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), 32,727 hybrid and electric plug-in cars were registered in the UK in 2013 – an increase of 17.5% on 2012 figures.

Most of these cars were hybrids or plug-in hybrids.

However, sales of all-electric cars such as Britain’s best-seller, the Nissan Leaf, almost doubled between 2012 and 2013.

Your options explained

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

Examples include the:

  • Nissan Leaf,
  • Renault Zoe,
  • Peugeot iOn,
  • Citroen C-Zero,
  • Mitsubishi i-Miev.

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;
  • Honda Insight; and
  • Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4.

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:

  • Toyota Prius Plug-in,
  • Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid, and
  • Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars, which produce no emissions other than water vapour, will start to be on sale in 2015.

Toyota first H2 car promises a 300-mile range, 0-60mph in 10 seconds and hydrogen tank refuelling of 3-5 minutes.

Honda and Hyundai also have launches in the pipeline.

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.

It has also promised £9 million to install more rapid charge-points, so drivers can power up while out and about.

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

Converting your car to liquid petroleum gas


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 per year.

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.

Your next step

Did you find this guide helpful?