Back to Electric Cars – The Electric Era

10 things you should know about electric cars

Earlier this year we published an introduction to electric vehicles (EVs) explaining how this seemingly new technology is actually as old as the petrol-powered car, yet for many new buyers it’s seen as something very new. Despite the electric car being well over 100 years old, they’re only now becoming a realistic proposition for everyday use in terms of usability and running costs. Not convinced? Then read on…

Aren’t they costly to buy?
You’ll pay more to buy an electric car than an equivalent petrol or diesel, but you don’t have to buy. Indeed, most people lease their car or take out a PCP to help with budgeting. Just bear in mind that in some cases, even if you buy the car outright you’ll get the option to either lease or buy the battery pack. Choose the latter and it can easily add £5000 to the list price.

How much is the road tax?
From 1 April 2017 the road tax for all cars was set at a flat rate of £140 – apart from EVs, for which it’s still zero. However, buy an EV for over £40,000 and you’ll have to pay £310 annually for the first five years of the car’s life. So purchase a Renault Zoe and you’ll pay nothing, but buy a Tesla Model S and you’ll have to hand over £310 to the Treasury each year.

What about other running costs?
Buy a new electric vehicle and it’ll probably lose more of its value compared with a conventionally powered car. As a result, there can be some incredible deals to be had when buying used. Servicing requirements are minimal because there are so few parts in an EV; checking the brakes is usually the extent of it. Then there’s the fuel, and this is what makes all the difference to how much it costs to run an EV on an everyday basis. Buy petrol or diesel and the price of the fuel is fairly fixed, but the cost of electricity can fluctuate wildly depending on who you buy it from and when.

How practical are they?
In terms of space and versatility, an EV is on a par with a ‘normal’ car – at least if it was designed as an EV from the outset. Those converted to run on electricity, such as the Volkswagen e-Golf or Kia Soul have a smaller boot because of the battery pack having to be accommodated. But models such as the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Tesla have the battery pack within the floorpan, underneath the cabin, which means the car drives better thanks to improved weight distribution, plus the interior and boot space aren’t compromised.

What’s a typical range?
As with a conventional car, how fast you drive will dictate the car’s range. Drive more slowly and you’ll get more miles on a full charge, while using lots of the car’s electrics (heater, lights, wipers) will also use up the battery more quickly. The Tesla has always had a much better range than any other EV thanks to its much bigger battery pack (and it’s consequently far more costly). That’s why it can cover 250-300 miles, but buy a mainstream electric car such as a Leaf and you should be able to drive a little over 100 miles on a single charge, in good conditions.

While 100 miles might sound rubbish, for most journeys it’s plenty. As a result, many people who buy an EV as a second car end up choosing it as the primary transport with the other vehicle becoming the back up. Great strides are being made with battery range and within the past year several EVs come supplied with improved battery packs that boost the real-world range to over 150 miles – potentially even 200 miles. for most people most of the time, that’s plenty.

Is recharging easy?
This is the killer for some people, because you’ve got to have somewhere that you can recharge your EV. If you live in a city you can’t leave cables trailing across the pavement so you need to have a drive or garage, or maybe you can recharge at work. All EVs come with a choice of charging speed options depending on the connection that’s available. Use a three-pin household socket and it can easily take eight hours to recharge a battery, whereas a fast charger can usually top it up to 80% within half an hour.

How many charging points are there?
If you need to know where the UK’s charging points are, log on to Zap Map, which claims that there are currently around 4700 live locations open to the public. At any one time some of these will be out of order and there’s no guarantee that a charging point will be available when you get there because someone else might beat you to it. That’s why charging up at home – if you can – is always the best option. It’s usually the cheapest too.

Are electric cars reliable?
The beauty of the electric car is that it’s much simpler than a petrol or diesel, so it’s far less likely to go wrong – at least mechanically. Where problems do crop up it’s usually because of an electronics or software glitch which usually just means an update is needed.

What about battery life?
This is the unknown. The Nissan Leaf was the first modern-era electric car to go on sale and that was only just over six years ago. As a result, no battery packs have yet had to be replaced and most battery packs are still in warranty; a guarantee of anywhere between five and seven years is typical.

How much is a new battery pack?
Replacement battery packs tend to be very costly; £6000 for a Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf, or an eye-watering £18,500 (plus fitting) for a VW e-Golf. However, a battery pack consists of dozens of cells and these will fail one at a time, so rather than replace the whole pack you’ll probably just have to renew one or two cells – and those are typically around £60 each.

Richard Dredge