I can completely understand that anyone considering changing their car at the moment must be about as confused as a goldfish asked to complete a jigsaw. It’s not so much the choice of car that is the issue, rather the choice of deciding what it should be powered by.

It used to be very simple: Cars ran on petrol and that’s all there was to it. Then the government decided that petrol was terribly bad for the environment and we should all switch to driving diesel cars. This made sense because petrol engines have the unfortunate habit of exhaling carbon dioxide, which we all know causes the cold bits at the top and bottom of the earth to melt at an alarming rate. Diesel doesn’t do this so the powers that be decided to offer incentives to switch with generous scrappage schemes and tax reductions. This also made sense because a tank of diesel not only took you further, it cost less than petrol.fuel-pumps

I’m generally not one of those people who indulges in conspiracy theories but there is an intriguing coincidence in the fact that once diesel’s popularity grew the cost of the fuel slowly overtook it’s more refined alternative. Curious as that may be, it isn’t the point. The point is that now the roads are filled with diesel cars that sit in traffic jams alongside diesel buses and diesel lorries, it is becoming increasingly clear that they generate nasty things all of their own. Just how many nasty things is becoming increasingly clear as the fog of numerous emissions “scandals” begins to lift.

The problem is Nitrous Oxides. These don’t necessarily harm the environment in the way carbon dioxide does, but they do have some rather nasty effects on human beings. So now there is a bit of a scramble to try and resolve the issue that only arose because the government couldn’t think of another way to resolve the issue that previously existed. Hence recent reports that Ministers are considering yet another scrappage scheme that could see diesel owners receive significant discounts if they trade in for a low-emission car. There is also talk of banning diesels from our biggest cities, charging more for parking, and increasing congestion charges. traffic-jam

Which inevitably leads us on to another issue. What constitutes a low-emission car and what are the alternatives? The cleanest option in environmental terms is either electric or hydrogen. Yes, I know that just transfers the pollution back up the line to the power stations and hydrogen processing plants, but in terms of the car itself they are without doubt the cleanest form of energy available. Except if you do go down this road you won’t be going very far because the infrastructure needed to recharge or refill them is usually about 10 miles further away than your available range will allow. We can probably all agree that in an ideal world this would be the better option but building the infrastructure is likely to take time we simply can’t afford, and in most cases the purchase cost of these cars is still too high for most of us although that should change in time.

Which is probably why the majority of new cars now seem to be powered by smaller, mainly 3-cylinder, engines. In some cases manufacturers are even speaking in hushed tones about ending diesel engine production altogether, or at least not spending quite so much time on developing new ones. It’s a simple idea, that a small petrol engine uses less fuel, is therefore more economical and consequently produces fewer harmful emissions. Less carbon dioxide is good for the ice-caps and fewer nitrous oxides are good for the people. The only downside is that these smaller engines aren’t very good at the business of propelling a tonne or more of metal down the road at anything approaching normal speed. The most popular solution is to fit them with turbo chargers to improve performance and keep them moving along, except that inevitably requires more fuel which compromises the whole reason for having the smaller engine in the first place. Not all manufacturers are following this path but the exceptions are currently few and far between.

All of which brings us neatly back to the original dilemma. If you are about to replace your car, what are you supposed to replace it with? Well, I think I have discovered a solution and it’s blindingly obvious. What you should do is ignore all of this fuss and just work out which is the best option for you. If you clock up tens of thousands of miles a year then get a diesel because the fuel economy will probably outweigh any proposed increase in taxation. If you enjoy a rural lifestyle and rarely drive more than a few thousand miles a year then opt for the little turbo-charged petrol engine and save a few quid on fuel and tax. If you live in an urban area with a recharging point every 200 metres then do the polar bears a favour and go electric. If you’re the government, pull your bloody finger out and invest some money into the necessary infrastructure so we don’t end up back at square one in another few years.

As for me, I’m hankering after a thunderous V8 that spits fire and eats planets for breakfast. Well, somebody needs to set a bad example……