rating

There are various types of petrol, each with its own octane rating. The higher the Research Octane Number (RON), the better the petrol will perform. Petrol falls into four main categories - unleaded, super unleaded, lead replacement petrol and high performance.

Unleaded is the most common type of petrol and has a RON of 95. Super unleaded is similar but improves a cars performance and has a RON of 98. Lead Replacement Petrol (LRP) appeared when leaded four star was removed from sale in 2000, but, in general, is used only for vintage vehicles and is less common. High performance petrol is cleaner and more powerful than super unleaded - and more expensive. UK petrol stations sell high performance fuel with a RON of up to 102, but the difference between super unleaded and high performance fuels is marginal and more noticeable in supercars.

Diesel is greener and more economical for long distance drivers. It is becoming more popular in the UK because it is more efficient than petrol and has lower carbon dioxide emissions. But diesel engines are louder than their petrol counterparts and the resultant ride is less smooth. It is more expensive per litre than petrol and has higher emissions of an air pollutant called nitrogen oxide.

Greener Fuel

Motorists who travel long distances and want a greener fuel that delivers a high level of performance may wish to consider renewable biofuels. There are two types - bioethanol, produced from farm crops, and biodiesel, made from animal fats, sugar beet and vegetable oils.

Bioethanol has lower carbon dioxide emissions, a high octane rating and low fuel consumption, but is not as widely available as unleaded petrol. Biodiesel is less toxic than normal diesel, has lower engine wear and lower carbon dioxide emissions. It can be used in most normal diesel cars, but engine modifications may be required and biodiesel is not as readily available as normal diesel.

Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is another option - a green fuel that can offer long-term savings. It is cheaper than petrol and some engines can be converted to run on it. LPG cars are not as noisy as their diesel equivalents and produce fewer harmful emissions, but not all cars can be converted to run on LPG and it is not available on every forecourt.

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