The age of the electric car is certainly feeling like it's closer than ever, with record sales of electric cars in recent years. There's also the promise of plenty more brand new models arriving over the next 12 months, so you definitely aren't alone if you're considering making the switch to an EV.
Along with the introduction of tougher restrictions upon petrol and especially diesel-powered cars, like London's ULEZ and other clean air zones, and a rise in fuel prices following a national shortage last year, the desirability of electric models is becoming stronger by the month, but are they really an option for the average driver?
Eventually, you won't have much of a choice, given the government's plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. But for the time being at least, there is still time to deliberate a little more over your options, and that's good because the electric car market has changed a lot in recent years.
While models like the Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Kona Electric made EV motoring more mainstream, and have evolved to offer over 200 miles of range, there's also a new generation of 300-mile plus, rapid-charging models. Earlier cars are more affordable to buy or lease, while the latest EVs can be pricey, but offer staggeringly low running costs in return.
Why get an electric car?
The fact that electric cars now have a greater range between charges is a huge boon to the market, as the 'range anxiety' which was once a dealbreaker for a majority of customers is now less of a problem. Not to mention the numerous financial benefits that come from driving an EV, including VED (road tax) exemption, the plug-in car grant, fuel savings and free entry in low emissions zones.
EVs are quieter, cleaner and genuinely enjoyable to drive. Prices are beginning to come down, as more affordable models like the Peugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Corsa-e are now readily available on the used market. They might be cheap in electric car terms, but they are typically still more expensive than their combustion-engined equivalents, the e-208 in particular costs around £7,000 more to buy new than a petrol 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.
Wondering whether you can tow with an electric car? And how do EVs compare with petrol and diesel alternatives? Keep reading for answers
What is an electric car?
An electric car (also known as an EV or battery 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.
Plug-in car grant
A government plug-in car grant towards the cost of brand new electric cars is now worth £1,500 after being cut several times. It was originally £4,500 in 2018, but has been steadily reduced as more buyers opt for EVs. The grant is also now only available on electric cars costing up to £32,000. The rules were also tightened for plug-in hybrid cars, so none qualify for a government-funded discount.
Used cars do not benefit from a grant towards the purchase price but buyers can claim for a grant to help reduce the cost of installing a home charging point, as can new car customers. More details
VED (road tax) for electric cars
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 with a petrol or diesel car. Company car tax rates for EVs tumbled in April 2020 when the BiK rate for EVs was cut from 16% to 1% for the 2021/22 tax year and 2% for the 2022/23. This means that you'll pay tax on just 2% of an electric car's list price, compared with around 30% for a mid-range petrol Volkswagen Golf. More details
Other electric car benefits
EVs are also exempt from London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which was introduced in April 2019, but was expanded to cover a much larger area in October 2021.
Some manufacturers also offer generous scrappage discounts for anybody who trades in an older petrol or diesel car for an EV.
There are small electric cars, family models and tall SUVs with five or seven seats, and the choice continues to grow. In some respects, choosing an electric car is the same as any other vehicle: you'll want to consider its practicality, equipment level, comfort, design and how it fits into your budget.
Charging electric cars also remains an important consideration. There's a government grant towards a home charger so if you have a driveway or a garage, it should be simple to put your EV on charge overnight. If you don't have off-street parking, then you'll probably be reliant on the public charging network which is growing rapidly, but still 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 in their day-to-day life. 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 that is capable of rapid charging. 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, especially in the winter months, when cold weather can affect the range of EVs. 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 for an equivalent petrol or diesel model. Although you will save on fuel, online calculators can help work out how long it will take for lower EV running costs to claw back the difference. It's also worth noting that the cheapest used examples of some popular EVs like the Renault Zoe and previous-generation Nissan Leaf don't always include the batteries. Instead, the battery is leased from the manufacturer, with a monthly cost from around £50 per month, depending on your annual mileage, though this is much less common nowadays
Scroll down for current used prices, or click to view all prices.
The practicalities of electric cars
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. A 50kWh battery (similar to what you'd find in a Renault Zoe, Vauxhall Corsa-e or Peugeot e-208) will take around 16 hours to top up on a 3kW charger, or just over seven hours with the quicker 7kWh charger.
Whichever option you choose, a qualified electrician will need to 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 as little as 30 minutes, as long as your car is compatible with such high speeds.
Some public chargers require you 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 a network of 7kW chargers.
BP Pulse's (formerly Chargemaster) network has the most chargers around the country – in the region of 8,000 – which can be accessed using a smartphone app (which you have to pre-load with credit) or you can pay a monthly subscription, and some of its chargers then become free to use. Some of its newer chargers are also available with tap and pay.
One network that doesn’t require membership or an app is Instavolt, which accepts payment using a contactless card. This is the future – it's the model found in many European countries – but until all the providers agree to accept payments this way, we will continue to need a number of apps on our phones.
You can be unlucky and either find a non-electric car parked by a charger (the EV community calls this being 'ICEd' - or Internal Combustion Engined), or another one using it. Another drawback is that, while some points may have CCS, CHAdeMO and AC cables, only one can be used at a time.
If you visit the appropriately named Zap-Map website, you’ll be offered more than 25,000 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 400 miles on a single charge.
Better still, even mainstream EVs are becoming much more viable with models such as the Nissan Leaf e+ and Renault Zoe now able to provide a realistic 200-plus 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 can be optimistic enough that manufacturers also supply a separate "real-world" figure, which is much closer to the distance you'll be able to travel between charges.
A full charge overnight at your home can cost around £3.00 if you're able to get a cheap off-peak tariff. 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 30p/kWh of energy used. This is more than you'll pay for energy at home (on a tariff geared towards EV drivers charging at night), but this is for a high-voltage charger, which can charge the battery of some vehicles to 80% of its capacity in less than an hour.
Tesla's Supercharger charging posts are impressively fast, comprehensively located and reliable, as well as being free to use for many owners of older Model X and Model S vehicles.