Alternatives to petrol and diesel cars

Buying a car isn’t just a straight choice between petrol or diesel anymore. If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly car your options now include petrol and diesel hybrids, electric cars and a range of other alternative fuels. Here you can learn more about your options and discover the advantages and disadvantages of them.

The rise of alternatively fuelled cars

Did you know?

Financial grants are available to help you buy an electric car or van. Find more information on the website.

Nearly all cars and vehicles already on the road are powered by traditional petrol or diesel engines, but this is all changing.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 119,786 hybrid and electric plug-in cars were registered in the UK in 2017 – an increase of 26.8% on 2016 figures.

Your options explained

A ‘pure’ electric vehicle is powered by an electric motor.

Examples include the:

  • Volkswagen e-Golf
  • Renault Zoe
  • BMW i3
  • Smart Fortwo ED.

A hybrid car combines a conventional petrol or diesel internal combustion engine with an electric motor.

Different manufacturers have different systems. In some, each of the power sources can drive the car separately or they can work together.

In others, a small conventional engine is boosted by an electric motor when required or acts as a generator to charge the battery pack.

Examples of hybrid cars include the:

  • Toyota Prius
  • Toyota Yaris Hybrid
  • Honda Jazz Hybrid.

A plug-in hybrid car combines a petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor powered by a mains rechargeable battery.

This battery is smaller than a pure electric car battery and drives the wheels at low speeds or for a limited range.

When it runs out, the car is powered by its conventional engine.

With some manufacturer’s plug-in hybrids, the engine also recharges the battery and the electric motor can also be used to boost the conventional engine’s performance.

Examples of plug-in hybrid cars include the:

  • BMW i3 REx
  • MINI Countryman SE
  • Toyota Prius Plug-in.

More charge points for electric and plug-in hybrid cars

To promote the benefits of electric and plug-in hybrid cars, the Government has launched the Go Ultra Low campaign.

Find out more, including your nearest charge-points, at the Go Ultra Low website.

Converting your car to liquid petroleum gas (LPG)


If you take your car abroad remember LPG powered vehicles are not allowed through the Channel Tunnel. You’ll have to use a cross-channel ferry instead.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) is currently half the cost of petrol. Cars with petrol engines, and even some diesels, can be converted to run on it.

However, converting a car to LPG can cost up to £2,000 and the unit takes up boot space.

But LPG fans estimate you can recoup the cost of conversion in a year if you drive around 12,000 miles.

LPG is not as commonly available at service stations as other types of fuel.

Converting your car to vegetable oil and biodiesel fuel

Vegetable oil and biodiesel fuel are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than petrol or diesel.

If you have a diesel car it might be possible to convert the engine to run on vegetable oil and biodiesel fuel.

But doing this will almost certainly invalidate any warranties you have on your car, and possibly make it difficult to sell.

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