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Is it worth investing in an electric car?

Switching to an electric car can feel like a big step - but are they really worth it?

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Sales of electric vehicles (aka EVs or battery electric vehicles) in the UK rose by 158% between July 2018 and July 2019. As they become a more popular option for drivers, we look at whether now is the time to invest in a battery-powered car.

What exactly is an electric car? 

An EV is a car that uses an electric motor to drive the wheels, instead of a traditional internal combustion engine.

The motor draws its power from a lithium ion battery, like the one in your laptop or smartphone, so it has to be plugged in to a charger when the energy is used up.

Electric cars are cleaner than traditional cars because it doesn’t emit any CO2 or any other gases. 

Are electric cars expensive?

An EV will tend to be a few thousand pounds more expensive than a comparable car that uses a petrol or diesel engine.

This won’t always be the case – it’s predicted that by around 2025, there will be no difference – but at the moment, you will have to pay a little extra.

The used car market is growing rapidly too, so you should be able to get a good deal on something pre-owned.

What is the cost of running an electric car 

First off, your road tax is free. The car tax system is based on CO2 emissions and, as EVs emit no CO2, that means there’s nothing to pay. 

Fuel bills will fall dramatically – as much as 75% less. You will have to pay for electricity to charge your car: the cheapest way to do it is to have a charger at home, using your domestic electricity tariff, but you can also use public chargers on the street or at service stations.

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Electric car charging at home

A home charger in a garage or on the side of the house near a drive costs £800-1,000, to install, but the government offers various grants that could help with this.

If you have a house with no off-street parking, you’ll have to use public chargers. The costs are around three times those of an EV home charger, but they still work out cheaper than filling a car with petrol or diesel.

Are EVs expensive to service and maintain?

Studies suggest that an EV is 40% cheaper on maintenance than a traditional car. 

To give you an idea, there are 20 components used in petrol and diesel cars that are not needed in EVs. All these extra bits have to be inspected, maintained or replaced over a typical vehicle’s life which all costs money. So it’s easy to see why EV drivers could save an average of £306 a year in garage bills. 

What about their range?

Range anxiety’ is the fear of running out of battery charge when driving. It’s a major concern for most prospective EV buyers. 

But consider this, a recent study found that the average weekly commute for UK drivers accounts for 70 miles per week, while the school run makes up 24 miles a week. Social or pleasure journeys add another 89 miles a week, which brings the total to 265 miles.

There are now at least half a dozen electric cars that can cover that distance on one charge. Even those that can’t will only need one charge over the course of the week.

Are electric vehicles easy to drive?

EVs are just like a conventional car with an automatic gearbox, so you only have two pedals. The only differences are that they're quiet, making them relaxing to drive; they’re quick from a standing start; and because the heavy batteries are positioned below the floor, they have a lower centre of gravity than many cars, so they often handle better.

So, what are my options?

New EVs start at around £18,000, depending on the model you choose.

Better still, there are used EVs that could prove to be a good buy. They’re not only cheaper to run and maintain, but concerns over battery life after a few years seem misplaced.

But if you’re still not convinced, why not meet electrified driving half-way and choose a plug-in hybrid car? It will have around 20-30 miles of electric driving range, so useful for local trips, but it also has a petrol engine for longer journeys.

Buying an electric vehicle is a good choice now – and will be a lot easier over the next couple of years as car manufacturers launch a raft of new models. 

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