If you’re considering buying an electric car, you’re not alone, as they’re becoming increasingly popular now that the cost of fuel is soaring.
According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), one in six registered cars were plug-in electric models in 2021, and demand is expected to rocket in the next few decades. The government is set to ban the sale of cars running solely on petrol or diesel from 2030, and the majority of major car manufacturers have now added electric models to their lineup.
Demand has spiked in recent weeks as fuel prices reached an all-time high, with car leasing comparison site LeaseLoco reporting double the number of enquiries about electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid cars.
Of course, you’ll reduce your carbon emissions by going electric, but running costs are generally lower too. There are also government initiatives and tax breaks that could make it more cost effective to buy an electric car.
But how do these cars measure up to their fuel-powered counterparts? Here, we explain what you need to know to help you decide whether an electric car is right for you.
How do electric cars work?
Electric cars are fairly simple to operate and run. You charge an electric car by plugging it into a home or public charging point. This takes power from the grid and stores it in the vehicle’s battery, which is what powers the motor and keeps the wheels turning.
However, you can choose between fully electric, battery operated vehicles that only use a rechargable battery for power, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which have both a battery and a petrol or diesel engine that’s used when you run out battery power.
Charging points can be found all over the UK, such as in car parks and dedicated charging stations, but also on the side of the road. According to energy provider EDF, there are over 42,000 charging points across the UK. You can find your closest charging point using this map, which keeps track of all of the charging points across the UK.
Beware, though, that even a small electric car can take hours to fill, so it’s generally easiest to do this using a home charge point in a garage or driveway, and use public points to top up if needed.
You pay to charge your electric car at these public charging points using an app or contactless payment, although some points are free to use. You simply plug the charger into the socket on the side of the vehicle and wait for the battery to fill up. There are dozens of networks operating charging points, and you may be charged a flat fee, or by the hour, for each kWh of electricity you use. You can sign up for subscriptions to big network such as Osprey Charging or BP Pulse, which may save you some money.
One of the major benefits of electric cars and the reason they were introduced onto the market is that they’re much more ecologically friendly than fuel-powered models. Electric cars produce no exhaust, meaning they don’t put CO2 into the atmosphere and are compatible with the UK’s 2050 “net zero” target.
What are the different types of electric car?
There are two main types of electric car:
Plug-in electric cars run purely on electricity and are powered exclusively by charging points such as those mentioned above.
Plug-in hybrids run mainly on electricity but also contain traditional fuel engines, which they can tap into if the charge runs out. These cars only produce emissions when they are running on fuel, but otherwise work in the same way as plug-in electrics, and can also be charged at charging points.
The 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars will only immediately apply to cars that are entirely powered by fuel. Hybrid cars such as those mentioned above will still be allowed on the market and roads until 2035.
Do electric cars feel the same to drive?
Motorists tend to agree that electric cars feel different to drive compared to petrol or diesel cars, but many consider the experience of driving them an overall improvement.
For starters, electric motors usually accelerate more quickly and smoothly than fuel-powered cars. The lack of an internal combustion engine also means that they produce less noise and are less likely to vibrate when driving. Bear in mind too that electric cars are almost always automatic, meaning there is no clutch or gearbox, which can make for an easier driving experience, depending on your preference.
Are electric cars more expensive?
You might be of the opinion that electric cars are luxury items and not practical or cost-effective for most people, particularly as they remain in the minority on the road.
In general, electric cars are more expensive to buy than their fuel counterparts, which also means higher monthly repayments if you’re borrowing to fund the cost. Use the Energy Saving Trust’s comparison tool to compare the cost and spec of fully electric and hybrid makes and models.
However, the electric car market is expanding rapidly, and electric vehicles are around £579 a year cheaper to run on average than a petrol car, when factoring in the cost of insurance, fuel, and road tax, according to Compare the Market.
Electric vehicles cost an average of around £1,264 a year to run compared to £1,843 from a petrol car, with the savings pushed up by soaring fuel costs over recent months.
Recharging an electric car tends to be cheaper than filling up with fuel, and can sometimes even be free, with many supermarkets and car parks offering free charging to customers and visitors. For example, Tesco offers free charging bays at over 500 of their stores.
What’s more, the government is putting lots of money towards making electric cars more accessible and appealing, including grants towards the cost of installing charging points. The EV chargepoint grant, for example, may fund up to £350 of the cost of installing a home charging point, for both homeowners and renters. You can find out more and view the full list of grants available for electric car users on GOV.uk.
Electric car users currently only have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty, also known as road tax, on new vehicles after April 2017 that cost £40,000 or more. However, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed in his Autumn Budget that this exemption will end in April 2025, meaning all electric motorists will have to pay road tax from this date. Plug-in electric cars are exempt from the congestion charge in London, as they do not contribute to noise or air pollution.
Notably, electric cars with a smaller range – that is, how far they can run on a full battery – tend to be much cheaper, which could make them a good option if you only tend to drive locally. However, it’s essential to shop around for a vehicle that fits your requirements and driving habits.
Electric cars are also much simpler on the inside, with fewer moving parts to inspect and fix, which often means lower costs for servicing, repairs and maintenance over time.
What are the downsides of owning an electric car?
While electric cars may result in long-term savings on fuel and maintenance, the steeper upfront cost can be prohibitive. You also need to get to grips with how they work, and whether they are currently a viable option for you considering your driving habits and access to charging points.
The amount of time it takes to fully charge the battery has also been known to put motorists off. This depends on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point, but can range from around 30 minutes to 12 hours. The fastest times are offered by so-called “rapid” chargers, though these are not compatible with all makes of electric car and tend to be more expensive to use.
Given the length of time it can take to charge an electric car, drivers tend to top up their charge as they go, rather than run down the battery and then recharge from empty. If you get a home charging point installed, it is safe to charge your vehicle overnight as well.
Where can I buy insurance on an electric car?
Most insurance providers now cover electric cars. However, it usually costs more to insure an electric car than a petrol or diesel car because of their higher purchase price, and the fact that insurers currently have less data on accident rates.
As with any type of insurance, it pays to shop around and compare the cost. You can use this tool to get started and compare car insurance quotes for people over 50 from over 110 providers.
You can also use this tool to compare quotes from providers covering all age ranges.