Electric cars: pros and cons

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

Murray Scullion
Mar 26, 2018

Latest research shows that electric cars made up two per cent of the new cars sold in the UK last year.

That might not sound like a lot, but they only made up one per cent the year before. Sales are on the up, and there’s never been a bigger selection.

There’s the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and Hyundai Ioniq to name just a few. And it’s not all bespoke applications either. Volkswagen has an electric Golf, named the e-Golf, and there’s the Smart ForTwo ED, which is an electrified version of the ForTwo.

And if you’re thinking of becoming an early adopter, you’ll want to know the pros and cons. An abridged version is that compared to a fossil-fueled vehicle, electric cars are better for the environment, but are harder to live with day to day.

But read on to get the full low down.

  

Electric cars: pros

Zero emissions

This is a contentious point in itself. But, when you’re driving in an electric car, it’s not producing any emissions. 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 uses clean energy such as 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. The Government is currently running a UK Plug-In Car Grant, which deducts £4,500 off the price of a new electric car.

Don’t expect this to hang around forever though. As more people adopt electric cars the chances of this grant being axed increases.

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 £1.20, and £1.24 for diesel. Switching to electric can save upwards of £2,500 a year according to the latest stats.
Weaning yourself off the need to visit the pumps saves precious time too - 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 might sound new and exotic, but they’ve actually been around since the 1800s. Electric cars don’t have exhausts and they don’t need oil changes and other service items, 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 most polluting cars cost £2,070 a year to tax. Yikes.

More on car tax changes here

Nearly no noise!

Electric cars are virtually silent, and it’s the first thing you’ll notice when you get in one. 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 seems louder as you won't be used to there being no engine noise. 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 and such, 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.

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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 really is chic these days.

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 these days 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 membership fees.

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 cars.The cheapest Volkswagen Golf starts from £18,230, where as 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 still makes a point.
Driving fun

Electric cars are inherently heavy because of their batteries. And despite the rapid acceleration found in some, like the Tesla Model S, electric cars are often criticised for feeling a bit too digital. The noise, or lack of, is also not conducive to good old fashioned fun either.

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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.   

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