Electric cars 2019: the guide

Find out if an electric car is right for you with our full guide to choosing, buying, owning and charging one

BuyaCar team
Nov 25, 2019

Since the beginning of 2019 we have seen several new entries into the electric car market, and with a lot more promised as we head towards 2020, you aren't alone if you've caught yourself wondering about what it would be like to own one.

Along with the introduction of tougher restrictions upon petrol and especially diesel powered cars, the draw of electric motors is becoming stronger by the month, but are they really an option for those of us living perfectly normal lives?

Eventually, you won't have much of a choice, given the government's plans to ban petrol, diesel and many hybrid cars by 2040. But for the time being at least, there is still time to deliberate a little more over your options, and that's good, because there are plenty of options available to you.

However, you can now count electric cars as one of those options. With models like the Nissan Leaf, Jaguar I-Pace and Hyundai Kona Electric offering over 200 miles of range at, in the case of the Leaf and the Kona at least, a relatively affordable price point.

 

The fact electric cars are beginning to manage longer distances between charges is a huge boon to the market, as what was once a major turn-off for a majority of customers is becoming less and less of a problem. Not to mention the numerous financial benefits that come from road tax exemption and hugely reduced running costs compared to petrol or diesel alternatives.

They are quieter, environmentally cleaner and genuinely enjoyable to drive. Prices are beginning to come down, but this more due to the fact options like the Peugeot e-208 and Skoda Citigoe iV are becoming available, they are still much more expensive than their combustion-engined equivalents, the e-208 in particular is as much as £6,200 more than the standard 208 model. The government's plug-in car grant does help here, but it's still a big jump in price.

So, how do you know when it's the right time to make the switch? We’ve laid out the pros and cons of electric cars right here to help you decide.

What is an electric car?

An electric car (also known as an EV or electric vehicle) is powered by one or more electric motors, which get their energy from rechargeable batteries. Unlike petrol or diesel cars, there are no exhaust emissions, which is good news for local air quality, and they are usually much quieter too.

Confusingly, electrified cars aren't quite the same, as they have a petrol or diesel engine combined with an electric motor of some kind. Electrified cars include hybrid vehicles. The result is that emissions are lower, but you still have the convenience of a long range and being able to quickly fill up with fuel when needed.

Electric car grants, incentives and tax benefits

Plug-in car grant

A government plug-in car grant towards the cost of brand new electric cars is now worth £3,500 after being cut from £4,500 in 2018. The rules were also tightened for plug-in hybrid cars, so none qualify for a goverment-funded discount.

In theory, plug-in hybrid cars are eligible for the current incentive but they must have carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions under 50g/km and be able to travel at least 70 miles on electric power alone, which none are currently capable of.

Used cars do not benefit from a grant towards the purchase price but buyers can claim up to £500 to fit a home charging point, as can new car customers. More details

Plug-in grant available for cars with CO2 emissions under 50g/km and...

Level of plug-in car grant

...an electric-only range of at least 70 miles

£3,500

Road tax for electric cars

Zero emissions cars costing less than £40,000 are also exempt from paying road tax. Opt for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid however and the savings are much smaller, amounting to just £10 annually after the first year. More details

Electric company car tax

The biggest tax benefits are offered to business car drivers. Electric cars are subject to the lowest Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rate of company car tax, which can save more than a thousand pounds per year compared wth a conventional car. Company car tax rates for EVs will tumble from April 2020 when the BiK rate for full electric cars will drop from 16 per cent to 2 per cent. This means that you'll pay tax on just 2 per cent of an electric car's list price, compared with 16 per cent the previous year. More details

Other electric car benefits

If you live in London it’s worth noting that any car that emits less than 75g/km of CO2 qualifies for exemption from paying the daily Congestion Charge (if registered correctly), and many London boroughs offer free or discounted parking for EVs too.

Some manufacturers also offer generous scrappage discounts for anybody who trades in an older petrol or diesel car for an EV.

 

How to choose an electric car

There are small electric cars, family models and tall sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and the choice continues to grow, so in some respects, choosing an electric car is the same as any other vehicle: you'll want to consider its practicality, equipment level, comfort and design.

Charging it up remains an important consideration. There's a government grant towards a home car charger so if you have a driveway or a garage, it should be simple to keep your car charged overnight. If you don't have off-street parking, then you'll probably be reliant on the public charging network which has considerable room for improvement. See more details on charging below.

Most electric cars can travel at least 100 miles between charges, which should be enough for most users. If you frequently need to travel further in a day, then you may be better-off considering a car with a range of 200 miles or more. Bear in mind that official figures (much like official mpg results) tend to be optimistic about the distance you'll travel on a full battery. You'll find real-world range estimates in BuyaCar's buying guides, and more information on the range of electric cars below.

Electric car prices tend to be more expensive than an equivalent petrol or diesel model. Although you will save on fuel, the price difference means that they may not be a great deal cheaper to own. Watch out for particularly cheap versions of the Renault Zoe and previous-generation Nissan Leaf. These cars don't always include the batteries, which will need to be rented from around £49 per month, depending on your annual mileage.

Scroll down for current used prices, or click to view all prices.

Renault Zoe

BuyaCar prices from £7,800
Finance from £152 per month

Nissan Leaf

BuyaCar prices from £8,800
Finance from £151 per month

Jaguar I-Pace

BuyaCar prices from £49,780
Finance from £635 per month

Electric cars: the good

The combination of Government grants and tough environmental legislation has encouraged manufacturers to develop more electric cars. As a result, you can buy some with supercar-like acceleration, some with seven seats, and some with just as much practicality as conventional vehicles. The table below indicates how much the market has grown in just a four-year period.

2013

2017

EVs available to buy

9

59

Range from a single charge (based on Renault Zoe)

130 miles

250 miles

Number of European charging stations

30,000

120,000

Alternative fuel vehicle (EV & hybrid) UK registrations*

32,371

119,821

Source: Sophus3/SMMT

From a driver's perspective, a modern electric car is also amazingly smooth (there are no gears) and quiet to drive. They can be quite good fun, too, because electric motors give an instant response when you touch the accelerator, making many modern EVs are extremely quick off the mark.

What’s more, although range anxiety (that is, the fear of running out of battery charge) is often cited as a major factor in people not wanting to own an electric car, the reality is that even the most basic models are able to cover several times the average UK journey distance which, according to the National Travel Survey, is just 8.9 miles.

With the cost of battery technology coming down so too have electric car prices, meaning there’s an increasing number on offer that can be bought for little more - if any - than their petrol or diesel equivalents. Running costs are significantly cheaper too, both in terms of servicing and the price of electricity compared with petrol or diesel.

Electric cars: the bad

While electric cars might be good for improving local air quality, their environmental credentials still depend very much on how the electricity for the batteries is generated in the first place - because if it’s not from a renewable energy such as solar, hydro or wind turbines, you’re still looking at sources such as coal or oil.

If you tend to travel longer distances range might still be a problem too, as well as the fact that there still aren’t as many charging points as there are petrol stations, and that charging a battery takes significantly longer than filling a fuel tank.

Then there’s the fact that the range of an electric car can vary dramatically according to conditions – you will not, for example, get as far in the dead of winter as you would on a warm and sunny day, as the battery holds less charge in cold weather.

Finally, if you don’t have a safe, convenient place to plug in at home or work, it’s unlikely to be a viable option: running an extension lead down the pavement outside your flat won't make you popular when the neighbours trip over it.

The practicalities of Electric cars

Electric car charging stations

If you opt for an electric car and have off-street parking the ideal solution is to install a charging point at home. These are offered in either slow (3kW) or fast (7kW) power ratings, which will take approximately 8-12 hours or 4-8 hours respectively to fully charge a mainstream model such as a Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe.

Whichever option you choose, you're best off having a qualified electrician conduct a survey to make sure your wiring can handle the load.

There are also public charging points that allow you to top up when you’re travelling long distances.

These range from slow chargers to rapid chargers, the latter able to offer up to an 80% charge in just 30 minutes, as long as your car is compatible.

Currently, there is no single way of paying for public charging, so you need to sign up to a subscription service or open an account with the charging services you’re most likely to use. If you live in London, for example, and have no off-street parking, you’ll need a subscription with Source London, which has 7kW chargers (both Type 1 and Type 2), as that’s the cheapest way to charge (without a subscription, the cost of a minute’s electricity is almost double).

Chargemaster’s Polar network has the most chargers around the country – in the region of 6,000 – which can be accessed using a smartphone app (which you have to pre-load with at least £20 of credit) or you can pay £7.85 a month to join the Polar Plus scheme, with around 80% of its chargers then free to use.

One network that doesn’t require membership or an app is Instavolt, which accepts payment using a contactless card. This is probably (and hopefully) the future – it's the model found in many European countries – but until all the providers agree to accept payments this way, Instavolt is almost alone.

Charging shouldn’t take too long, as most chargers are underused at the moment. However, you can be unlucky and either find a non-electric car parked by a charger, or another one using it. The Ecotricity chargers are also experiencing software issues, so their reliability is not to be taken for granted until the company sorts out its issues. This is extremely inconvenient when attempting to charge on the UK’s motorway network and might require a detour in order to plug in. The other drawback is that the units have two charging cables – one for CHAdeMO, one for 43kW AC or 50kW CCS – but only one can be used at any one time, effectively halving the number of available chargers.

If you visit the appropriately named Zap-Map website, you’ll be offered more than 5200 locations for charging – you can search for the nearest site with a charger compatible with your EV, too.

Electric car range

Unsurprisingly, the most talked-about aspect of electric cars is the range they offer on a full charge. This is improving all the time, to the extent that an upmarket model like a Tesla Model S can cover more than 300 miles on a single charge.

Better still, even mainstream EVs are becoming much more viable with models such as the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 now able to provide a realistic 150 miles of travel between charges.

You may see higher range estimates. That's because all of these cars must undergo an official laboratory test to calculate their range, which is so unrealistically high that most manufacturer supply a separate "real-world" figure, which is much closer to the distance you'll be able to travel between charges.

Meanwhile plug-in hybrid cars such as the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid have smaller batteries but can keep going as long as you can keep their petrol or diesel engines supplied with fuel.

How much does an electric car cost to charge?

A full charge overnight at your home will cost about £3.00 and give you around 100-150 miles of range. That’s just a fraction of what the petrol would cost for that distance. Research carried out by the AA, for example, shows that electric car owners who charge at home using off-peak electricity can cut the running costs of their car to about 2.5p per mile compared with around 16p per mile for a petrol car.

Fast public chargers can seem expensive. For example, Ecotricity charges £6 to plug in for 45 minutes. In fairness, it's a high-speed connection, which can charge the battery of most compatible to more than 80% of its capacity in the time.

Fastest of all are Teslas Superchargers, which are free to use for most owners of its Model X and Model S vehicles.

Is an electric car right for me?

The fast improving capabilities of electric cars means they are becoming an increasingly viable option for many motorists. However, that is still not to say they will suit everybody.

Andrew Mee, senior forecasting editor at car valuation firm cap hpi, says the ideal electric car driver is “someone whose normal daily mileage fits within the battery range of the car, and also has access to convenient charging points when they need them, for example at work and/or at home. Also, a motorist who is prepared to plan ahead when driving occasional longer distances that will require battery charging mid-route and will not mind the time taken to carry out this charging.”

If that doesn’t sound like you it’s not to say an electric car still can’t make sense, says Edmund King, President of the AA: “For many people an EV can make a huge amount of sense as a second car. They aren’t affected by cold running unlike a conventional engine which needs to warm up for maximum efficiency, so are ideal for short trips to the station, to work and to the shops.”

London residents can also factor in exemption from the £11.50 daily congestion charge and potentially more savings too, as some London boroughs offer free or discounted parking for EVs.

In short, if you’re bashing up and down a motorway and doing 20,000 miles a year, you’ll be better off with an efficient diesel as electric cars aren’t best suited to those kind of miles. However, if your commute involves, say, 30 or so miles with an occasional journey of around 150 miles, an electric car could be ideal, particularly if you’ve got space for off-street parking and a home charger.

 

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