Motoring: Diesels that won't make you fume: Compared with petrol engines, they were slow and smelly. Then they cleaned up their act and won over the second-hand market, says James Ruppert

ONCE UPON a time only taxi-drivers and masochistic misers could see the bright side of driving diesels. Their only redeeming feature was better economy. Otherwise they were slow, smelly and noisy. However, developments over the past 10 years have made the engine respectable and desirable. A diesel is now the environment-friendly engine of the Nineties and one of the soundest second-hand buys.

Since the early Eighties, most of the criticisms levelled at diesels have been answered, and now you would be hard-pressed to tell that you were not behind the wheel of a petrol-driven car.

One giveaway might be the lack of performance. A diesel unit is heavier than a petrol unit, and the weight disadvantage is compounded by the heavy-duty suspension, battery and brakes.

But you don't buy a diesel for its turn of speed, although the turbocharged versions are fairly swift; fuel economy is the attraction. On average diesels are 20 per cent more efficient, especially in stop-start city traffic, than their petrol counterparts. There is also a slight price advantage over petrol, but unlike in Europe, no real tax incentive to switch fuels.

Diesels are often touted as more reliable, and certainly there are fewer engine parts to go wrong (no points or plugs, for example). But proper maintenance is the key to the mileages of more than 100,000 which are commonplace: the recommended service intervals are shorter than for petrol engines.

There is, however, a price to pay for all these advantages - and it is the price. Diesel cars generally cost 15-30 per cent more then their petrol equivalents, depending on the model. Nevertheless, you will not lose out in the long run because depreciation is much slower, if you buy carefully.

Make sure there is a full service history, because the stresses imposed by the diesel engine demand regular oil and filter changes, usually at 5,000-mile intervals. Never buy anything you suspect has been used as a taxi, because by the time they reach the classifieds most are only worth pounds 25 scrap. Just as important is who made the vehicle, because not all diesels are equal.

The French have a long tradition of diesel manufacture, and at the entry level, Peugeot's 205 is the best of the small brood. I trotted along to west London's Western Avenue on a quiet Sunday afternoon, to visit Venture Value. This is an interesting operation run by Wincanton Leasing, which, instead of putting cars through auction, has opted for the more profitable route of putting them on sale at its office.

Among a wide cross-section of models on offer was a 205 GLD with a 1.8 engine. This Peugeot had covered 92,000 miles in just two years, but this is not uncommon for a diesel. Apart from some minor faults in the bodywork and general interior grubbiness, the car looked in fine shape. Peugeots do not have a reputation for durable interiors, but after the promised valet, this vehicle would look as good as new.

The view under the bonnet was equally good. Oily, unkempt diesels spell trouble, but this engine started easily and ran well. The only question mark concerned a less-than-complete service book. However I was led back to the sales office and provided with a lengthy computer printout on the vehicle's history. During its time as a contract hire-car, every visit to the garage was logged. Its eventful life had included an accident in August 1990, but the repair was small enough to allay any serious fears. The price of pounds 3,960 was about pounds 500- pounds 1,000 less than a main agent would charge.

The French not only make the best small diesel but also the best-selling: the Citroen BX. This shares its excellent engine with the 205, but has a completely different character. It could be a Gallic interpretation of the Ford Sierra, but the company's unique hydropneumatic suspension puts it into a different league in terms of ride and handling.

This complex system is nothing to be frightened of, provided it has been looked after. At the Eric White Group in South Ascot, I was shown two contrasting examples. The first was a silver 1987 car that had covered 63,000 miles with two owners. The service history included a recent bill for a head gasket, while the exterior bore a few battle scars and the interior was grubby.

A red 1986 car had 75,000 miles and a less complete service record. Being a slightly older example, it had Citroen's usual disintegrating disease, which meant that the driver's seat had collapsed. The front suspension spheres needed 'pumping-up', producing an uncharacteristically bumpy ride. All these niggles and a full valet and service would be attended to before sale. The silver BX was selling for pounds 4,795 and the red for pounds 3,995.

If you want to head up-market, the Germans have a number of civilised models. The Volkswagen Passat is accused of being characterless and boring, but at least it will never let you down. At Drift Bridge Garage in Esher, I was directed towards a turbo diesel. If this had not been a one-private- owner car, I might have been suspicious about the low 22,000 mileage. Otherwise this virtually unmarked saloon was as new and on sale for pounds 8,695. If you ever find one as nice as this, buy it, because owners keep them forever.

The same goes for most Mercedes, especially estates. Only when I got to the Mercedes-Benz outlet on the Great West Road did I find a 1991 300TD. This highly equipped car, with a useful extra rear-facing row of seats for youngsters, had covered 17,000 miles and was on offer at pounds 24,850. The vehicle was faultless.

Just as perfect was a Mitsubishi Shogun I saw at Bulldog Service Station in Wokingham. The Japanese now make excellent diesels, an engine perfectly suited to the off-road demands of this 4 x 4. 1 could have picked an Isuzu, or Nissan Patrol, but this cosseted Shogun matched the Mercedes for quality and refinement. The price for the low-mileage, one-owner vehicle - proof that diesels can also be fun - was pounds 14,995.

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower