Should I buy an electric car? Everything you need to know

Posted by mustard.co.uk on October 1st, 2020

The mustard.co.uk guide to electric cars – how much they cost, how well they work, and whether you should consider one.

Petrol and diesel cars aren’t going anywhere just yet, but at some point in the coming decades it’s likely you will have to swap over to an alternatively-fuelled vehicle. But there’s no reason why you should wait that long! Electric vehicles (or EVs for short) are increasing in number daily, and almost every car manufacturer now offers one.

Roll back just a few years and electric cars were seen as a left-field alternative. Capable of only a short range on a full charge – and held back by a lack of public infrastructure and long waits for charging – they seemed unlikely to ever take off.

These days, though, you can buy electric cars in a whole range of shapes and sizes. Some can achieve almost 300 miles between charges, or plug into ultra-fast chargers for a top-up in mere minutes. Infrastructure has improved too, and there’s barely an area of the country you can’t comfortably reach in an electric car these days.

Despite all these improvements, electric cars aren’t quite suitable for all lifestyles just yet. But do they suit yours? Read on for the mustard.co.uk guide to whether an electric vehicle is the right choice for you.

What is an electric car?

Electric cars really are as simple as they come. Instead of an engine and fuel tank, they use an electric motor and a battery pack – think like a child’s remote-control  car on a massive scale.

Driving one is very much like an automatic petrol or diesel car, but instead of filling them up with fuel, you plug them in to charge the batteries up.

In the last few years the number of different models available on the market has skyrocketed, and now there truly are electric cars to suit every need. Whether you’re simply after a city runaround to use as a second car, or a full-sized SUV to accommodate the family, kids, and all their associated clobber, there’s something out there for you.

How do I drive an electric car?

Electric vehicles usually fall into two camps. Some car manufacturers make their EVs as similar to a petrol or diesel car as possible – disguising their high-tech underpinnings with bodywork and interiors virtually identical to their combustion-engined counterparts. Take Peugeot’s e-208 – almost exactly the same as the standard Peugeot 208, with only a coloured badge and discreet ‘e’ logo to mark it out as an EV.

Others prefer for them to stand out and  make the electric models distinct from the rest of the range with unique styling or super-techy interior fixtures and fittings. A great example of this is the Honda e, which looks totally unlike the rest of Honda’s range and features no fewer than five screens across the dashboard.

The actual driving experience, though, is pretty common to all EVs. Simply put them into Drive and set off, and you’ll likely be amazed. Electric cars are smooth and silent, thanks to their lack of moving parts or gears. They also offer remarkable acceleration at lower speeds, making them effortless for nipping around town and capable of surprising people off the traffic lights.

Regular motorway users might find that smaller electric cars have their power tail off at faster speeds – it’s not unbearable, just unusual, especially if you’re used to the way a petrol or diesel car responds.

How do I charge an electric car?

There are a few ways  to charge your electric car. Almost every owner – at least those who have off-street parking – opts for a home charge point.

These are installed on your driveway and in your garage and allow faster and safer charging than you’d get from a regular three-pin wall socket. They’ll fill up your battery overnight, leading most owners to treat their car like their mobile phone – simply plug it in in the evening and wake up to a fully charged battery.

Getting a home charging point is easy – many electric car purchases will have one included as an added bonus.  If it doesn’t, don’t despair – many companies will fit them, and there’s a Government grant available to cover up to £350 of the cost under the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme.

Many electric car owners find plugging in at home far more convenient than running a petrol car, as there’s never a need to make a journey specifically to get fuel.

If you exhaust your battery while out and about, or need to take a long trip, there are thousands of public charging stations dotted all over the country. These can often be accessed with just a contactless payment card, though some do require you to have a membership.

How much does an electric car cost to buy?

Electric cars do command a premium when it comes to purchase price – they’re usually quite a few thousand pounds more expensive than a petrol or a diesel rival, even with a government grant of £3,500 applied to all new EV purchases.

For reference, the cheapest electric car on sale costs more than £17,000 after this grant – the cheapest new petrol car is less than half of that.

That’s not the whole story, of course. Car manufacturers often fill electric cars with premium equipment, making them more comparable to top-spec rivals. They also tend to have impressive performance and acceleration, easily outshining an entry-level model.

Better yet, electric cars can be offered on generous  finance or lease deals – and thanks to government incentives attract minimal bills if you run one as a company car.

And purchase price is only one part of the story…

How much does an electric car cost to run?

Running costs are where electric vehicles play their trump card. Electricity costs far less per mile travelled than even the most efficient petrol or diesel car, and if you’re able to charge at home overnight you can take advantage of Economy 7 or smart tariffs, allowing you to schedule charging when the energy is cheapest.

Our sister site Parkers has made this especially easy to understand with its miles per pound index, which shows just how much cheaper an electric car can be to run than even a very efficient petrol model. Take the Nissan Qashqai – in its most efficient diesel form, £1 worth of fuel will allow you to drive for 9.0 miles. The Nissan Leaf, however, will achieve 26.9 miles on £1 worth of electricity, making it nearly a third less expensive to run on a daily basis.

That calculation is based on charging at home – but what happens when you need to charge up while out and about? Well, the difference is much less prominent, but even the most expensive public charging stations undercut the price of petrol or diesel.

Other running costs would appear to be minimal. Most electric cars are too new to have long-term data on their reliability, but early signs are very good, as with very few moving parts these are reliable machines. Some manufacturers, notably Kia and MG, offer super-long warranties on their electric cars for some added peace of mind – and almost every manufacturer provides a warranty against the battery failing to hold a charge.

As for insurance, electric cars tend to attract slightly higher premiums than petrol or diesel models. To help minimise that, you can get a quote for your electric car right here on mustard.co.uk to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.

How far can I drive an electric car?

That depends on which model you buy, but range is not necessarily linked to how much you spend – some very reasonable electric cars are capable of impressive ranges.

The distance an electric car can go on a full charge ranges from around 75 miles for the more basic city cars, right up to 379 miles for the longest-range model currently on sale.

If you’re mostly driving in town, you’ll probably find these range predictions to be accurate. Head out for long motorway drives and the range tends to disappear a bit faster.

The most important thing is to consider the journeys you do every day, rather than planning for one that may never happen. If you only use your car for short runs around town (remember, more than 90% of car journeys in the UK are less than five miles) then almost any electric car will do you well.

Regular long trips could be a reason to spend more money, but even then, taking an enforced break to recharge your car every four hours/200 miles or so is by no means a bad thing.

So should I buy an electric car?

The answer is yes, unless your lifestyle dictates otherwise. There’s no escaping that electric cars are still expensive to buy (whether new or used) and that having off-road parking so you can charge at home is nearly essential.

Some people may also find their annual mileage or where their journeys take them to be a sticking point.

For everybody else, though, an electric car could prove a sound and environmentally-friendly purchase. Take the plunge into electric car ownership and you’ll be joining an ever-expanding and vibrant community of like-minded people who tend to love their cars. You’ll be having fun – we’ve never found an electric car we didn’t enjoy driving – and saving money at the same time. What’s not to like?