As an alternative fuel for compression ignition engines, plant oils are in principle renewable and carbon-neutral. However, their use raises technical, economic and environmental issues. A comprehensive and up-to-date technical review of using both edible and non-edible plant oils (either pure or as blends with fossil diesel) in CI engines, based on comparisons with standard diesel fuel, has been carried out. The properties of several plant oils, and the results of engine tests using them, are reviewed based on the literature. Findings regarding engine performance, exhaust emissions and engine durability are collated. The causes of technical problems arising from the use of various oils are discussed, as are the modifications to oil and engine employed to alleviate these problems. The review shows that a number of plant oils can be used satisfactorily in CI engines, without transesterification, by preheating the oil and/or modifying the engine parameters and the maintenance schedule. As regards life-cycle energy and greenhouse gas emission analyses, these reveal considerable advantages of raw plant oils over fossil diesel and biodiesel. Typical results show that the life-cycle output-to-input energy ratio of raw plant oil is around 6 times higher than fossil diesel. Depending on either primary energy or fossil energy requirements, the life-cycle energy ratio of raw plant oil is in the range of 2–6 times higher than corresponding biodiesel. Moreover, raw plant oil has the highest potential of reducing life-cycle GHG emissions as compared to biodiesel and fossil diesel.