Electric cars: pros and cons

Electric cars are clean, quiet, and more appealing than ever. But what are the pros and cons?

Murray Scullion
Oct 23, 2018

In 2016, electric cars made up one percent of new car sales in the UK. For 2017, it doubled to around two percent.

That might not sound like a lot, but sales are growing and people’s opinions are changing.

Their options are increasing too. The Nissan LeafRenault Zoe and BMW i3 have been on sale for several years, as have Tesla's powerful but expensive electric cars. These are now being joined by dozens of new models. The Jaguar I-Pace and Hyundai Kona Electric have already gone on sale, with cars from the likes of Audi, BMW, Mini, Honda and Mercedes all arriving soon.

Prices are slowly coming down: used cars currently start at £5,400 on BuyaCar, or from £100 per month with finance. Despite a recent cut in the government electric car grant for new cars, affordable models are available. The range that you can expect between charges is increasing too, making electric cars a genuine option for many drivers.

Even so, they are not for everyone quite yet: charging still takes much longer than refuelling a car, even with the fastest equipment. And that's if you can find an electric charger that's in the right place and working.

It means that anyone regularly making journeys of several hundred miles will probably be better off buying a petrol or diesel car, as will most drivers who don't have a driveway, garage or workplace where their car can be charged. For a mix of short and long trips, a plug-in hybrid car with several miles of electric range and an engine to take over when the batteries run out, could be an efficient choice if you can keep it charged.

We've set out the pros and cons of electric cars below: scroll down for an in-depth look.

Electric cars: pros

Zero emissions

When you’re driving in an electric car, it’s not producing any emissions from an exhaust. The electrical system powers the motor that moves the wheels, as well as all the associated electrical items like lights and air conditioning.

However, it should be remembered that when you charge an electric car, you’re using the National Grid, which transports electricity generated from wind farms and solar power, as well as energy from coal, nuclear, and gas.

Buying incentives

On paper, electric cars are more expensive than their petrol or diesel powered equivalents, particularly when new. That remains the case even when the government's plug-in car grant is taken into account, which offers £3,500 off the price of a brand new electric car.

There's no subsidy to buy a used electric car (although the government does offer £500 towards a home charging point) but prices are much lower than when new. Just watch out for most second-hand Renault Zoes (and a few older Nissan Leafs) which don't include the car's batteries. This makes the price look extremely cheap, but you'll need to factor in a monthly battery lease, which starts at £49.

Fuel savings

One of the biggest appeals of electric car ownership is not having to fill up with fuel. The national average price of petrol in the UK is £1.31, and £1.36 for diesel. If you cover 8,000 miles  a year, switching to electric can save almost £1,000 annually compared with the average petrol or diesel car

Weaning yourself off the need to visit the pumps saves precious time too (as long as you charge from home) - as there’s no more waiting around for people to fill up, complete their weekly shop, check their phone, and then find a radio station, before you can fill up. 

Maintenance savings

Electric cars don’t need oil changes and other service items. They also have significantly fewer moving parts than cars with an engine, so they’re cheaper to maintain than petrol or diesel powered cars too.

Tax benefits

Most electric cars are tax free. That means you’re saving yourself at least £140 a year when compared with a petrol or diesel car. The savings can be even greater if you're looking at used cars: electric cars have been tax free for more than a decade, but the most polluting cars that were on the road before April 2017 are taxed more than £500 per year.

Nearly no noise

Electric cars are extremely quiet, which can be momentarily unsettling the first time that you get behind the wheel. There are no unruly engine notes or repetitive droning on. It's not completely silent though. The motors generally make a 'whoosh' sound, plus wind and tyre noise is more apparent as there's no engine to drown it out.

Enthusiasts will tell you the noise of a car is one of the best things about it, and this may well be true for sports cars but given the choice of a rattly diesel engine or a silent electric one, most would choose the latter.

Acceleration

Because electric cars do away with most of the mechanical gubbins associated with petrol or diesel cars, they offer a different way of driving too. Power is delivered instantly to the wheels, and you can tell the difference when you put your foot down.

Image

Electric cars have a certain air about them. Those in the know, know that you’re doing your bit for the environment. Other electric car drivers acknowledge you. And an electric car parked on a pretty street can seem pretty chic.

 

Electric cars: cons

Range anxiety

We’re starting with the worst first. You can’t be as spontaneous with an electric car as you can with a petrol or diesel one. Owning an electric car requires much more planning power. Range for most cars is more than 100 miles - which is more than enough for most people’s commute. But what happens if you find yourself somewhere new, miles away from home? You’ll need to find a charging point.

Charging points

Nationwide, there are 4,200 public charging locations with around 6,500 individual charging points. Most electric cars’ sat-navs will find a charging point for you, but most are found in urban areas. And there’s a cost. It’s not as expensive as petrol, but for instance, the biggest public charging company, Polar, charges around £8 a month as a membership fee, and you'll pay more to use around a third of the company's chargers (the rest are free for members).

Charging time

Charging your car is nowhere near as quick as filling it up with petrol. The time changes from car to car, and also by how powerful your charger is. A Nissan Leaf 30kWh takes four hours to charge from empty using a 7kW charger. Tesla’s ‘superchargers’ can charge a Tesla 80 per cent in 30 minutes. Home wall chargers can be bought for around £500, and will deliver between 15 and 30 miles charge per hour. An ordinary three-pin socket found in your home will deliver 7.5miles of charge per hours. To put that in context, a Hyundai Ioniq takes twelve hours to charge when using an ordinary three-pin socket.

Purchase price

There’s no getting round the fact that electric cars are more expensive to buy than traditional petrol and diesel powered cars. The cheapest Volkswagen Golf starts from £18,230, whereas an e-Golf costs £32,075. It’s not a direct comparison by any means, as the e-Golf has lots of tech and options that a base-spec petrol powered one doesn’t. But it's still a hefty difference.

Driving fun

Electric cars are inherently heavy because of their batteries. And despite the rapid acceleration found in some, like the Tesla Model S, that weight is often apparent in corners where they often feel heavy and slow to change direction, eliminating any driving fun or satisfaction.

Image

Electric cars have a certain air about them. And the people who own them are enthusiastic. To some people, this may may be a bit much. Some electric cars have the word electric absolutely plastered on them as well, and it can make you look like you’re trying too hard.   

Latest advice

  1. Petrol van deals

  2. Best luxury cars

  3. BuyaCar.co.uk reviews

What our customers say