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What’s suddenly so wrong with diesel?

A few years ago, the environmentally conscious motorist could congratulate himself on choosing a diesel car while also enjoying a few extra mpg, but times have changed.

The Rise of Diesel

Diesel wasn't a popular choice in the UK until about 15 years ago. Then some smart marketing, advances in diesel engine technology and government incentives to buy what it called the greener choice saw car buyers flock to diesel and vilify petrol. In 2001 only 18% of new car purchases were for diesel models, which now account for about half of all new cars.

There are more diesel-powered vehicles on UK roads today than ever before - in total about nine million cars and three million vans. Recently, however, some disturbing anti-diesel rhetoric has surfaced. It seems that not only is diesel the dirtier fuel choice, but it's not even as efficient as we were all led to believe.

And the Fall

In fact, environmental scientists are now attributing thousands of deaths to diesel pollution - potentially 7,000 every year, according to the Department of Health, which claims the government misled us all by pushing the supposed virtues of diesel. The problem lies with the obsession of the government, auto manufacturers and environmental groups with carbon dioxide pollution.

As diesels use about 20% less fuel than petrol engines, logic dictates that they produce less carbon dioxide, so the government cut the tax on diesel cars and loaded it on to petrol models instead and the public reacted accordingly. In the desperation to reduce CO2, a number of other noxious emissions were ignored, and it seems they mainly come from diesel engines.

Meanwhile, scientists realised that diesel emissions contain over 40 noxious contaminants - all being released into our air. These tiny particles and gases are entering lungs and bloodstreams and causing massive health problems in young people and the elderly. According to the World Health Organisation, the long-term effect of this exposure could be catastrophic, affecting child development, and research in the US has linked diesel pollution to autism and a number of other diseases. At the moment, there's a danger that strong marketing could see consumers swing in exactly the opposite direction - which can be great for securing new diesel car discounts - but a little perspective is called for.

Diesels can cost more to buy, and diesel is more expensive than petrol on a per-litre basis, but if you do high mileage on open roads and motorways rather than urban driving in heavy traffic, in the long term diesel cars can be cheaper than petrol. Furthermore, modern diesel engines are far cleaner and less polluting than older versions, as manufacturers have poured a lot of money into improving diesel exhaust emissions.

While diesel owners are currently facing penalising measures such as higher residents' parking fees and an extra congestion charge, the auto manufacturing industry is fighting back, pointing out that modern diesels can actually match petrol engines in clean and green terms. The cautious buyer may want to sit it out for a bit to see how things will settle down in the petrol versus diesel debate, but if you are feeling bold now, while the future of diesel may be uncertain, is a great time to find new diesel car deals.

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