Should I buy an electric car?

It's a big question these days, so here are some things to consider if you're wondering about purchasing an electric car

Simon Ostler
Apr 19, 2021

If you're searching for your next car, but you haven't taken much notice of the car market in the past 10 years or so, not only will you have noticed the huge amount of SUVs now on offer, but also the arrival of the mainstream electric car market. Where your choice was once restricted to either petrol or diesel cars, you now have a very realistic option of taking the keys to a hybrid or electric alternative instead.

Even if you're a keen follower of the car industry and you're well aware of the recent advancements in electric car tech, the question of whether or not you should buy one remains difficult to answer.

In many ways, the electric car revolution is still in its infancy, nationwide infrastructure is still primitive, with the number of charging stations still lacking compared to traditional petrol and diesel pumps. But, the cars themselves have become far more capable, with super-quick charging, long-lasting batteries and a huge choice of high-quality models to choose from.

Pretty much every mainstream car manufacturer intent on making a profit over the next decade is now fully engaged in electric car development. All of the big name brands including Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Peugeot, Vauxhall and Kia, along with a whole load more, are all offering at least one electric model.

So is it the right time for you to be considering an electric car? Well that depends on a few factors, but luckily we've got all the answers for you right here. Keep reading to decide whether you're reading for an electric car and if so how to choose the type of model that would suit your needs best.

Should I buy an electric car?

There's an ever growing choice of models available from a variety of brands. Whether or not there's one that will suit your needs is another question altogether though.

Electric cars remain much more expensive than comparable petrol or diesel aternatives. The new Peugeot 208, for example, comes in at £18,850 in entry-level Active trim with a 1.5-litre diesel engine, the same spec e-208 version with electric power is an extra £6,200, which, incidentally, is the same price as you can get a used diesel-powered 2019 BMW 5 Series Touring on BuyaCar.

So they are expensive, but you will of course be saving money on fuel costs and road tax - electric cars run tax free thanks to their zero-emission status. But, the extra money you're spending on the car itself will cancel out those savings for the first few years at least.

You’ll need to make special arrangements at home if you want hassle-free charging - we suspect you would, as finding fully-functional and readily available public chargers can be a problem if you're looking to make longer journeys.

This all sounds very negative, but we can also think of plenty of reasons why choosing an electric car would be a good idea. For a start they're actually rather fun to drive. The instant power you get from an electric motor makes virtually every electric car the fasting thing away from a set of traffic lights.

They're also packed with some neat technology too, such as the Nissan Leaf's e-Pedal, which is a very intuitive single pedal system that lets you accelerate and decelerate by pressing down or lifting off with one foot. This tech has been universally integrated into all electric cars in some capacity.

We've already noted their exemption from road tax, but electric cars are also ULEZ-compliant, which makes them exempt from stringent emissions charges in central London. So, if you're often making the journey into the capital, zero emission driving ought to be very appealing.

Consider an electric car if...

You drive less than 150 miles per day
You have a garage or driveway
You're a company car driver
You drive in central London
You want to do your bit for the environment

Electric cars aren't so good for...

Regular journeys of several hundred miles
Daily on-street charging
Cheap purchase prices

Would an electric car suit my needs?

It's firstly important to understand the needs of an electric car, if you're able to meet those, then there is more chance that an electric car will be good for you.

To begin with there's the entirely different aspect of electric car charging. Our in-depth guides to electric car charging stations and the different cables that go with them will be useful here, while there is also the option of charging your electric car at home. Electric car charging also takes much longer than your standard fuel fill-up, it can be anything between five and 12 hours. If you're an on-call doctor and you're going to need a car that can travel at any time, an electric car might not be suitable.

Once your car's charged, it won't last as long as a petrol or diesel car will before it needs charging again, so getting to know the range of your car (the distance it can travel on a single charge) is an important next step. Be wary of official figures here too, as they have a reputation for being a touch optimistic and real world tests tend to be much lower, but there are many new cars available now that will go towards 200 miles.

If you're worried about electric car range, there are various ways you can maximise it.

What if an electric car doesn’t meet my needs?

It's understandable you might have some doubts about diving head first into this unknown pool of electric cars. But you can alleviate some of those doubts by taking the halfway house approach and instead opting for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid model.

These cars offer some of the benefits of electric car driving, with the option of limited electric-only driving and somewhat reduced running costs, while also maintaining the security of a petrol engine for those times when you really need it.

Are there grants available for electric car buyers?

Every zero-emission electric car still qualifies for a £2,500 grant from the government. New and used electric car owners also benefit from a grant towards a home charger, which can recharge batteries up to three times faster than a three-pin plug.

The grants that were once available for plug-in hybrid cars are now no longer available.

Are there any desirable electric cars on sale?

Some of the first battery-powered cars might not have made the neighbours turn green with envy. But the choice has grown dramatically, and will continue to do so, as car makers such as the Volkswagen Group – which includes the brands of VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche - gradually turn their back on diesel and divert their engineering resources into creating better electric cars.

Those after a compact electric car can choose from the Renault Zoe, Smart ForTwo EQ and Volkswagen e-Up. These range from around £16,400 to more than £21,000.

For something larger, you could go for something like the Volkswagen e-Golf which places an electric powertrain inside a very recignisable shell. Alternatively, testdrive something like the BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf for the full electric car experience.

At the top of the car market, the latest models blend luxurious interiors with impressive performance. But prices reflect as much, climbing from around £59,000 to more than £120,000.

The latest is the Audi e-tron, an SUV that’s about the size of a Range Rover Evoque and a rival to the acclaimed Jaguar I-Pace. Tesla is perhaps the best-known name at this end of the market, and its Model S continues to sell well in the UK.

Will I lose money buying an electric car?

In the early days of the electric car market, when there was little choice and what was in showrooms was largely underwhelming, weak used values for electric cars reflected the lack of interest from drivers. This wasn’t helped by unanswered questions over the longevity of the battery.

Now concerns over battery life have proved to be, to date, unfounded. And the car makers are bringing increasingly desirable and practical electric models to the road.

This is warming consumers to the idea of going electric. Cap hpi, a car valuation consultancy, reported at the start of the year that some second-hand electric cars, including the popular Nissan Leaf, were actually rising in value.

Contrasting the anticipated residual values of two new, popular electric cars with comparable models from the same manufacturer shows that electric cars are worth considerably more money after the typical ownership period of three years and 30,000 miles of driving.

BMW’s entry-level i3 is predicted to lose £16,525, whereas a comparable 120d 5-door manual in M Sport trim is likely to fall by £18,125. It’s an appreciable saving, even before you factor in the substantial reduction in fuel bills, road tax, company car tax and servicing.

It’s even more sobering when comparing the new Jaguar I-Pace with an F-Pace S 3.0 V6 diesel. The electric SUV is predicted to lose approximately £15,470, whereas the F-Pace diesel may drop by an eye-watering £29,515.


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