Electric cars: pros and cons

Electric cars are kinder to the environment, quiet, and prices are dropping. But what are the pros and cons?

BuyaCar team
Nov 8, 2021

With a ban on petrol and diesel cars planned for 2030, you may be planning to make the switch to electric for your next car. Obviously, this is a big change for many people and there are some key differences that come with electric car ownership.

The popularity of electric cars is growing rapidly in the UK. Most manufacturers now offer at least one electric model in their range and the charging network continues to expand, too - making owning one that little bit easier. While electric motoring is still not viable for everyone, the shift to zero-emissions is becoming more pronounced.

So what is happening to draw more buyers towards electric cars? Well, that's a complicated question, but perhaps the best answer is that advances in technology are simply making them a more attractive proposition. What was once a gimmick for the super-rich has become a genuine alternative to petrol and diesel cars, with savings to be made on fuel and tax costs without having to worry so much about battery range.

Of course, the technology is still expensive, so electric car prices remain higher than petrol-powered equivalents, but many drivers are happy to balance the extra cost against a greener and more environmentally friendly future. Also, as the earliest mainstream electric cars get older, cheaper and cheaper used examples appear on sale. If you want to know more about what to expect from owning an electric car, then read on for all the pros and cons to help you decide if you're ready to take the plunge.

Electric cars: pros

Zero emissions

An electric car is powered by a big battery and driven by an electric motor. There is no combustion engine of any kind, so there are no exhaust emissions - electric cars have done away with exhausts entirely.

However, it should be remembered that when you charge an electric car, you’re using the National Grid, which may not necessarily be green. While some electricity is generated from wind farms and solar power, a substantial amount is still produced from coal, nuclear, and gas power stations. So while your car isn't producing any emissions, the system isn't entirely emission-free yet.

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 up to £2,500 towards 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 used electric car prices drop in the same way as traditional cars do, so there are big savings to be made on the used market. Just watch out for first-generation Renault Zoes and Nissan Leafs, because these were offered with an alternate battery leasing service, which means the cost of the car will appear much lower than it actually is once you start paying the monthly battery fee, which starts at £49. This is usually only found on the earliest examples, but it’s best to check regardless in order to avoid any extra hidden costs.

Fuel savings

One of the biggest appeals of electric car ownership is not having to fill up with fuel. The national average price for a litre of petrol or diesel in the UK is at a record high at the time of writing. Taking into account the average fuel economy of combustion-powered cars, if you cover 8,000 miles in a year, switching to electricity can save around £1,000.

Weaning yourself off the need to visit the pumps saves precious time too (as long as you're able to charge from home) - as there’s no more waiting around for people to fill up and then take the seemingly endless walk to the shop to pay.

Maintenance savings

Electric cars don’t need oil changes or many other traditional 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, although battery issues can be expensive if not covered by the warranty.

Tax benefits

Thanks to their status as zero-emission vehicles, electric cars are tax-free. That means you’re saving yourself up to hundreds of pounds a year when compared with a petrol or diesel car.

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 any 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. It shouldn’t take long to get used to, though.

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 peaceful journey every time, 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.

Electric cars: cons

Range anxiety

In the early days of electric cars, the distance the car could cover on a single battery charge (known as range) was much lower than what we were used to with a petrol or diesel car. Initially, an electric car would struggle to go further than 100 miles on a full charge, which was simply not enough for many of our day-to-day needs.

However, this is gradually becoming less of an issue for many drivers, as electric car range is now typically around 250 miles in most mainstream models. The likes of the Hyundai Kona Electric or Renault Zoe are now much more suitable for everyday use. Of course, if you're planning to traverse the country on a weekly basis, chances are some electric cars might still struggle to meet your needs, but the rapidly growing charging network should help, and there are things you can do to improve efficiency.

Charging points

While the number of electric vehicle charging points in the UK has increased consistently over the past five years, there is still work to be done to improve the infrastructure to make it more usable for the general public - three charging points outside your local supermarket is unlikely to be enough when the majority of cars on the road are seeking a charging point.

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, while Tesla’s ‘superchargers’ can charge a Tesla 80% in 30 minutes. Home wall chargers can be bought for around £500-£1,000, and will deliver between 15 and 30 miles of charge per hour. An ordinary three-pin socket found in your home will deliver 7.5 miles of charge per hour. To put that in context, a Hyundai Ioniq Electric takes twelve hours to charge when using an ordinary three-pin socket.

As electric cars become more mainstream however, the adoption of fast and rapid charging is becoming more common, which should see average charging times drop considerably.

Purchase price

There’s no getting past the fact that electric cars are more expensive to buy than traditional petrol and diesel-powered cars. A brand new Peugeot 208 in GT Spec with a 100hp 1.2-litre petrol engine costs from £22,210. An equivalent spec e-208 GT with a 50kWh battery costs £30,475 (with £2,500 government grant factored in). It's a huge difference in cost, and really puts the fuel-saving argument into perspective. It's going to take a long time to make that money back.

Driving fun

Electric cars are much heavier than petrol or diesel equivalents 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.

 

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