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Is diesel really a dirty word?

Is diesel really a dirty word?

With all the negative publicity, is it time for drivers to boycott diesel power and move to something cleaner, or is there life in the old fuel yet?

Diesel is a dirty word, according to who you listen to. Up until 2015, it was a fuel that was good for vehicle emissions due to low carbon dioxide emissions, so much so that the UK Government was actively praising the technology, suggesting drivers should switch.

However, in September 2015, everything changed. When the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that Volkswagen (VW) was cheating emissions tests, using software in the ECU (known as a ‘defeat device’) to recognise when a vehicle was on test and limit the emissions compared to regular driving, all hell broke loose.

Since then, the world has become aware of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which are potentially lethal, and a multitude of manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, Jeep and General Motors are all being investigated by US and European authorities over potential emissions cheating. The scandal has become so bad, that a new test, including real-world driving rather than just laboratory based simulations, is to be introduced for all new models later in 2017, extending to all vehicles by 2018.

In addition, many European cities are considering banning diesel vehicles from their streets, while in London, drivers are being asked to pay more to park a diesel car than they are a petrol one. All of this brings one question, is it really worth buying a diesel today?

The fuel has the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) on its side. Chief Executive Mike Hawes comments: “Euro 6 diesel cars on sale today are the cleanest in history. Not only have they drastically reduced or banished particulates, sulphur and carbon monoxide but they also emit vastly lower NOx than their older counterparts – a fact recognised by London in their exemption from the Ultra Low Emission Zone that will come into force in 2019. Some recent reports have failed to differentiate between these much cleaner cars and vehicles of the past. This is unfair and dismissive of progress made. In addition to their important contribution to improving air quality, diesel cars are also a key part of action to tackle climate change while allowing millions of people, particularly those who regularly travel long distances, to do so as affordably as possible.”

Vehicle manufacturers also remain committed, although many are now starting to develop their electric vehicle ranges. In fact, diesel remains popular in sales, although its market share has fallen since 2015, when over half of cars in the UK, 51%, were diesel. For 2017, this figure is looking to be around 44%, which would still equate to over 1 million new registrations.

It should also be remembered that Euro 6 cars are strictly monitored for their emissions output, and manufacturers would not risk cheating, or they would be faced with the negative publicity and large costs involved. VW has to pay $25 billion in the US, and its brands are looking into recalls in Europe to address issues.

Modern diesels are clean, and contrary to recent reports, they are not the main source of urban NOx. In London, gas heating of homes and offices is the biggest contributor, responsible for 16%. While road transport as a whole is responsible for around half of London’s NOx, diesel cars produce just 11%, although concentrations will vary at different times depending on congestion. Keeping traffic moving is the key to keeping emissions low.

Of course, the decision is down to you as to whether you should buy a diesel or not. However, they are cleaner than ever, and as long as you do your research as to which is best, you can be confident in your purchase, if you choose to go that way.

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