Practical problems of ditching diesel

Posted on April 11th, 2017 by Rob Marshall


Last month, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, advised that drivers should, “Have a long, hard think about diesel.”

While he did not think that diesels would disappear completely, his statement advised that city drivers, in particular, should buy a “low-emissions” car.

Leaving aside the technical cases in favour of diesel engines and the very high purchase (and battery leasing) costs of certain low, or zero, emissions cars, other problems exist that must be addressed, before we should heed politicians’ advice about low-emissions vehicles en-masse:



According to the Institute of the Motor Industry, 40% of the public view low emissions vehicles as a solution to high urban air pollution. Yet, the majority of those will not consider either buying, or leasing one, because insurers charge up to 50% extra to cover hybrid and electric cars. One reason is the greater purchase price. Presumably, parts costs are also higher, due to relatively few examples sold, and the greater repair costs, compared to conventionally-fuelled vehicles.


Repair costs

Who will repair and maintain these vehicles? According to Car Dealer magazine, only 1% of UK technicians holds the necessary qualifications to work upon the high voltage electrical systems. In our experience, most of this work remains the preserve of the more expensive main dealer network, which tends to charge the highest hourly labour rate. Concerns have also been raised about how close politicians (who are granting subsidies to manufacturers and advising the public to buy such vehicles) are to carmakers…


Long trips

Other than the electric car range anxiety, of running-out of power mid-way through a journey, such vehicles cannot tolerate long trips at high speeds. Steve Fowler from Auto Express magazine concurs that the economy (and emissions) advantages for hybrid and electric cars do not stack-up for long journeys and towing tasks, compared to diesel vehicles, even though technological improvements are ongoing. Out of the city, especially in rural areas, diesel vehicles still make the greatest sense.



While the government is striving to improve the charging infrastructure for plug-in Hybrid and electric cars, one has to wonder whether, or not, our electricity system can cope. The Times (and the FT) looked into the matter recently and, while the need for 20 new nuclear power stations (in the original Times article) has been criticised as not being entirely realistic, it at least warns that electric cars create fresh problems.

Steve Nash, CEO of the IMI has commented to the trade motoring press:

“Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash spent on charging points will be wasted, if the government won’t help independent garages and wider industry keep up with the switch to electric. It is not rocket science. Small businesses are uncertain about future demand for work on electrified cars and won’t risk investing in the skills they need without help from the government. This means insurance and servicing costs will stay out of the reach of many drivers.”