A guide to buying an electric car

Thinking of buying an electric car? There’s never been a better time… In this buyers guide you'll find some things you might want to consider when buying an electric car.

Man with his son standing in front of a VW e-Golf electric car

Should I buy an electric car?

If you’re just starting out on your electric journey you probably have lots of questions. If you’ve never driven electric before, you might be wondering about the day-to-day practicalities of owning an electric car. And even if you’re already a convert to battery power, you might be a bit bamboozled by some of the new features and language.

This buyers guide will help you fill in the blanks. By answering all the questions you have about buying an electric car. So you can find the electric vehicle that’s right for you.

 

six benefits of going electric icons on a green backgrund

The benefits of switching to electric

  • Better for the environment
  • Lower running costs
  • Less maintenance
  • easy and convenient to drive
  • government grants
  • resale value

 

Are electric cars worth it?

There are lots of reasons why people are ditching the pump for a plug. Electric cars are cheaper to own than a gas guzzler, when you take into account exemptions on road tax and the Congestion Charge in London. With no tailpipe emissions they’re better for the environment too. And even diehard petrolheads can’t deny that electric cars are relaxing and easy to drive.

Which electric car is best to buy?

In many ways, it becomes harder to choose the best electric car to buy, the more models come onto the market! Five years ago the decision was essentially whether you went in at the high end with the expensive Tesla Model S – offering a range of 200 miles or more – or opted for a more practical and affordable car, with a range of 100 miles or less.

Fast forward to spring 2020 though,and you have a choice of 19 electric cars to buy with a 200-mile range according to EV Database on as of May 2020 – and by the end of the year there's predicted to be more than 30.

With range less of a concern now, buyers can choose an electric car based on something more interesting, such as how it looks or drives. New electric family cars like the Volkswagen ID.3 (expected to launch late 2020), for instance, combine great styling and packaging with exciting performance.

Mini electric cars – like the upcoming Fiat 500e – make perfect runabouts in cities and towns. And for those people seeking driving excitement and prestige, there’ll soon be a wide selection of premium electric cars to buy from prestigious brands including AudiTeslaMercedes and Jaguar.

To help you decide which electric car is the right car for you to buy, we've put together some lists to help make the decision process a little easier.

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What's it like to drive an electric car?

It’s easy to focus on the cost and environmental benefits of electric cars, but they’re also a lot of fun to drive. Unlike a conventional engine, electric motors produce their maximum torque instantly from standstill. What this means is that electric cars offer:

  • Improved acceleration and unrivalled zippiness arouund town
  • A low centre of gravity due heavy batteries mounted in the floor of the car which means they're engaging to drive.
  • Less noise and fewer vibrations than internal combustion engines means they're smooth and effortless to drive
  • Fewer or no gears to worry about makes electric cars less tiring and easier to drive

 

Vauxhall Corsa-e front exterior view on road

Lease a brand new electric car

Buying a brand new car isn't for everyone. Lower your out-of-pocket costs and generate zero emissions by leasing an electric car with an affordable monthly rental. No road tax, low maintenance and no depreciation costs.

Find out more

What should I look for when buying an electric car?

The first and most obvious thing to consider is what you’ll use it for. If you need a city-centre runabout or you’re shopping for a second car, you might want to consider a small electric car like the Honda e. Or if you have an expanding family, perhaps an electric SUV like the Hyundai Kona, or a comfortable hatchback like the Tesla Model 3.

Whatever electric car you choose to buy; it needs to fit with your lifestyle. So you need to consider not just the car’s aesthetics, but its range, how it’s charged, and how your mileage and driving style can affect both.

 

icon of a speedometer and title saying how far do I need to travel on blue background

How far do I need to travel?

For instance, consider the kind of regular journeys you make. The average UK commute is a round trip of just 20 miles according to the RAC, so most of today’s electric cars will handle your weekly commuting on a single charge. But if you drive further, or regularly take long trips, it’s worth considering a model with a longer range.

Icon of a charger and text saying how will I charge the car on orange background

How will I charge the car?

For most electric car drivers, the cheapest way to charge is overnight at home. You’ll need a home parking space and a charge point for the fastest and safest home charging.

Getting the right electricity tariff is essential – and it could save you money on your home electricity use too. Read more about choosing a tariff in our Ultimate guide to electric car tariffs.

Icons of charge points - home approx £8.40 for a full charge, public sometimes free for a short stay and rapid charging approx £6.50 for 30 minutes on green background.

How much does it cost to charge?

Even if you live in a flat or don’t have off-street parking, you can still go electric. There are more than 30,000 public charge points across the UK, and the network is growing all the time. Our friends at Pod Point have over 3,000 public charging bays on their network alone.

There are also grants to help both homeowners and employers with the cost of installing charging points. Discover more in our guide to government grants for electric cars.

Pod Point business charger

Buying an electric car for your business?

You’ll have access to many of the same benefits as private electric car owners – but buying an electric car or van could save your business even more money. The tax benefits of electric cars include a zero benefit-in-kind (BIK) rating in 2020/21, and 100% first year capital allowances. Read more in our company car tax guide.

If you’re planning to use your car regularly for long trips, rapid charging points are the best way of charging your car quickly. These are usually located at petrol stations and motorway service stations for convenience. And if this is going to be a necessity, when buying an electric car, make sure you look for one with a connection for rapid charging.

Also check how quickly it can charge at a rapid charging point. While many cars regain 80% of their range in 30 minutes, some take longer. The 64kWh version of the Hyundai Kona Electric, for example, takes 44 minutes to reach about 80% charge.

Icon of a foot on driving pedal and text saying "Will my driving affect my car's range?" on a blue background

Does driving style affect a car's range?

As with any car, how you drive affects the amount of fuel – or electricity, in this case – that you use. Slow, smooth driving maximises your range, while high speeds and heavy braking zap it. Ideally you should go easy on air-conditioning and heating, too.

question mark on a green background

Did you know...

..You can buy an electric car through the Motability scheme? Electric cars offer lots of benefits over petrol equivalents for drivers with limited mobility. No gears make the controls easier to manage, for instance. Going electric also means you’re less reliant on filling stations, as you can recharge at home.

How much do electric cars cost to buy?

You can buy a new electric car from around £17,000 for the Smart EQ ForTwo, increasing up to more than £140,000 for a Porsche Taycan. Cars that cost £50,000 or less are eligible for the plug-in car grant, which is worth up to £3,000. But bear in mind that dealers deduct this from the asking price of any cars that qualify.

If you haven’t got the money to buy a new electric car directly from a dealer, you can lease instead – and this is an increasingly popular alternative.

Map of UK on blue background and text saying "more than 90% of cars bought in the UK are bought through some kind of finance deal."

Electric car lease deals let you drive a brand new electric car for a small upfront fee, followed by monthly payments.

 

Benefits to leasing

  • Fixed monthly rental makes it easier to budget
  • Allows for a wider choice of vehicles to choose from and makes them more affordable
  • Hand the car back at the agreed date and replace with a newer model
  • Maintenance packages can be included for an additional fee
  • No need to worry about an MOT as new leases are exempt

 

Are electric cars safe?

People often question whether new technologies are safe, and that’s certainly true of electric cars too.

But electric cars are held to the same safety standards as conventional models, and have to pass the same tests. In fact, in the latest Euro NCAP testing, 14 out of 17 electric cars achieved the maximum five-star rating.

Electric car batteries are also safe too. A major US study concluded that the likelihood of fire or explosion from electric vehicle batteries is the same or lower than that for conventional fuels. Tesla’s own figures suggest that fires in its cars are about nine times less likely than the US average.

What about buying a used or second-hand car?

For those looking for a bargain, this could be the right time to investigate buying second-hand electric cars. As new sales rise, the choice of used and nearly-new electric cars is growing fast. And prices can be reasonable too. For example, on autotrader, a budget of £10,000 will get you a high-spec Nissan Leaf that’s less than five years old.

Buying a used electric car is a great way to save money and cut the environmental impact of your driving too. Plus, electric cars are highly reliable. In the most recent WhatCar? reliability survey, electric and hybrid cars as a class scored 96.1% – outperforming every other group.

Buying a second-hand electric car is much the same as buying a conventional one, but there are some key differences. There’s little under the bonnet for the layman to check, so it may pay to have an expert inspection. It’s also important to check whether the batteries are leased, as this will mean you take on ongoing payments.

For more insight, read our guide to buying a second hand electric car.

Renault Zoe in blue driving on the road

Don’t confuse kilowatts (kW) with kilowatt-hours (kWh)...

The first describes how quickly the car charges up or uses electricity. The second describes how much it can store. For example, the Renault Zoe R135 Rapid Charge can charge at up to 50kW, and its motor can use up to 100kW (135 hp). Its battery stores 52kWh.

For a more complete run down of electric car terms, phrases and acronyms you're likely hear when buying an electric car take a look at our jargon buster:

question mark on a green background

Did you know...

The cost of owning a car is affected by its residual value (how much it’s worth) when you come to sell it? That’s good news for electric car owners. Since the value of used electric cars is stabilising, while that of popular models is going up. And it’s predicted that if you buy electric cars at today's prices, by the time they're five years old, they’ll be worth more than their petrol or diesel equivalents.

The cost of running an electric car

While electric cars still cost slightly more to buy than their conventional equivalents, they’re cheaper to run in the long term.

Depending on the car and your mileage, an electric car becomes cheaper overall in three to four years. And as new prices continue to fall, the tipping point will come earlier, making them better value for most motorists.The most obvious day-to-day cost benefit you’ll see is how much cheaper it is to charge up with electricity than it is to fill up with fuel. Here’s why:

At the UK average rate of 15.75p per kWh, you’ll pay approx. £15.75 for enough electricity to drive 379 miles in a Tesla Model S Long Range. Compare that to the £26 of petrol you need to cover the same distance in a Fiat 500 TwinAir 85 – that’s also one of the UK’s most efficient petrol cars. Over a year’s motoring, the difference could add up to £212.

Choose a dedicated electric car tariff with the help of our ultimate guide to electric car tariffs and you could save even more!

 

Electric motoring also brings other cost savings:

  • No congestion charge
  • only pay road tax if your electric car was new after April 2017 and cost £40,000
  • reduced maintenance costs

Electric motoring also brings other cost savings. You’ll pay no Congestion Charge in London, and you’ll only pay road tax if your electric car was new after April 2017 and cost £40,000 or more. You’re also likely to save on servicing and repairs, since electric cars have fewer moving parts to inspect or replace.

Do your research

Go Ultra Low Company logo

Our final advice to anyone thinking about driving an electric car is to do your research. The Government’s Go Ultra Low website has loads of advice and guidance, you can check out the latest models and there’s cost comparison calculators to work out how much you can save. And once you’ve decided on a shortlist of cars: make sure you take it for a test drive. Many dealerships offer longer test drives.

Why not speak to our friends at DriveElectric about the vehicles you're interested in and they'll help you to find the right car to suit your needs. They can even help you arrange a test drive from a local dealership.

So whether you’re buying for business or pleasure, choosing new or second-hand, an electric car is the key to fun, clean and cheap motoring. If you’d like to plug yourself in, take a look at some of our latest leasing deals to discover which electric car is best for you.

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