UK Diesel Cars Dilemma

And How The Government Are Entirely Responsibly

I’m a green thinker, and think seriously about the environment. I am not a tree-hugger per se, but do believe that global warming is a real threat. If you want a good indication of how deadly cars will be to our environment, have a look Eastwards, specifically China. They don’t drive on the same side of the road as we do in Britain but have millions more cars than we do, and that number is only going to rise. Each vehicle is contributing to tons of carbon in the atmosphere, among other noxious gasses, and it’s a growing problem.

Diesel is the issue specific to the UK. Through a series of bad decisions it was touted as the way to go back in 1997 but as I will hope you come to see through this article, that was a bad move, triggered by government policy over common sense (It was ever thus).

Please note I am not and advocate for diesel or petrol/gasoline cars, nor am I in cahoots with any evil oil industry pocket. There is some generally bad science being bounded around so I think it is worth taking into account. I am going to enjoy giving Gordon Brown (former Prime Minister of the UK) a kicking but we have to season all of these facts with salt and pepper. Not everything is quite as clear cut as we might be led to believe.

The UK is set to be the first country to place a major tax on diesel cars in the City of London. The ultimate purpose is to phase them out entirely by 2040 (this has been brought forwards over recent years where all ICE vehicles are to be taking the long walk in the 2030s) along side Petrol based cars.

Diesel is a heavy fraction (C16H34) in fractional distillation terms. It is a lot easier to extract than petrol (C8H18), as it has more abundant longer hydro-carbon chains. When burnt, comparatively, it gives off slightly more CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) but distinctly more CO (Carbon Monoxide) and NOx (Nitric Oxide). It is cheaper to create than petrol because it is easier to syphon from crude oil before starting the fractional distillation process (and catalytic cracking). But oddly it is always more expensive at the petrol station (because the demand is greater by company vehicles and trucks).

It is far worse for the environment, producing more grammes per kilometre of particulates.

Diesel only balances out over long distance, because mile per mile you burn less diesel than a comparative petrol based car at a cruising speed of 60–70MPH. The issue now is that petrols have taken further leaps in their green factor and any major gains that were apparent in diesels in the past are now negligible against younger petrol, hybrid and electric cars.

This is more for cars going from the size of SUVs to the largest HGVs. Weight for weight it is more economical to use a diesel engine at this time for obvious reasons but if you are not sure why, I’ll explain more.

For diesel engines, they have lower RPMs (revolutions per minute) than the equivalent sized petrol engine. A diesel engine can do considerably more with less. That coupled with the fact that you burn less diesel mile per mile than petrol should equate to a more economic outlay for the average driver*.

If you were to put the same efficiency petrol engine (in terms of speed) into one of these bigger vehicles, you would be burning considerably more fuel. Not only because you burn more fuel mile per mile, but because in order to get up to cruising speed, you have to burn more fuel than a diesel based on those pesky RPMs.

The other problem is that petrol engines are working their nuts off compared to diesel engines. More RPMs means more wear on the engine. For big trucks, having to do more regular servicing on engines that can wear out much quicker than their diesel compatriots, is not economical both to the pocket and the environment.

*Only when considering a heavier weighting toward motorway miles over urban miles. Urban mile stop-starting completely destroys any benefit diesel has over petrol.

It harks back to 1997 and the incumbent Prime Minister of the time, Captain Popular; Gordon Brown. The Kyoto agreement was in full force back then, a good agreement too. One set to make us fall in line to reduce CO2.

Noble, courageous, forward thinking.

The problem was that bad science led the action to be the encouragement of more diesel cars, running contrary to good science.

Diesel was the choice and we were all forced to chow down hard on it.

The unpleasant fact is that yes, diesel does throw out less CO2 than petrol over long distance drives, but it far outstrips that benefit with CO and NOx. That later part was not big on the agenda. That was the bad science bit.

Modern diesels made within the past 3 years are a lot cleaner than previous diesel engines in response to the threat that some levies would eventually be slapped on the technology.

The problem is that despite the diesel being a more efficient engine in terms of lower RPM levels than a petrol engine, it has too many deficiencies to make up the gap. It is the obvious sacrificial lamb to improve the environment.

In eliminating diesel, you will reduce CO and NOx in the atmosphere.

This is my own opinion based on a logical look at the situation.

Hybrid preference favours petrol/gasoline based cars over their diesel brethren.

This is purely by the virtue that petrol is the cleaner fraction, therefore partnering hybrid tech to the cleaner machine is seen as greener.

When you take into account the bigger vehicles, it is the diesel engine that could benefit from the hybrid technology by virtue of the number of diesels in operation, by their benefit to longer distance driving, and by the fact that diesel engines outlive their petrol brothers. But we know this won’t happen.

Demand for new diesel is slowly drying up, despite new diesel being the cleanest it has ever been.**

This all has a particularly negative backwash into the market for new and second hand cars in the UK.

Since Hybrid and Electric cars entered the market and have taken more of a foothold, the diesel car has been under threat. That threat is growing at pace now that cities are starting to introduce clean air zones. Specifically London, which has the biggest problem with motor vehicle pollution.

The Toyota Prius is the first car that started the rot with its impressive MPG (miles to gallon). As petrol is cheaper than diesel it became a good choice for taxi drivers, and as you can see in places like London and New York, the drive for clean in the city has meant there are major financial benefits to moving towards green. Toyota made an excellent move in this market which left its competitors playing catch up.

In addition to pressure from Hybrids, the government brought in scrappage schemes to entice those holding onto diesel motors in excess of 10 years to gain a government grant of £2,500 towards a new/green purchase. On some vehicles that is very tempting, especially considering that diesel vehicles will essentially have no resale value owing to a general reduction in the value of diesel cars.

** Whilst the Euro 6 standard has been introduced there is an almost negligible difference between this standard and Euro 5. Albeit, you will be whacked with the charge in London and other proposed cities if you don’t have a Euro 6 compliant diesel.

It is bad news for us diesel owners.

I own a 2010 Honda Civic 2.2l Si Diesel. It is the most efficient 2.2l diesel of its class (at that point in time) but depreciation is now going to ramp up to a much greater level than before, it will be difficult if not impossible to sell on, and will drain more from my wallet in terms of diesel taxation, if a bigger blanket tax was introduced on my road tax.

I had been considering changing my vehicle to something greener within the next couple of years but owing to the fact that my car will have a much reduced resale value, it seems better to wait until it reaches the scrappage scheme 10 years, before pushing the button.

This is a problem for all diesel owners. Your car is losing value even quicker than it has been at any time previously, don’t be shocked when in a few years time you are trying to privately sell your car for much less than you hoped.

For people not earning a lot, but who depend on their diesel car, this is going to hurt quite a bit. However, you can look at this in a more positive light. You have a whole lot more choice in second hand diesels to choose from, so are more likely to get something better for your money.

Articles suggest that those new diesel cars built recently are built to better standards with much more capable filtering systems. The problem still exists that diesels in general will not be seen as a good future buy and this is going to shift the market. It is likely that petrol cars are going to go up in value as demand increases, which is good if you own one owing to lower depreciation, but bad if you intend to buy a new or second hand one. This increase in value is also going to be pushed towards hybrids and electric cars.

This tax is only being rolled out in certain areas of Britain. Specifically big cities. London is taking the initiative on this, where it will be charging a daily surcharge for parking, and is bringing forwards a few more levels of charging for 2019. Other cities are going to see how London gets on before following the same route. When this becomes established it is likely that these clean air zones are going to pop up nationwide, starting with the largest cities and radiating down to smaller cities, towns, villages and hamlets.***

Now that hybrids are becoming established, it is likely that all car manufacturers are going to take a leaf out of Toyota’s long head start and begin making in roads into making many of their cars conform to hybrid standards in one form or another. In addition, there are going to be a lot more electric cars following the coat-tails of the Tesla.

Alongside this, it is quite possible that alternatives such as LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) and Methane based cars might become more of an alternative, alongside a slow growing army of diesel owners switching to bio-diesel as a cheaper alternative. Hydrogen cars are a possibility but their technology is somewhat restrictive in smaller vehicles, making them an excellent candidate for buses, coaches and wide scale haulage.

It would make sense for the government to follow green objectives and phase out all ICE (internal combustion engine) cars as soon as they can provide an infrastructure and power network to service the replacement. This will accelerate as more individuals adopt non ICE cars.

*** Hamlets don’t contain ham unless specifically stocked.

Some Hybrid tech is actually driving a need to use more Rare Earth Material. Through the application of batteries and other such equipment, we are building more complex cars, in terms of the minerals that go into using them. I don’t entirely believe that as yet, we are recycling enough, or efficiently enough to recapture the amount of material we put in.

Composite material, and recycling that composite material, is difficult, and it seems that we are building vehicles that are ‘built to fail sooner’ with spare parts that are purposely manufactured with short lives, or that are nigh on impossible to replace without major labour hours at the garage. Designing to capitalist profits is damaging to us and the environment.

Electric technology goes for all of the above and more. With electricity production as it stands, we are in danger of pushing the source of the CO2 away from the car back to the smoke stack of the energy production facility. The problem that electric cars have is a vampire drain.

Unlike fossil fuels, we cannot expect to return to an electric car and still have as much charge left in it as we did a week or a month ago. The fact that we have to factor in recharging stops into long journeys and are ruled by the capacity of our battery, is concerning.

Whilst it might seem like the government are meddling again, it is actually a good thing for all of us. Not only for our health but for the wider environment. Now is a very good time to use good science to start making better decisions about a greener future, and one that is more sustainable.

As figures go, 40,000 early British deaths are directly attributed to air pollution per year.

Being an asthmatic myself, I can attest that in some cities, especially London, there are days when air quality is poor and where breathing can become more difficult. I am fortunate not to be living and working in those cities on a regular basis.

Now that we have alternatives and we know they work, we should be using them and there is no reason why we shouldn’t start scrapping technology that doesn’t hold up as well as it used to.

However, we do have to consider that we should get a value out of what we have already manufactured, because new technology replacing old, can be just as damaging to the environment.

Which means that for every car purchased second, third or fourth hand, we are actually halting an ever increasing tide of new cars that have to be produced.

That is also a bad thing.

It is a bad thing in that newer, greener cars don’t move into the system very quickly and that we are running dirtier vehicles for longer.

According to statistics from the SMMT, circa 2015, the average age of cars being scrapped was 13.9 years which hadn’t changed much from 2014. The record to date was in 2009, stimulated by the government’s scrappage scheme, at an average of 13 years.

The average age of vehicles on the road in 2015 was cited as 7.8 years which is an increase of 12.82% from 2003 at 6.8 years.

The SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) also indicated the challenges represented in today’s sustainability of UK motoring.

No matter what we do, it seems, we are running into difficult issues going forwards.

But it is a challenge worth facing.

Nobody likes taxation and charges but when the government offers ways out of that, people are invariably going to take those ways out. There is a point where you just think you are an idiot for holding off on the change any longer because you are throwing money away.

There are those that are fuming and angry with Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London) for bringing some of the more stygian tax levels in sooner, but think how much cleaner London will be. If we can take a dent out of that 40,000 deaths per annum, isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth ditching dirty cars in search of cleaners ones?

The answer will always be yes.

The “I can’t be fucked” attitude has to end if we want to live in a better world.

The annoying piece of shit is that Britain used to be a power house of British owned, British made cars. Now we make everybody else’s and have the privilege of buying them. Whoop de fucking do.

It is disappointing to see that we languish behind everybody else in terms of getting our clean car future together.

We could actually make a car that could rival Elon Musk’s Tesla. There is just nobody with any scrote to do it. Nobody can be fucked in Britain. We have the knowledge, we just can’t be fucked. We could have built the deathstar already and we couldn’t be buggered. That would be funny if it wasn’t true.

We simply wait for somebody else to be brave while we continue to drive our shitty cars that are predominantly Japanese, Korean, American, French, Italian, Swedish, <insert country that is not Britain here> or German.****

I will now shut my belligerent hole as I get back in my 7 year old diesel Honda and add more grammes of particulate on a daily basis to the atmosphere, whilst occasionally coughing at work, and wondering why.

Happy days.

**** I put the Germans last because that is where they belong. These are the same bastards that faked their emissions in large quantity for extended periods in a number of their car marques. Let’s not forget.

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