Everything you wanted to know about electric cars and more
Electric cars are here to stay.
They may still form a niche market, but within the next decade the sale of cars powered by fossil fuels (petrol and diesel) will be banned.
So we can expect electric vehicles to make up a growing share of the cars on the road as we count down towards the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030.
But should you buy one now or wait until technology has made them better?
There are all sorts of things you need to know about electric cars’ pros and cons before deciding.
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How do electric cars work?
In a nutshell, rechargeable batteries store electricity which power a motor. The motor turns the car's wheels. There’s no combustion engine that sparks like in a petrol or diesel car.
Electric cars also differ from hybrid vehicles, even though the latter are part-electric.
A hybrid car has a traditional fossil-fuel engine with the electric motor coming into play only when you need extra power, such as during acceleration.
An electric car has no gears, so there’s no gear lever and no clutch – you simply accelerate and brake.
There’s also something called regenerative braking, which involves charge being put into the battery when you brake. This means you’re topping up the battery with free power whenever you slow down.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
As a rule of thumb, 100 miles in an electric car will cost about £4, depending on energy prices. The same distance in a petrol car will cost about £15 in fuel.
But it really depends on where and when you charge the battery.
Petrol prices fluctuate, too, of course, but you have a simple choice when you fill up your tank: either you pull into the next petrol station or you take a gamble and drive a few more miles in the hope of saving a few pence per litre there.
When it comes to charging your electric car, there are more factors to consider.
Do you do it at home, at a public charging station or at the motorway services?
If you’re charging it at home, what electricity tariff are you on? Is it cheaper leaving it plugged in overnight?
If you’re out and about, it depends on whether you opt for a quick charge or not, which provider you use, and whether you have an account with that provider or you’re just making a one-off visit.
As a general guide, though, if you were charging a Nissan Leaf (which has a 40kWh battery) at home, it would cost between £5 and £6 during the day, and perhaps £4 if you did it overnight.
At a motorway charging point, a full charge would cost nearer £12, although it would be completed in less than an hour.
How far can electric cars go?
Early electric cars would struggle to do 30-40 miles on a single charge. Now there are models that will do 10 times that distance.
High-end cars are capable of some of the furthest ranges: the Tesla Model S and the Ford Mustang Mach E can do nearly 400 miles on a single charge.
But more everyday cars such as the Nissan Leaf can now do about 150 miles on a single charge, too.
How long do electric cars take to charge?
There are three charging speeds – slow, fast and rapid.
There are variables, including the size of the battery. But a slow charge overnight at home or during the day at work takes between eight and 10 hours.
A fast charge, such as in car parks and at supermarkets, can recharge a battery in three or four hours.
If you go for the rapid option, a full charge be done within 30 minutes to an hour, although not all electric cars have the capability for that.
How long do batteries last in electric cars?
Batteries in electric cars gradually become less efficient over time. In much the same way that batteries in mobile phones need more regular charging after they’ve been in use for a few years.
But the technology is improving all the time – and even after a decade of use, they should still give your electric car reliable service.
Most manufacturers give an eight-year or a 100,000-mile warranty on their batteries. Most batteries in electric cars today are designed to last for at least 12 years – and could still be performing well for up to two decades.
One option you might prefer is to lease your battery. Not all manufacturers offer this, but if you're able to do this it can give you peace of mind.
It means that should it go wrong or start losing its charge, you can easily get it replaced as part of your leasing contract.
It also reduces the initial price of the car, although you will have to pay an ongoing monthly fee for the lease of the battery.
In general, electric cars suffer less wear and tear simply on account of there being fewer moving parts to go wrong.
It means it's likely that a used electric car will be in better condition than a petrol equivalent that has done the same mileage.
How much do electric cars cost?
The Smart EQ Fortwo and the Skoda CITGOe iV each cost under £17,500. At the other end of the spectrum, the Porsche Taycan Turbo S will set you back nearly £140,000.
The average electric car price in the UK now is between £40,000 and £45,000. If you take luxury cars out of the equation, the average price is somewhere between £20,000 and £25,000.
Once you have an electric car, there are tax savings. Technically, you still have to register for road tax, but the rate you pay is zero.
Are all electric cars automatic?
It’s technically wrong to call them ‘automatic’ because that would suggest they change gear automatically when there aren’t any gears to change.
However, in terms of the driving experience, they feel a lot closer to being an automatic than a manual.
With no gear stick and no clutch, it’s simply a case of using an accelerator and a brake.
The driving experience will feel a lot more familiar to motorists who drive automatics than people who are used to traditional manual cars.
When will electric cars be affordable?
A lot of this will be down to market forces.
As we approach the end of petrol and diesel and as the market for electric cars expands, manufacturers will be keen to attract as much loyalty from early adopters as possible.
As more players join the market and the technology becomes more widespread, prices should start to fall.
In the meantime, to encourage an increased take-up of electric cars, as of March 2021 the government is giving grants of up to £2,500 for the purchase of new electric cars.
The grant will apply to cars costing up to £35,000. The government says that more than half of all available models are eligible for this grant.
Electric car insurance
All other factors being equal, electric car insurance is likely to cost a bit more than insuring a petrol car.
This is partly because electric cars are more expensive to buy, which increases the potential pay-out an insurer would need to make if your car was written off.
They can also require specialist mechanics, and parts can be harder to source.
You should be able to insure your electric car with most motor insurance providers, but you might want to consider a specialist player.
Specialist policies can include electric car specific features, like:
Getting you to the nearest charging point if your battery dies.
Specific cover for damage to your battery.
Cover for things such as the charging cables, boxes and adaptors that are vital when it comes to keeping your electric car on the road.
As with all car insurance, the best thing you can do is shop around for the best deal. And if the environment is front and centre for you, consider looking at eco-friendly insurance options.
Should I buy an electric car?
There’s no doubt that electric cars are becoming more popular as their range and charging options get more attractive.
Fuel costs are lower, tax is zero and, on top of that, we’re counting down to the final days of fossil fuel cars anyway.
Until electric cars reach the range of petrol cars, though, one of the main factors to consider is what you’ll be using your car for.
If you regularly go on journeys of several hundred miles, you might want to wait a little longer. Or opt for the halfway house of a hybrid car.
But if you make short trips into town and back, or a 15-mile commute twice a day, it could be a perfect option for you.
There are also the practicalities of where you live. If you have a drive or a garage, it’ll be easier to sort out a charging point than if you live halfway up a tower block.
So it’s horses for courses. But, it’s worth adding an electric car to the mix when you next come to think about getting a new car.