Which is better for short journeys: a diesel or petrol car?

Your motoring problems solved

Car Clinic New car

Q. I am contemplating buying a new diesel car but have been told diesel engines aren’t best suited to my typical car use, which mostly consists of short trips of a mile or so. Should I stick with petrol?
CW, Stamford, Lincolnshire

A. You would be much better off with a small, highly efficient petrol engine such as Ford’s EcoBoost, VW’s TSI or Vauxhall’s SGE.

Your motoring needs also suit hybrid and electric cars, which, despite being costlier to buy, can have much lower running costs.

Search for and buy your next car on driving.co.uk

With such low-mileage use you would be unlikely to recoup the extra cost of buying a diesel and the higher cost of the fuel at the pumps, no matter how economical the engine.

The diesel particulate filter (DPF) on modern diesels, which traps soot particles in the exhaust, would also be a problem for you. Every now and again the soot must be burnt off to prevent filter blockage, and the DPF has to get very hot to do this. That can happen only when the car is driven for half an hour or so at 50mph or more.

Most drivers do this anyway and have no problems, but with your short trips the filter is going to fill up gradually and become obstructed. A light on the dashboard warns of the need to clear the DPF, and that means you’ll have to make a point of taking the car for a long motorway blast every few weeks — solely to service the DPF. It’s clearly far from ideal. For more advice, click here

Sunday Times Driving Car Clinic: Tim Shalcross, advance driving advice

Tim Shallcross used to train AA patrols to fix cars. Now he advises the Institute of Advanced Motoring – read more from Tim here.

Email your question to carclinic@sunday-times.co.uk or write to Car Clinic, Driving, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF, with a daytime phone number,
your address and as much detail about your car as possible. We can’t reply in person, so don’t send original documents or SAEs. Advice is given without legal responsibility.