Red vs White Diesel: What’s The Difference?

45 Gallon Drum of red diesel / gas oil

If you own a diesel car or operate a large piece of machinery like a tractor, dumper truck, or steamroller, then you’re probably aware of the two major types of diesel available to British consumers: red diesel, and white diesel. But most don’t know what makes red and white diesel distinct and the differences between the two. So if you’re curious about what makes red diesel red and white diesel white, check out our explanation below!

There’s no real difference
As short as it was, there’s our explanation! It may be shocking to learn that red diesel is simply white diesel that has been dyed red, and chemically it is nearly identical to standard white diesel. Red diesel does contain slightly higher levels of sulphur due to the addition of the dye, but this makes no difference in the use of the diesel or the operation of the machinery it is used in. In short: there is no difference between white and red diesel, only the colour.

So, why are red and white diesel different?
The above section may be slightly misleading, because there is indeed a significant difference between red and white diesel: how much they’re taxed! That’s right, red diesel is only legally allowed to be used for offroad machinery and, as such, it is taxed at a much lower rate. The red dye in the diesel serves only to identify it as diesel earmarked for use in construction, electricity generators, and other off-road usages. Meanwhile, vehicle owners are forced to pay a much higher rate of tax for their diesel, even though it is the same. The red dye added also stains the inside of engines when used, making it easy for the police to identify engines that have illegally used red diesel!

Is this situation here to stay?
As of November 2020, red diesel users pay 11.14 pence per litre in tax, while white diesel users pay a huge 57.95 pence per litre. This means that red diesel buyers are effectively getting an 81% discount on their fuel duty! This situation is looking likely to change soon, though, as the UK government have announced an end to their freeze on red diesel duty at the start of the next tax year in April 2022, with many industries being removed from the list of those permitted to use red diesel too.