Driving Advice & Safety

Petrol Cars vs. Electric Cars

February 13, 2024

8 min read

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Leon McKenzie

Content Writer

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An image split in two, on the eft a petrol charging station and on the right an electric chagrin station.

A couple of decades ago, if you were in the market for a new car, your only real options were petrol or diesel. Nowadays, however, there's far more choice available. Though petrol cars are still in the majority on the roads, many drivers are turning towards electric cars to ease their conscience and help the environment. Of course, it can be difficult to pick between the two if you don't have all the facts. That's where we come in!

If you're stuck between petrol cars and electric cars, we're here to help! We've compiled all the information you need to know about both types of cars, including advantages, disadvantages and additional facts you need to consider when making a decision. Enjoy!

Petrol cars

An image of a black BMW car charging at a petrol station

What are they?

These types of cars, as you're probably aware, run entirely on petrol. Their engines are made up of cylinders—the exact number depends entirely on the size of the engine. Typically speaking, the more cylinders a car has, the more power it has. Inside these cylinders, petrol and air will ignite in order to create the energy needed to move the car.

As this process happens, harmful exhaust emissions are released into the air, adding to the serious problem that is air pollution. It's for this reason that many drivers are debating switching to an eco-friendly car.

What you need to consider when buying a petrol car

The environment

Every time you take your petrol car out onto the road, it begins to emit carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere. Given how serious a problem air pollution is, it's important that we look for ways to reduce our environmental footprint. If this is an issue that you feel strongly about, you might want to eschew petrol cars entirely—opting for an eco-friendly car, cycling or walking.

The government's 2035 plans

The government is aiming to ban selling new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2035 at the latest. Once this comes into effect, drivers will only be able to buy electric or hydrogen vehicles. Though drivers still have plenty of time until this happens, it could potentially be better to get used to an electric car now rather than later. The longer you put it off, the more difficult it might be to adjust to the change.

The cost of maintenance

Whether you're looking to buy a new or used petrol car, odds are that you'll be able to find yourself a pretty decent bargain. With how expensive insurance premiums can be, this is a welcome salve. What you probably don't know, however, is that the cost of maintenance can often end up totalling twice as much as the actual value of the car. When you add up the cost of service checks, repairs and the replacement of parts damaged by wear and tear, it's pretty staggering.

Road tax

Road tax, or vehicle tax, is yet another cost to add to the long list of advantages of being a car owner. This fee is something that you have to fork out for every year, or month if you're not paying it off in one lump sum. If you're a petrol car owner, the costs can be pretty steep.

If your car was first registered between March 1 2001 and 31 March 2017, your tax rate will be determined by your vehicle's CO2 emissions. (The higher they are, the more expensive the rate is.) If your car was first registered from 1 April 2017, you'll pay a first time rate based on your CO2 emissions, and then a flat rate from then on. If you're on the lookout for a petrol car, you'll want to pick one with low emissions or risk paying an extortionate vehicle tax rate each year.

Advantages of petrol cars

✓ They're cheaper to buy.

With how accessible petrol cars are, you'll be able to find a model that fits your specific needs and budget with next to no effort. Even relatively new petrol car models can work out cheaper than electric cars.

✓ Better performance and speed.

Technological advances with engine size means that you can find a petrol car model to match your desired speed and performance needs. They tend to be better at reaching and maintaining higher speeds than electric cars too.

✓ Easy to refuel.

With electric cars, you have to plan ahead to see where your nearest charging station is. With a petrol car, however, you don't have to worry about finding a petrol station to fill up at.

Disadvantages of petrol cars

✗ Fuel can be expensive.

The cost of petrol is always fluctuating. Unless you're particularly on the ball with snatching up petrol when the cost is low (or making use of our tips for saving fuel when driving) you could be spending hundreds of pounds a month!

✗ They're bad for the environment.

Let's face it, it doesn't matter if you're only taking your petrol car out for the occasional errand—it's still contributing to air pollution. Though there are eco-friendly practices you can follow, it can only do so much.

✗ Maintenance costs can skyrocket over time.

Petrol cars, unlike electric cars, are made up of countless parts that can eventually start to wear down. If you're sticking with the same car for years, you could end up spending thousands of pounds maintaining it.

Electric cars

An electric car parked and charging at an electric station

What are they?

If the name didn't clue you in, electric cars run entirely on electricity which is stored in a battery. An electric motor then uses this battery to move the vehicle. The battery in the car needs to be charged on a regular basis. The frequency of this depends on a range of factors including the size of the vehicle, the size of the battery, how far you drive, the speed you're driving at and even the temperature of the outdoors.

And that's not all that can vary with the model. The time it takes for the battery to fully recharge will also depend on the type of charging station you're using. The slowest types available can take an entire day to get up to 100%. Fast home charging stations can move this down to four to six hours, whilst rapid chargers bring it to a sharp 45 minutes!

What you need to consider when buying an electric car

What you're using the car for

If you're going to be on the road on a regular basis, taking long journeys or predominantly using motorways, you'll need to be careful about which electric car you buy. Though there are plenty of cheap options available, they're usually the lighter models. What this means is that they won't go far without needing a charge. So, pay close attention to how big the battery is and what kind of mileage you'll get out of it.

Your journey length

If you're setting out on a road trip, or a particularly long journey, you're going to need to charge your electric car at some point. To do this, you'll need to plan ahead. More specifically, you'll need to look at where your nearest charging stations are. Though many naysayers claim that charging stations are few and far between, there's actually a pretty decent network of charging stations across the UK.

Setting up a charging station

Once you buy an electric car, you're going to have to sort out your own charging station. Unless you have a garage, it's not as simple as just plugging it into your mains. Fortunately, most major car manufacturers offer to set up home charging stations as part of the deal.

The costs aren't always what they seem

Upfront, the cost of an electric car is far higher than that of a petrol car. When you look at the cost of running it, however, things start to change. According to the BBC, it “costs around £4 to charge up to 100 miles compared to a petrol car costing up to £14 to travel the same distance”. Plus, with electric cars being made up of fewer parts than petrol cars, maintenance costs are never as high.

If that wasn't enough, they can also save you a small fortune on vehicle tax. If your electric car costs less than £40,000, then it's exempt from vehicle tax. Though you'll still have to complete the process of taxing your vehicle, it won't cost you a penny!

Advantages of electric cars

✓ They're environmentally friendly.

Electric cars are eco-friendly and emit zero greenhouse gases. Of course, there are concerns about the correct disposal of old batteries and how the electricity is being produced, but it still pales in comparison to the damage that petrol cars inflict.

✓ They can be cheaper overall

The cost of an electric car upfront can be staggering. When you look at how much you're saving on fuel, however, and maintenance in general, electric cars can work out much cheaper than petrol cars.

✓ They're enjoyable to drive

Electric cars are much quieter and smoother to drive than petrol cars. What's more, you don't have to worry about a clutch pedal. If you're struggling with clutch control, this is a big bonus.

Disadvantages of electric cars

✗ They can take a while to charge.

Depending on the charger, it could take hours for your car to fully recharge. If you're always off on errands, this could be extremely annoying. You'll need to be on the ball—charging your car regularly to avoid it dying on the roads.

✗ You're limited as to how far you can travel.

Depending on your chosen electric car model, you could be limited to a range of 80 to 100 miles at a time. If you have to take long trips, you'll need to map out charging stations to stop at as you go.

✗ They're more expensive to buy upfront.

Even when you take into account the lower maintenance costs and the vehicle tax exemption, electric cars are still expensive. This is especially the case if you're eyeing up a model with higher capabilities.

Electric cars vs. Petrol cars

A spplit image, on the eft a black car stopped at a fuelling station, on the right a tesla car charging at a charging station

Why would you pick a petrol car over an electric car?

Out of the two, petrol cars are probably the most convenient option. You can set out with a specific budget and preferred capabilities, and likely find the perfect petrol car in no time at all. Unlike with an electric car, you don't have to faff about with charging your petrol car every night, or searching online for your nearest charging station. It's as simple as heading to the nearest petrol station, filling up and setting off.

If you're constantly using motorways, taking long journeys or maintaining high speeds for long periods of time, petrol cars are probably the better option over electric cars. In these scenarios, electric cars need more power to keep up, which means that their battery runs out faster and, consequently, you need to spend more time charging it.

Why would you pick an electric car over a petrol car?

If you've been suffering from a guilty conscience over emissions and the like, buying an electric car could be the answer you're looking for. They're environmentally friendly and they are the future. Eventually, we're going to be seeing more electric cars on the road than petrol cars! Though they're expensive upfront, the overall cost month to month can come out much lower than that of a petrol car.

If you're primarily driving in city centres, then electric cars are the better option. They help reduce noise and air pollution, which is beneficial to pedestrians and residents. Though they can't maintain high speeds as well as petrol cars, you can still use an electric car on dual carriageways and motorways, as long as it's not for too long.

Still stuck between the two?

If you can't decide on whether or not to fork out for a petrol car or an electric car, you could make like Goldilocks and choose something just between the two. Hybrid cars are the best of both worlds. They have two engines: one is powered by electricity and the other by fuel. When you're driving up to 15mph, the car will use the electric engine. When you're driving at higher speeds, it will switch to the fuel engine.

Unless you buy a plug-in hybrid, you won't have to charge it at all—hybrids come with batteries that self-charge every time you brake. By using a combination of electricity and petrol/diesel, you can also reduce your emissions.

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