Buying a new car is a big decision at any time as there are so many factors involved with your choice. Throw in the newness of buying an electric car and for many people it feels like unknown territory. Thankfully car manufacturers now provide whole ranges of brand new electric cars and are working on electrifying their current models which still rely on petrol or diesel to provide you with ample choice.
The electric car market is already being set up as the only option of the future as the UK Government bans the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles from 2030 so it's understandable that many people are trying to get ahead of the demand and buy into electric cars now.
We have created a guide for buying an electric car to cover some of the obvious and some of the less obvious considerations that will make up your journey. Electric car sales aren't nearly as scary as some buyers think so read on for our top buying tips whether you're looking for the most modern electric cars or the cheapest electric cars.
The biggest, and most obvious, benefit of an electric car is that it is much better for the environment than driving a petrol or diesel equivalent model as it produces no CO2 emissions. However you will also directly benefit from an electric car whilst improving your impact on the environment.
Currently the Energy Saving Trust have some electric car grant and loan options to help you to move towards an electric car. This includes the Used Electric Vehicle Loan which allows you to borrow up to £30,000 to buy a used electric car or electric van (including VAT), the Mobility and Scrappage Fund which supports low-income households to get rid of their older vehicle and choose greener travels methods, and the Low Emission Zone Support Fund for those who live within 20km of one of the new LEZ zones across Scotland.
You may also see information about the Plug in Car Grant, a government grant which enables manufacturers and dealers to reduce the amount that electric cars cost for the electric car drivers to buy them. This is automatically applied to the vehicle you purchase, which means that there is no application process or waiting period to benefit from this incentive. Electric cars tend to be more expensive to purchase than petrol and diesel models so these incentives can definitely make purchasing one more affordable.
Electric vehicles also benefit from lower running costs and lower maintenance costs. As there is no internal combustion engine and parts related directly to one, your car should see a reduction in your annual servicing costs and if you look at the costs of a full charge versus a full tank of fuel you pay less here too. We've looked at both of these topics in more depth here and here.
If you're a company car driver then many employers and companies now offer a salary sacrifice scheme to get an electric car as an employee benefit. Electric cars pay much less in benefit in kind tax (also known as company car tax) with the government currently having the rate set at 2% until the end of the 2024/25 tax year. For comparison, petrol and diesel cars can be taxed as high as 37% depending on the model.
There are a few different terms and types of electric car on the market at the moment, which can be confusing if you're not familiar with them or you are at the start of your electric car journey. Familiarising yourself with the different options and which will suit your needs best is the best way to determine which section of the market you need to pay attention to.
Battery electric vehicles, also known as pure electric cars or fully electric cars, run entirely on electric power produced and then stored in a battery until needed. This is what most people are referring to when they talk abut an electric car.
These must be plugged in to charge the battery power to 100% and then have a motor in place of an internal combustion engine which powers the wheels as you drive. This also collects the kinetic energy produced by the wheels and converts it back into battery power, allowing your car to run for longer.
A battery electric vehicle also offers regenerative braking, a specific driving mode which applies the brakes when you take your foot off the accelerator and again converts the kinetic energy that would otherwise be wasted into electrical energy.
Examples of battery electric vehicles include the Tesla Model range, the Volkswagen ID family, the Jaguar I-Pace, the Renault Zoe, and the Nissan LEAF which means that you can now choose an electric SUV or an electric supermini car easily.
A plug in hybrid falls mid way between battery electric cars and cars with internal combustion engines as it utilises both. It has an internal combustion engine which is supported by an electric battery. This gives you a small range of full electric power, usually around 20-30 miles, before the petrol engine kicks in.
This makes them ideal for shorter commutes and trips as it doesn't use any of your fuel but also helps to extend your fuel range as the electric battery is what is used to start the car. This is also does away with range anxiety as your petrol engine runs as normal once the electric range runs out.
Regenerative braking is also usually available as a driving mode to help extend the battery power in the same way that it does in a battery electric car which means that if you're using it for short journeys you could easily travel mostly on electric power only.
Self charging hybrid cars are exactly as they sound. They offer the same amount of electric range as a plug in hybrid but rely solely on their lithium ion battery and regenerative braking to replenish its power. The advantage of this over a plug in hybrid is that it will fully recharge itself with no plugs or charging points required.
Mild hybrid cars have a much smaller hybrid system, usually a 48V battery that works alongside the standard petrol or diesel engine and the 12V battery found with them to provide support to the engine. Generally they improve the functionality of the start-stop feature and aid acceleration but also have the benefit of improving fuel economy.
Some of the most popular self charging hybrid cars include the BMW i3 and the Toyota Prius, whilst many brands are rolling out mild hybrid technology in their range such as Nissan and Renault ahead of further electrification.
There are a lot of considerations when you purchase any kind of new car such as if it has enough space for you and everyone who travels with you, its efficiency, and the features that are included with your chosen model.
Electric cars are no different but will also have some additional things that you'll need to consider including charging, the distances you plan to travel, and the costs involved in charging.
Many people are worried about range anxiety when purchasing an electric car as it feels as if electric range is very different from petrol or diesel mpg. However most electric car owners have no issues as they purchase a car with a range that will cover their driving habits. This is exactly the same thing that you would do with a petrol or diesel car.
For example, if you drove 300 miles per week you wouldn't choose a car that had a low mpg or small engine as it wouldn't suit your needs. With an electric car the same is true and you would choose a car with a larger range, higher charging capacity, or a bigger battery.
You will also need to plan where you will be charging your car. A common misconception is that electric car batteries need to be charged after every single use but depending on your driving habits this likely won't be the case.
Most EV owners look to install a charging point at home as that is the easiest, and usually most cost effective, way to keep the battery at full capacity. Generally installing a wall box costs around £800, although it will vary depending on which supplier you purchase from. You can leave your car plugged in when you're at home to make sure that you always have enough charge.
Alternatively you can use public charging point locations in the same way that you would currently use a fuel station. These offer subscriptions or pay as you go in order for you to take advantage of whichever is the best for you and mean that you don't need to use your home electric supply and accrue more on your monthly bill. However the downside to these is that they may all be in use when you arrive or may cost more than using your home supply.
The cost of charging an electric car will depend on a number of factors including: your home electricity tariff, the tariff set by the public charging network, and the charging speed of your car.
Just as different fuel stations will have different prices for petrol and diesel, different charging points will have different costs for charging your electric car. Some may also charge a connection fee to connect you to the charging network or offer a better rate if you have a subscription with their network.
We have written a full comparison of the cost of electric car tariffs versus the cost of fuelling conventional cars which you can find here.
Different manufacturers have different offers and incentives for choosing their new models and electric cars are no different. These are often more beneficial with electric cars than their petrol or diesel counterparts as they can offer things other than a monetary discount.
Some previous offers from manufacturers have included a discount towards installing a home charger or the full cost of having a home charging point installed, which is a huge benefit for you as a driver as it not only makes charging more convenient for you but also saves you upwards of £800.
Other offers could include a set amount of credit for a public charging network or a subscription paid for a set amount of time. This is a great opportunity to save money in the first few months that you own your new electric car and to help you get used to using public charging points near you and to plan which ones will be most useful for you.
If you're purchasing used electric cars you'll want to make additional checks as you would with any used car. This will include bodywork for any damage or missing parts as well as confirming that the information advertised is correct.
Just as you would in a petrol or diesel car you'll want to check that all the systems in the used electric car you like are functional before you buy it. Ideally a test drive will give you the best indication as you'll be able to also use the regenerative braking modes and see that the driving displays show you correct and accurate information.
Ask to see it stationary and have a practice of setting it up to charge, both so you know how it feels and that there are no issues with connection or the battery.
Checking that the charging cable is present and works correctly is a crucial part of buying a used electric car as without it you cannot charge the car!
All electric cars comes with their charging cable at brand new. If the one you are looking to purchase used doesn't have a cable with it make sure to ask the seller to provide one as you would with any other component missing or damaged.
The battery in an electric car has a different warranty from the car itself. Most commonly this is 8 years but will vary manufacturer to manufacturer. As the battery is the equivalent of the engine in a petrol or diesel car you'll know that it could be an incredible cost if something goes wrong and it doesn't have a warranty.
Similarly if there have already been repairs or replacements made to the battery or connected components you'll want to ask why. It could be nothing or it could be the sign of a bigger problem, especially if the owner mentions it in their motivation for selling.
Choosing an electric car might seem daunting at first glance, especially if it's your first EV, but once you start to research you'll find that it's much more straightforward. Figuring out how much and where you travel on a regular basis and then how you'll charge the car will make it much easier for you to then choose the right EV for you.