Petrol vs. Electric: Visualising Your Car’s Emissions in Real Life

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1 in 4 drivers don’t believe electric cars are more environmentally friendly than driving petrol or diesel vehicles, according to a recent study. But with the upcoming 2030 deadline to make the switch, drivers have no other option than to choose an electric vehicle (EV). If you’re having doubts about the eco-friendliness of driving an electric car, we crunched the numbers to see how they compare to traditional fuels.

We compared the CO2 emissions of 100 petrol/diesel and 100 electric cars to show you what they equal in real life. From how many trees you’d need to plant to offset your car’s emissions to how many smartphones could be charged, see how environmentally friendly your vehicle really is, plus the emissions from the manufacturing process to its disposal.

Petrol/diesel cars emit 7x more emissions than electric

After analysing the CO2 emissions of most popular petrol/diesel and electric cars, according to vehicles registered by the Department for Transport between 2015 and 2020, we found that the average CO2 emissions of a petrol/diesel vehicle are seven times higher than electric.

Our research shows that the top petrol/diesel cars emit 1.4 million grams of CO2 per year if you drive the UK average of 7,400 miles annually. This compares to just 200,000 grams of CO2 emissions per year if you drive a hybrid or plug-in vehicle.

What 1 year of driving emissions equals in real life – petrol vs. electric

Petrol vs Electric 1 year of driving emissions chart

If you drive a Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa or Volkswagen Golf, you’re at the wheel of one of the most popular cars. But the CO2 emitted by these cars is the equivalent of charging a huge 189,954 smartphones. That compares to just 25,515 if you drive an EV, including the most popular models such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, BMW 330e or Tesla Model S.

What’s more, to offset the CO2 emissions of the average popular petrol/diesel car, you’d need to plant 25 trees in a year. If you switch to electric, you’d only need to plant three.

A petrol car’s life cycle produces the same emissions as 3 million smartphones

Even drivers who know electric cars are more eco-friendly than petrol or diesel vehicles still have doubts, due to emissions from EV production. While a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) has zero tailpipe emissions, there are emissions produced in the manufacturing process. Almost half (46%) of an EV’s total carbon footprint is generated by the manufacturing process.

EV production, driving and disposal still emits less CO2 than petrol

However, when comparing the total amount of CO2 created by cars over their life cycle, including manufacturing, driving, recycling and disposal, electric still comes out on top. According to a report by Zemo Partnership, petrol cars produce around 24 tonnes of CO2 during their lifetime, whereas an electric vehicle emits 25% less. But what does that equate to in real life?

250,000 smartphones produce the same emissions as a Volkswagen Golf

Our data reveals that the VW Golf emits the most CO2 on average, out of the most popular cars analysed – around 165 g/km. These emissions are equivalent to charging almost 250,000 smartphones, which is three times more than the highest emissions EV, the BMW 530e. With average CO2 emissions of 47 g/km, the hybrid’s emissions are equal to 71,868 smartphones charged.

Top 10 Petrol/Diesel Models

No. of Smartphones Charged Equal to CO2 Emissions

Top 10 EV Models

No. of Smartphones Charged Equal to CO2 Emissions

Volkswagen Golf249,991BMW 530e71,686
BMW 3 Series206,554Volkswagen Golf GTE64,396
Vauxhall Astra205,339Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV60,751
Ford Focus201,998BMW 330e58,321
Vauxhall Corsa193,037Nissan Leaf0
Ford Fiesta183,621BMW i30
Nissan Qashqai182,102Renault Zoe0
Toyota Yaris161,295Tesla Model S0
Volkswagen Polo158,257Tesla Model 30
Renault Clio157,346Tesla Model X0

150 trees need to be planted to offset the emissions of your petrol/diesel car

On average, petrol/diesel drivers would need to plant 25 trees a year to offset their CO2 emissions. It’s said that we keep our cars for around six years, making a total of 150 trees that you’d need to plant. Compare that to the electric average, which is just three trees, totalling 18 for the average time you’d keep the car – that’s much less than traditional fuels.

Here’s how many trees you’d need to plant per car, per year.

Top 10 Petrol/Diesel Models

No. of Trees Planted to Offset CO2 Emissions

Top 10 EV Models

No. of Trees Planted to Offset CO2 Emissions

Volkswagen Golf32.4BMW 530e9.3
BMW 3 Series26.8Volkswagen Golf GTE8.3
Vauxhall Astra26.6Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV7.9
Ford Focus26.2BMW 330e7.6
Vauxhall Corsa25.0Nissan Leaf0
Ford Fiesta23.8BMW i30
Nissan Qashqai23.6Renault Zoe0
Toyota Yaris20.9Tesla Model S0
Volkswagen Polo20.5Tesla Model 30
Renault Clio20.4Tesla Model X0

Driving a petrol/diesel car for is the equal to 63 rubbish bags going to landfill

Our research shows that petrol/diesel drivers would need to recycle an average of 63 rubbish bags, instead of them going to landfill, to avoid the CO2 emissions emitted by their car. The VW Golf is again the highest, equal to 83 bags of rubbish, followed by the BMW at 69.

For electric cars, you’d only need to recycle an average of nine rubbish bags instead of taking them to landfill, or none at all if you drive a BEV, which is zero emissions.

Offset emissions of petrol/diesel cars by swapping 57 bulbs

If you wanted to avoid the amount of CO2 emitted by a petrol/diesel car, you’d need to swap 57 regular incandescent bulbs for energy-efficient LED alternatives. However, you’d only need to swap 8 bulbs if you drive electric, or none if you drive a BEV.

Out of the most popular cars analysed, the VW Golf has the highest CO2, resulting in you needing to swap 75 bulbs to avoid emissions. Compare that to the highest EV, the BMW 530e plug-in at just 21 bulbs, showing that you don’t need an all-electric vehicle to be more eco-friendly.

Find more of the latest EV news and tips in the Moneyshake blog, including more reasons on why you should make the switch. Don’t forget to see our latest electric lease deals available online now.

Methodology

We compared registrations for petrol/diesel and electric cars using 2015-2020 Department for Transport statistics to find the 10 most popular of each type. We then collected CO2 data from the European Environment Agency, analysing 10 models of each car to create an emissions average, totalling 200 models. The average UK mileage of 7,400 miles (11,909 km) was used to calculate the annual CO2 g/km. Comparisons made using the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.