Petrol cars – should you buy or sell?
Is the future electric? Is petrol a dying fuel type? It might seem that way if you’re looking to buy a new or used petrol car right now. A number of experts are predicting that sales of cars with internal combustion engines (petrol or diesel) have already peaked in the UK.
With zero emission restrictions coming into force around the world, you wouldn’t be the only person currently asking ‘Should I buy a petrol car?’
But the truth is more complicated. Petrol cars still have a number of benefits over both diesel and alternative fuel options. Although electric vehicles are becoming increasingly cost effective, there’s still a way to go before they become the best choice for everyone.
Although London has introduced an Ultra Low Emissions Zone, it doesn’t currently prohibit petrol vehicles unless their really old, and although you pay less for the first year of Vehicle Excise Duty if your petrol car produces lower CO2 emissions, there’s a flat rate from the second year onwards.
Switching to electric would only save you £10 in tax each year, making the difference pretty negligible.
Should I buy a petrol car?
- When does a petrol car make sense?
- Should I sell my petrol car?
- What petrol taxes are there?
- Will petrol cars be banned?
- Making a final decision on buying or selling a petrol car
When does a petrol car make sense?
Although sales of diesel engine cars have dropped significantly in recent times (see our detailed guide to find out whether to buy or sell your diesel car), unleaded petrol models have actually rallied.
The main reasons are around convenience. A petrol car will usually be cheaper to buy than a diesel version. You’ll also save money at the petrol pump, and it’s still easier to find somewhere to refuel than hunting for an electric car recharging point.
A diesel will be more efficient over longer journeys, letting you fill up less, but that only makes sense for those covering higher mileages every year.
UK drivers tend to use their cars for shorter journeys. The average commute is around 10 miles from home to work and almost half of the typical car mileage each year will be made up of journeys between 5-25 miles.
That’s not long enough to see much benefit from a more economical diesel car, and may cause your diesel particulate filter to clog up – leading to expensive repair bills.
Petrol is also better for small cars, which make up the most popular models on UK roads. At the end of 2018, the top five cars on UK roads were the Ford Fiesta (1.5 million), Ford Focus (1.3 million), Vauxhall Corsa (1.1 million) Volkswagen Golf (1.0 million), and Vauxhall Astra (0.9 million).
If you’re looking for a performance sports car, then the responsiveness of a petrol engine can definitely be a more enjoyable choice.
You might consider a hybrid engine, which is cleaner and more fuel efficient for urban use. However, you’ll pay more for the initial purchase, and maintenance can be expensive.
You’ll also find that hybrid cars are generally treated in the same way as cars with a standard internal combustion engine. Particularly when it comes to ULEZ charges.
That leaves the comparison between petrol and pure electric vehicles. Studies have shown that you’ll save money by buying and running an electric car, however the savings may not be significant when you factor in the initial cost of the electric car.
You’ll also have to factor in charging times and total range for journeys. There are currently around 21,000 public chargers across the UK, but reports estimate 210,000 will be needed in the near future.
However, you can also purchase a home charger if you have a driveway or garage at home. This will allow you to charge your electric car at home from your mains whenever you like.
The final point to consider is whether you intend to hold on to your car for a long time. The average length of UK car ownership is estimated at four years or under.
Even if you were to buy a car now, it will probably have been through 2-3 more owners before stricter rules on emissions come into force. That’s assuming you’re not planning to lease your next car via a PCH deal, or return it via a PCP car finance plan.
Should I sell my petrol car?
If it makes sense for you to sell your current petrol car, then you can certainly go ahead at the moment (Oct 2019) as there’s been no particular impact on used values as yet from recently introduced emission laws.
If your car was manufactured in 2015 or after, and in some cases from 2012, it’s been produced to meet the Euro 6 standards which are the current basis for laws aiming to tackle vehicle pollution.
The London zone currently runs to Euro 4 regulations which date back to 2005, and even to 2001 for specific models.
If you’re not sure, then check your emissions rating and Euro 6 compliance via the Vehicle Certification Agency, which includes used cars first registered on, or after, March 1st, 2001.
Older petrol car values are really only affected if you live within London or a nearby commuter area, and even then it’s only a problem if a potential buyer intends to drive into the capital regularly.
Otherwise there’s no need to rush into switching from an internal combustion engine for the sake of it. Or to stop considering petrol or diesel for your next car. As always, we’d recommend doing research on the best ways to buy and sell your car.
Petrol vehicles certainly fare more favourably than diesel cars, which have seen a fall in value over recent years.
What petrol taxes are there?
The main tax based on emission charges is the Vehicle Excise Duty paid every year. For cars registered on, or after 1st April 2017, you will pay a different first amount based on your type of fuel and emissions band.
This ranges from £0 to £2,135 for the most polluting cars.
However, from the second year you’ll pay a flat fee of £145 every 12 months.
If your car was registered between March 1st, 2001 and March 31st, 2017, you’ll pay a sliding scale based on your CO2 emissions band, which can be up to £570 per year.
VED on cars registered before 2001 is based on engine size, with anything not over 1549cc paying £160, and larger engines paying £265.
The other tax is on the fuel you use. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects fuel duty to raise £28.4 billion in the financial year from 2019-2020.
But the actual amount of tax has stayed the same since 2011, at 57.95 pence per litre. This is expected to rise in the future as better fuel economy and a drop in new car drivers and sales means less revenue for the Government.
This means both petrol and diesel car owners could see an increase in the tax amount paid every time you fill up with fuel, regardless of the cost of petroleum itself.
Lastly, there’s the prospect of city centre charges due to Ultra Low Emission Zones. Currently London is the only one in operation, and charges are for petrol cars which don’t meet Euro 4 standards.
As these emissions tests were mandatory for all new cars in 2005, the majority of drivers don’t need to worry about them as yet, although it’s always worth checking before you travel into the charging zone.
It may be that the restrictions become tighter in the future. However, with no definite proposals for a Euro 7 standard yet, it’s unlikely to arrive before around 2025.
This all means that European ULEZ restrictions are unlikely to get much tougher before then – although if you’re planning to drive anywhere in Europe, it’s definitely worth checking which temporary and permanent restrictions apply for each country.
Will petrol cars be banned?
At the end of 2018, a total of 38.2 million vehicles were licensed in Great Britain, and 18.5 million of them were petrol cars. The number for alternative fuel vehicles (hybrid and electric etc.) was just 620,000, so any ban in on petrol cars in the short term would see the UK grind to a halt.
However, the sale of new internal combustion engine cars will be banned in the UK from 2040.
The current Government ‘Road to Zero’ strategy states that only cars which are “effectively” zero emissions can be sold past 2040, which could include plug-in hybrids alongside pure electric and hydrogen cars.
The Government has been under pressure to bring the date forward to as early as 2030. But concerns about the necessary infrastructure ranging from charging points and stress on the National Grid, to having enough certified mechanics, mean it’s unlikely to come any sooner than 2035.
The ultimate aim is for every car and van to be zero emissions by 2050. But this doesn’t explicitly state that internal combustion engines will be banned by then.
Instead, the strategy is that the lower costs of alternative fuel vehicles, the improvements in technology and infrastructure, and the lack of new petrol or diesel-powered cars will mean declining use.
With an average car lifetime of around 16 years, it’s likely most petrol and diesel cars will be nearing the end of the road, unless they’re being kept by enthusiasts.
It also allows the potential for zero emission ICE engines, and for any technology to be retro-fitted to current cars.
So, it’s highly unlikely to see any ban on petrol cars in any current car owner’s lifetime. But you will see the numbers of petrol and diesel cars start to decline on UK roads in the next few decades, and petrol stations will be likely to decline in number around the same time.
Making a final decision on buying or selling a petrol car
Although it’s important to be aware of future regulations, the planned ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 shouldn’t impact your current car buying or selling decisions.
The average life of a new car is around 16 years, meaning that your next purchase will be likely to pass through three more owners and be ready for a scrappage scheme before running an internal combustion engine becomes a problem.
With electric cars becoming better and cheaper almost every month, there will soon be a point where they make more sense for many buyers.
We’ve rounded up the best electric cars of 2019 to give examples of what is available. Be aware that there are still limitations on use and range to consider, along with some relatively high prices for new examples.
That’s why our guide to the best 2019 small cars is still dominated by petrol engines, and the same is true for small SUVs. A modern low emission petrol engine is still the most practical and cost-effective option for short urban journeys.
Within a decade, the situation will certainly change but if you’re looking to buy or sell a petrol car at the moment, there’s no reason not to go ahead.
Petrol car not right for you?
If you’ve found this guide useful, or want more advice on buying, selling and owning cars of any type whether petrol or not, why not check out some of our other useful buying and selling guides?