Should I buy an electric car?

Electric cars are here to stay.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported that in 2021, 1 in 6 registered cars were plug-in vehicles. Battery electric car registrations rose to 1 in 9. That's more than 2016 to 2020 combined.

We can only expect this to increase further as we count down towards the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030But it can be hard to measure the real cost of ownership of an electric vehicle.

There are all sorts of things you need to know about electric cars before deciding. Such as, what car insurance looks like, the pros and cons and how much it should cost you.

So should you buy an electric car?

An electric car at a charging station

 

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. But should I buy an electric car and what are the pros and cons?

  • Low running costs: Charging is cheaper than using fossil fuels, and electric cars can be cheaper to service because there are fewer moving parts.
  • Better for the planet: Moving to electric from petrol and diesel is a key way to reduce emissions that are harmful to the environment.
  • Tax savings: There is no VED tax on an electric car until 2025.
  • They cost more to buy: You can expect to pay more for an electric car than cars that run on petrol or diesel. And with government grants scrapped, it might make it harder to afford. 
  • Journey planning: Until electric cars reach the range of petrol cars, you need to plan your journeys so you can be sure you're near a charging point when you need to refuel.
  • Charging points: This can be an issue, depending on where you live. If you live halfway up a tower block, it'd be harder to sort out a charging point than if you have a drive or a garage.

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, an electric car could be a perfect option for you.

 

Are electric cars automatic?

It’s technically wrong to call electric cars ‘automatic’ because that'd suggest they change gear automatically when there aren’t any gears to change. However, in terms of the driving experience, electric cars feel a lot closer to being an automatic than a manual.

Electric cars have rechargeable batteries that store electricity to power a motor. Electric cars differ from hybrid cars, 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. For example, during acceleration.

Most hybrid cars are automatic, but there are some manual hybrid cars. These are called ‘mild hybrids’, and they cannot be run solely on electric power. The electric motor complements the petrol engine, boosting the power of the car and/or cutting fuel consumption.

 

Do electric cars have gears?

With very few exceptions, no. An electric car has a single-speed transmission, and this is why it feels similar to driving an automatic car.

An electric car has no gears, so there’s no gear lever and no clutch – there are simply options for ‘drive’, ‘reverse’ and ‘neutral’.

But a few manufacturers have been trying to produce electric cars with gearboxes, to make them more appealing to drivers who like the familiarity of driving a manual car.

 

Electric car costs

An electric car isn't cheap. Here's what you need to know on the average cost of an electric car and how much it costs to charge them.

 

How much do electric cars cost?

A key question you need to know is whether you can afford an electric car.

The Smart EQ Fortwo costs around £20-25K. At the other end of the spectrum, the Porsche Taycan Turbo S would set you back nearly £142,400.

According to NimbleFins, 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 £25,000 and £30,000.

Once you have an electric car, there are tax savings. Technically, you still have to register for VED tax.

But electric cars will no longer be exempt from tax after 2025. This comes after the 2022 autumn statement from chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt.

 

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

With a fossil-fuel car, the size of a tank in litres multiplied by the cost per litre of fuel gives you the cost of filling up.

With an electric car, it’s the size of the battery (in kWh) multiplied by the cost of charging per kWh that gives you the cost of fully charging your vehicle.

According to EV charging solutions, the costs to charge different vehicles assuming the price per kWH is 19p are:

Vehicle Battery Size kWh Cost Cost to Charge
Tesla model s 100d
100
£0.19
£19
Nissan Leaf
30
£0.19
£5.70
BMW i8
7
£0.19
£1.33
Renault Zoe
22
£0.19
£4.18
Mitsubishi Outlander
12
£0.19
£2.28

The tariff you pay for charging the battery largely depends on where and when you do it.

If you charge your electric car at home, it might be cheaper to do it overnight, depending on your tariff.

If you’re out and about, it depends on a few things:

  • If you opt for a quick charge or not 
  • Which provider you use
  • Whether you have an account with that provider  
  • If you’re just making a one-off visit 

A public charging station would most likely cost you more than charging the battery at home. A motorway charging point is likely to be even more expensive, in the same way that petrol prices are generally more expensive at motorway service stations.

Using a Nissan Leaf with a 30kWh battery as an example, it might cost between £5 and £6 to charge it at home during the day, and perhaps £4 if you did it overnight. Assuming you had a 2 tier tariff

At a motorway charging point, a full charge would cost nearer £12, although it would be completed in less than an hour.

 

Will electric cars get cheaper?

A lot of this is down to market forces. Electric cars are currently expensive to make as they use more advanced technology.  

As we approach the end of petrol and diesel and as the market for electric cars expands, manufacturers are keen to attract as much loyalty from early adopters as possible.

As more players join the market and the battery technology becomes more widespread, we should see prices begin to fall. 

 

Charging an electric car

Charging an electric car is quite different to re-fuelling a petrol or diesel car. Learning how and when to charge an electric car is important to make sure you don't get stuck without any juice. It takes a little planning, especially for longer journeys, but charging networks should expand in the future. As should the battery range of many electric cars.

 

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

There are 3 charging speeds – slow, fast and rapid.

  • Slow: A charge overnight at home or during the day at work takes between 8 and 10 hours.
  • Fast: A charge somewhere such as a car park or at a supermarket can recharge a battery in 3 or 4 hours.
  • Rapid: If you can find a rapid charging point, it should take between 30 minutes to an hour, although not all electric cars have the capability for rapid charging.

You can charge your electric car either at home, at work or using a public charging point. Such as a service station.

 

Is access to EV charging points improving?

The main draw back of buying EVs is the access to charging points, but this could change in the future.

According to GOV.UK, drivers could have access to more than 1,000 new electric car charge points, through a £20 million government fund. There are plans for these charge points to be built across 9 local authorities across England such as Durham, Nottinghamshire, and Suffolk.

This scheme should help EV owners who don't have access to a private driveway where they can install a home charger. It should also help a more widespread issue of the fear of being caught short when driving long distance as the charging network across the UK grows.

According to the Policy Exchange committee, 35,000 charge points need to be installed in the 2020s if the UK is going to be ready for the EV switch in 2030. This is 5 times faster than the current rate. 

They also expressed concerns about parts of the UK not having proper access to charging points, for example, in rural areas. This could potentially cause ‘charging blackspots’.

Friends of the Earth’s Head of policy, Mike Childs has supported the announcement, saying that electric vehicles have a ‘significant role to play in building a zero-carbon future’.

He added that ‘new housing should also include secure cycle storage and access to high quality public transport, to provide real alternatives to driving and help cut congestion,’

The announcement builds on the 250,000 home and workplace charging points the government has already supported.

 

Are EV charging points accessible for wheelchair users?

Motability estimates that there’ll be 2.7 million disabled drivers or passengers by 2035. 

It expects 1.35 million of these drivers to be either partially or completely reliant on public charging infrastructure. This means that they’d need to charge their vehicle away from home.

But Motability has raised concerns that some charging points aren’t suitable for wheelchair users. For example, heavy charging cables and high kerbs make it difficult for wheelchair users to access charging points. There’s also little space around some chargers to manoeuvre a wheelchair. 

Alongside the Department for Transport and the British Standards Institute (BSI), Motability says they plan to develop accessibility standards for EV charging points across the UK this year.

The guidance should help the EV industry solve the challenges raised by Motability. It should also give wheelchair users guidance on which EV charging points are:

  • Fully accessible
  • Partially accessible
  • Not accessible

This should help drivers decide which charging points are suitable for their needs. 

Barry Le Grys, Chief Executive Officer at Motability, said: “There is a risk that disabled people are left behind as the UK’s transition to electric vehicles approaches, and Motability wants to ensure that this does not happen.

“We welcome the interest from government in our research on electric vehicle charging and accessibility and we are excited about our partnership with the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) to further this work. 

“We look forward to working together to create world-leading accessibility standards and to support the UK’s commitment to achieving zero emissions. Motability looks forward to a future where electric vehicle charging is inclusive for all.”

 

How long do electric car batteries last?

Most manufacturers give an 8-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 2 decades.

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.

An 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'd 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. This means it's likely that a used electric car is in a better condition than a petrol equivalent that has done the same mileage.

 

Electric car range: How far can they go?

Early electric cars would struggle to do 30-40 miles on a single charge. Now there are models that do several times that distance.

High-end cars are capable of some of the furthest ranges, but more everyday cars can now go much further, too.

According to a recent What Car survey, though, the distance they can actually go is often less than the manufacturers officially claim:

Vehicle Distance advertised (M) Distance in test (M)
Tesla Model 3 Long Range
360
284
Kia e-Nero 64kWh 3
282
257
Renault Zoe R135 GT Line
230
208
Mazda MX-30 SE-L Lux
124
115
 

Should I buy a new or used electric car?

There's no denying electric cars are expensive. So thinking about buying a used electric car is a sensible choice in helping you save more money on the initial payment.

Buying a second-hand electric car is very similar to buying a second-hand petrol or diesel car. But there are a few things you need to consider. For example, the earlier EV's tend to have a shorter driving range and typically take a longer time to charge.

You should also look out for the general condition of the battery. And check before buying a second-hand EV whether the battery is leased. The last thing you'd want is to walk away with an unexpected ongoing monthly payment for the battery.

 

What about electric car insurance?

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, that 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.

Compare car insurance quotes

 

Conclusion: should I buy an electric car now or wait?

At the end of the day, it's down to you to decide whether to buy an electric car now or wait.

If you've got the funds for an EV that meets your personal needs, then buying an electric car now could be a great idea. This is because in the long run, electric cars are cheaper to run and more eco-friendly.

The UK government and Motability have also been working together to make EV's widely-accessible for all drivers. And to increase the number of charge points we see across the UK.

What we do know, is that the technology of electric cars are just going to keep improving. But, if you're not yet quite convinced, you could meet in the middle and get a hybrid.