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New diesel car sales plummet – so should you still consider buying a diesel?

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Oct 5, 2017

Sales of all new cars in the UK were down for the sixth month in a row in September, new figures show.

For all cars, sales were down 9.3% against the same time last year.


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But for diesels, the figure was a massive 21.7% drop off.

It’s the first time in six years that the normally high-sales month of September has seen a year-on-year decline of sales of new cars.

Dealers blame the economic uncertainty over Brexit, the weak pound and question marks over the future of diesel cars.

A total of 426,170 new cars were registered in September, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It said that the fact that the future of diesel vehicles was in doubt because of air quality fears, "inevitably led to a drop in consumer and business demand for diesel vehicles".

The figures show diesel car sales fell by more than a fifth (21.7%) to 170,732, which is down from 217,974 registered in the same month last year.

September is an important month for new car sales, as the market normally sees sales accelerate because of the release of new number plates. The month generally accounts for around 20% of annual sales.

Car sales this year have so far reached 2.1m – that’s down almost 3% on the same nine months last year.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: "September is always a barometer of the health of the UK new car market so this decline will cause considerable concern.

"Business and political uncertainty is reducing buyer confidence, with consumers and businesses more likely to delay big ticket purchases.

"The confusion surrounding air quality plans has not helped, but consumers should be reassured that all the new diesel and petrol models on the market will not face any bans or additional charges.

"Manufacturers' scrappage schemes are proving popular and such schemes are to be encouraged given fleet renewal is the best way to address environmental issues in our towns and cities."


Should you buy a diesel?

Believe it or not, average prices for used diesels are actually up after experiencing big falls.

Hard to believe perhaps when diesel is being demonised at every turn for being such a major cause of harmful pollutants.

The September Market Report from Auto Trader, shows the average diesel used-car prices are in fact increasing slightly, although the rate has been slowing.

Average prices were up 6% year-on-year in August.

Auto Trader’s Market Report also shows that in spite of the negative press for diesel, searches on its site for diesel cars were up from May to August this year. More consumers (55%) still search for diesel than any other type of car.

Nathan Coe, Auto Trader COO said “This sustained debate on fuel is a by-product of a big change in the industry, as car manufacturers, who share the same goals as the Government in improving air quality, make great strides to deliver cleaner, safer and more efficient cars every day.

“It might be tempting to focus on the negatives during periods of such change, but it’s crucial that the centre of the debate focusses on clearly landing the benefits and value of this change to motorists, rather than further energizing a narrative that stigmatises cars and threatens to penalise motorists.”


Prices plummet

One reason people are still looking to buy diesels is perhaps because prices – before recent modest rises – have generally collapsed.

The value of used diesel vehicles has fallen by up to 26% following the introduction of scrappage schemes.

And average values of all second-hand cars have fallen by 5.7%, according to research by Director Alex Buttle said: “Our analysis shows clearly that used diesel car prices are only going one way – and that’s down.

And now that most major manufacturers have launched diesel scrappage schemes, it doesn’t look like it’s about to get any better. 

“Diesel cars are really starting to look like white elephants.

“We are now seeing savvy motorists choosing petrol, electric or hybrid used cars over diesel, and that’s already reflected in the value of second hand petrol vehicles starting to rise. 

“That said, for those purely after cheap deals, it is definitely ‘bargain bucket bonanza’ time in the used diesel market.”

So, that’s it in a nutshell – if you want a bargain-buy car, and you don't expect to resell it – in fact, scrappage is its only future – then maybe now is the time to consider diesel.

Either way, running costs will be a major part of a decision over which used car to buy.

Start off by checking out insurance costs with our simple to use price comparison tool.


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