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What's cheapest to run? Hybrid, petrol, diesel or electric cars?

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

Choosing a new(er) car can be a tricky decision at the best of times. But, with petrol, diesel and electricity prices all at record highs, if running costs are a big factor in your car decision, that choice just got even trickier.

We’ve taken a look at the annual running costs of the Volkswagen Golf, a best-seller both brand new and used that’s available in petrol, diesel, and as a plug-in hybrid. We’ve compared it to the Volkswagen ID.3, which is fully electric and of a similar price and specification to the Golfs.

Remember, the information we’ve shared here is designed to give you an idea of the running costs of different types of cars. Your own experience may be different and cost you more, or less.

The cost of fuel: compared

Fuel is the big one, isn’t it? Whether it’s petrol, diesel or electricity, knowing how much it’ll cost you to get from A to B in your car is probably a major factor in your decision-making. So, let’s see how our cars compare over 10,000 miles.

Petrol

The petrol Volkswagen Golf that we compared can do 52.3 miles per gallon (MPG) of fuel. There are 4.54 litres in a gallon, so over 10,000 miles, this means you’d need 868 litres of petrol. At an average price of 155.47p per litre, this means you’d spend £1,349.59 per year on petrol, or approximately £112.46 per month.

Diesel

The diesel Volkswagen, meanwhile, has an average MPG of 67.3. This means you’d need 674 litres of fuel to cover those 10,000 miles. At an average cost of 163.97p per litre, you’d spend £1,106.12 on diesel over the course of a year. This works out at roughly £92.17 per month.

Electric

On electric cars, the fuel consumption is worked out in miles per kilowatt hour (kWh). The Volkswagen ID.3 that we compared can do 4.01 miles per kWh. This sounds like nothing compared to the MPG of petrol and diesel cars, but remember it takes 2-3 kWh just to boil a kettle!

To drive 10,000 miles in an ID.3, you’d use 2,493.8 kWh of electricity. For the period April – September 2022, the cost of electricity is capped at 28p per kWh. Based on this, the electricity needed to drive those 10,000 miles would be £698.25 per year. Or, roughly £58.19 per month.

This doesn’t factor in the daily standing charge you also pay for electricity, but chances are you pay that anyway to power your home! It may also cost you more to charge your vehicle if you stop at charging stations out and about.

Hybrid

Fuel consumption for hybrid cars is calculated differently again, as they use both petrol or diesel and electricity to keep you on the road. The plug-in hybrid Golf has a fuel-only MPG of 69 miles per gallon. In electric-only mode, it can also do about 4.43 miles per kWh.

Let’s assume that half your annual mileage is powered by this Golf’s electric motor, and the other half is petrol powered. That’s 5,000 miles in each mode. Electricity-wise, this means you’ll use 1,128.67 kWh, costing £316.02 per year, or about £26.34 per month. For the 5,000 miles you drive using petrol, you’ll use 329 litres of petrol. This will set you back £511.47 per year, or £42.62 per month.

Combined, this means the fuel and electricity cost of the plug-in hybrid Golf is likely to be around £827.49 per year, or £68.96 per month.

Tax

The amount of car tax, or, as it’s officially known, Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) you’ll pay per year is set based on the CO2 emissions of your car and when it was first registered.  For cars registered on or after 1st April 2017, including brand new cars, you’ll pay based on the car’s CO2 emissions when it’s first registered, and then pay a different, standard rate in subsequent years.

Here’s how the cars in our comparison shape up, assuming you bought one brand-new:

 

Golf 8 Style (hybrid)

Golf 8 Life (petrol)

Golf 8 Life (diesel)

ID.3 Life (electric)

Tax (first year)

£10

£190

£170

£0

Tax (subsequent years)

£155

£165

£165

£0

Average cost over 3 years

£106.67

£173.33

£166.67

£0

 

If you buy a car that’s not brand new, but was registered after 1st April 2017, then you’ll go straight into paying the standard rate.

If you buy a slightly older model registered before 1st April 2017, then the tax you’ll pay will depend on your car’s CO2 emissions, according to the government website.

Insurance

Working out the average cost of insurance for a car is always tricky, because the cost of the premium depends as much on the driver as it does on the car. However, in theory, the lower the insurance group a car is in, the cheaper insurance for it should be.

All four of the cars in our comparison are in moderate insurance groups, which means they won’t be cheap to insure, but shouldn’t be surprisingly expensive, either:

  • Petrol Golf – insurance group 14
  • Diesel Golf – insurance group 17
  • Plug-in hybrid Golf – insurance group 24
  • Electric ID.3 – insurance group 27

Servicing

While annual servicing isn’t mandatory, it is a good idea. Regular servicing can help keep your car running smoothly, and also spot potential issues so you can fix them before they become a big, expensive problem.

If you buy any of the four cars in our comparison brand new, the first service they will need will come once you’ve owned them for 12 months. It’s then recommended that you take your car in for a service once per year after that.

When we compared the cost of servicing for our four Volkswagens, there really wasn’t much in it when looking at the average cost of servicing over three years of car ownership.

However, we found that, except for the electric ID.3, the first, 12-month service each car would go in for is cheaper than its 24- or 36-month services. So, this would be something to bear in mind as you budget year-to-year for your car costs.

Here’s how all four of our cars compared:

 

Golf 8 Style (hybrid)

Golf 8 Life (petrol)

Golf 8 Life (diesel)

ID.3 Life (electric)

12-month service

£169.61

£174.91

£155.83

£223.64

24-month service

£255.62

£273.53

£241.85

£223.64

36-month service

£282.10

£272.59

£268.31

£223.64

Total cost

£707.33

£721.03

£665.99

£670.92

Average cost per year

£235.78

£240.34

£221.99

£223.64

 

Remember, once your car reaches three years old, it will have to undergo an annual MOT test. You could arrange to get this done at the same time as your 36-month service if you timed it right. Even if you decide not to get your car serviced, it will still need to go for an MOT. Having a valid MOT is a legal requirement.

The cost of an MOT test is capped by the government, though. Currently, it costs a maximum of £54.85 for a car MOT, and there’s no difference in cost for different types of car.

H2: So, which car is cheapest to run?

Over the course of a year, the electric ID.3 is the cheapest to run, followed by the plug-in hybrid Golf. Both are significantly cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars. We’ve put together this handy table so you can compare all the running costs we’ve explained at a glance:

 

Golf 8 Style (hybrid)

Golf 8 Life (petrol)

Golf 8 Life (diesel)

ID.3 Life (electric)

Fuel (per year)

£827.49

£1,349.59

£1,106.12

£698.25

Tax (average over 3 years)

£106.67

£173.33

£166.67

£0

Servicing (average cost per year)

£235.78

£240.34

£221.99

£223.64

Total

£1,169.94

£1,763.26

£1,494.78

£921.89

 

However, there are other costs to consider when buying an electric car, or a plug-in hybrid, particularly if it’ll be your first.

According to Checkatrade, it can cost about £1,000 to install an electric car charger at home. Even if you’re eligible for a government grant to help with this, that’s still a lot to add onto the cost of your first year of electric or plug-in hybrid ownership.

Next, read our comparison of the three most popular second-hand cars to see which is the best value for money!

Methodology

We compared the following cars, using performance information for each model available on the Volkswagen website:

  • Golf 8 Style 1.4 TSI eHybrid 204PS 6-speed DSG 5 door
  • Golf 8 Life 1.0 TSI 110PS 6-speed Manual 5 door
  • Golf 8 Life 2.0 TDI 115PS 6-speed Manual 5 door
  • 3 Life 58kWh Pro Performance 204PS 1-speed automatic 5 door

The cost of petrol and diesel has been calculated using Average UK petrol and diesel prices by year found on RAC Fuel Watch.

Insurance groups were sourced from parkers.co.uk.

We sourced the cost of servicing for each car from Bristol Street Motors, a Volkswagen main dealer. We took the prices of 12, 24 and 36 month standard services, adding them together to get the total servicing cost in the first three years of ownership, and finding the average to give an approximate cost per year.

All information was correct when checked on 5th July 2022.

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

One person hands a car key to someone else. Only their hands and the car key fob are visible. One person hands a car key to someone else. Only their hands and the car key fob are visible.