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Electric car buyer’s guide

October 16, 2017 | By | In Advice, Buying Guides, Electric Cars
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Electric cars are on the rise. Now, more and more motorists are starting to consider making the switch to an electrically powered vehicle. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of electric cars sold in the UK eligible for government grants multiplied by four, signifying a major increase in demand. Depending on your needs, opting to go either electric or hybrid (an electric car which also runs on petrol or diesel) could be a wise financial decision.

As electrically-powered models grow in popularity, it makes sense to familiarise yourself with the key factors of the buying process. That’s why we at Motors.co.uk decided to put together this handy guide. It covers everything from electric car costs to whether the distance you drive mean you’d be better off sticking with a traditional vehicle. Just follow the links below to get the lowdown on what you need to know:

Pros and cons of electric cars

There’s a few crucial factors to consider when deciding whether an electric car is right for you. You need to have easy access to a charging socket which you can use on a regular basis – this could be from your home or somewhere nearby.

Secondly, think about the length of the journeys you’ll be using the car for. If you’re travelling short distances regularly then an electric vehicle (EV) can suffice your needs, but if you need it for longer journeys then consider a hybrid, petrol or diesel model. As you’d expect, electric cars are generally better for the environment. These vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions and therefore appeal to eco-conscious drivers.

Find out more about electric cars and the environment – read everything you need to know about electric vehicles.

Electric cars also take longer to refuel. Time taken varies depending on what charger you use, although rapid charging points are becoming more common across the UK.

As most manufacturers are still branching into the EV market, there currently isn’t a huge range of EV models on offer compared to the wide choice of petrol and diesel models available. Once again this is set to change. Volvo is planning to make all vehicles they produce from 2019 onwards come with an electrically powered drivetrain. Other major marques are following suit.

How much does an electric car cost?

The cost of electric cars changes alongside developments in the industry. As manufacturers release more all-electric models, the market simultaneously sees an increase of used EVs popping up for sale. Second-hand electric cars may be more affordable than a brand-new petrol or diesel equivalent, but buyers could still pay more than they’d pay for a preowned combustion engine model.

Once you’ve paid the initial lump sum, the costs start to decrease. In 2015, the UK government announced that cars with zero emissions would be exempt from car tax, or Vehicle Excise Duty, from 2017 onwards. This saves zero-emission vehicle owners money, and you could also spend less over time when fuelling your car. The cost of getting you from A to B on electricity is cheaper per mile than petrol or diesel, however this can be dependent on tariff prices.

It is possible to lease an electric car’s battery, too. Renault became the first brand to introduce this initiative with the Renault Zoe, putting monthly payments in place with the intention of offering a cheaper alternative to other methods of fuel.

Should you be concerned about electric car range?

Distance-wise, the travel range of EVs is usually lower than diesel and petrol vehicles. This needn’t be a concern if you’re planning mainly to do city driving or short commutes. One of the major drives for many manufacturers has been to increase EV range. Top-end electric sports cars are now able to run for prolonged distances, with ranges sometimes close to double the size of standard models.

While most petrol and diesel models can cover upwards of 400 miles on a tank, consider that around half of car journeys are under five miles. Is paying more for petrol or diesel worth having a greater range?

Will the range on electric cars change over time?

Advancements in technology mean that electric car batteries can power vehicles for increasingly bigger distances. This is a major factor in price differences between electric and petrol and diesel cars. Due to the capacity of lithium-ion batteries, it will take some time for the vehicles to mirror the range offered by a traditional internal combustion engine, though, so decide whether your distance needs can be met with an electrically-powered battery.

Would I be better off with a hybrid car?

If you’re intending on doing a lot of long-distance driving, then it might make more sense to go with a hybrid model. Hybrids use petrol or diesel whenever you drive over a certain speed or accelerate quickly, helping them to cover more miles than their all-electric counterparts. They’ve got lower emissions than traditional diesel or petrol models and are suited to drivers who might need to take on sizable journeys regularly. In turn, they’re less dependent on having access to charging facilities as they can be refuelled with petrol or diesel.

Where can I find electric car charging stations?

You might live in an area which has considerable access to public charging stations. As the electric car market continues to grow, the availability of these charging points will increase in tandem. Public charge points offer a variety of slow, fast and rapid charge speeds.

Electric car charging point power levels

  • 43, 50 or 120kw – Rapid Charging: Motorway Services and Main Roads
  • 7kW–22kW AC – Fast Charging: Public Points and Specialist “Three Phase” Chargers
  • 3kW AC – Slow Charging: Mains Charging and Specialist “Single Phase” Chargers

Many EV drivers charge their vehicles using private sources of electricity. This works well if you have access to either a garage or an off-street parking space. If you want to home-charge overnight, like most EV owners, make sure this is done in a safe space that’s free from any obstructions.

It is also worth applying for a public charging point if you don’t already live near one. This can be done through your local authority, who can apply for government funding and oversee the installation process. That said, you can always charge an electric car using a standard UK three-pin socket, although at around 3kW AC, this is among the slowest options.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

  • Rapid Charging Station: 10–30 minutes
  • Fast Charging Station: 1–3 hours
  • Slow Charging Station: 3–8 hours

Unlike refuelling a car with a combustion engine, recharging an electric vehicle can take a considerable amount of time. Exactly how long this takes is dependent on both the EV’s battery and speed of the charging point. You could be waiting anywhere between 30 minutes and 12 hours, depending on where you choose to recharge. Many EV owners charge their cars overnight, or when their car’s sitting idle, so they can avoid unnecessary waits.

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What is electric car battery life like?

Electric cars share the same curse as many other electrical products (think phones and laptops) – battery degradation over a longer period of time. Automotive brands have attempted to safeguard customers from this concern with lengthy warranties that guarantee their batteries will perform at a certain capacity for either a number of years or miles.

A common cause of worry among potential buyers is whether or not they’ll have to fork out for a replacement battery a couple of years down the line. It’s possible to prolong a battery pack’s life by both recharging and discharging it regularly. Don’t charge your EV unnecessarily, though, as this will do more harm than good. It’s also equally important to ensure your car’s battery gets used regularly, as neglect has been linked to premature battery death or decline.

How much are electric car batteries?

Between 2010 and 2016, EV batteries have dropped in cost by around 80%, which is a huge sum, especially considering driver concerns over battery prices. This means they are more affordable and – with battery manufacturers overseas having reduced their prices – such a trend looks set to continue.

Where can I buy an electric car?

In order to keep up with eco-conscious motoring trends, not to mention consumer demand, most major marques are switching their sights to making EVs. Although not every dealer sells electric cars, a large number do and if the outlet stock cars from a brand which does manufacture EVs, then the dealer might be able to order a new model in for you.

Make sure the dealer you buy from isn’t too far away from where you live. Also, check if they’re equipped to service the vehicle, or can recommend somewhere nearby that can. A lot of garages may not be able to service EVs at the moment, as they have different needs to cars with combustion engines.

Find out more about electric car servicing needs with our guide.

Are electric cars safe?

Just like petrol and diesel cars, precautionary measures are put in place by EV manufacturers to make the models sold as safe as possible. These can include:

  • Anti-lock braking systems
  • Electronic stability controls
  • Pre-tensioning seatbelts
  • Front, side and curtain airbags

On top of this, some electronic cars have noise generators so pedestrians can hear the vehicle when it’s driving slowly.

As many electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, they do run the risk of catching fire if damaged. This is a very minor risk, however, and there are structural design and cooling mechanisms to prevent EV fires from occurring. Bear in mind that petrol vehicles run a similar risk and, in both cases, safety checks are in place to manage and prevent such occurrences.

And what about car insurance for electric cars?

Electronic car insurance, known as e-car insurance, follows the same basic principles as regular car insurance. Specific policies differ for electrically powered vehicles, though, due to the cost of specialised parts, battery prices and the need for repairs to be done by specially trained mechanics.

As electric cars have a reputation for being quieter than other vehicles, some insurers may state that this makes them a bigger risk to pedestrians – particularly the blind and partially sighted – and add to premiums. Major car manufacturers are taking steps to prevent accidents using noise generators, however, so this should bring payments down.

Buying an electric car is a little different to buying a car with a combustion engine. But once you’ve armed yourself with all the right knowledge, you’ll equipped with all the info you need to delve into the world of electric vehicles.

Take the next step and look at some of the best EVs from this year.

Or, learn everything else you need to know about electric vehicles.

James Ash

By

Content Marketing Executive at Motors.co.uk

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