How much does it cost to run an electric car?

  • Electric cars
  • Smart tariffs
  • Mar 04, 2020

This Autumn, new electric cars in the UK will be fitted with a special green numberplate. Expect to spot more than you anticipated. Electric car sales are booming, even in a difficult year for the car sector. Not only is the charging infrastructure becoming more robust, but the purchase costs are steadily coming down. It’s easier than ever to start driving an electric car.

The price tag of an EV can be daunting, whether you are buying it new or secondhand. The good news is that compared to running a petrol or diesel, the cost of running an electric car is much lower. In fact, if you choose the right car you will soon pay back the extra expense.

How can you save money with an electric car?

Where do the savings come from? We break down the costs of running an electric car and compare some of the best selling electric cars to equivalent petrol models.

Costs can be reduced to an average 1-2p/mile if you are able to switch to the right EV tariff

Savings start with the cost of 'filling the tank'. EVs cost less than 3.5p to drive a mile - this figure is a worst-case scenario using an average UK electricity price of 14p per kWh, where 1kWh equals about four miles of driving. However, costs can be reduced to an average 1-2p/mile if you are able to switch to a competitive EV tariff - see our article on EV tariffs. We give figures for off-peak EV charging in our running cost comparisons vs a petrol car below.

For petrol price we settled on an average £1.24 per litre of petrol. Obviously, what you are paying varies depending on when you read this and which fuel station you go to.

Metric Renault Zoe Renault Clio
Purchase Cost (base model) £18,900 (after grant) £13,825
Battery Capacity/Fuel Tank Capacity 52 KWh 42 L
Road Tax £0 £145
Cost to service From £100 From £175
Cost to fully charge/fuel up £7.28 (£2.60 off-peak) £52.08
Range from a full charge/tank 160 miles (summer) 130 miles (winter) 501 miles
Cost per mile Off peak, winter: £0.02, Off peak, summer: £0.01, Peak: winter: £0.05, Peak, summer: £0.04 £0.10

If you purchase an electric car and are able to charge it at home (always a cheaper option than public charging), you will see your electricity bill increase - in some cases it will nearly double. However, when you compare it to the cost of filling up your petrol or diesel car, electric cars are overwhelmingly cheaper.  You will realise those savings several times over by not having to visit a fuel station.

Why are electric cars more expensive to buy?

The initial purchase price of an electric car tends to be higher for several reasons. Mostly the cost comes down to the battery.

Electric car battery costs fell 87% between 2010 and 2019

The battery is by far the most costly component of an electric car. There’s a huge amount of R&D that has gone into producing and improving the battery in the last decade. The raw materials required to make it are also expensive. By far the biggest issue with electric car batteries is that they’re not (at least at the moment) mass produced in the same way that petrol and diesel engines are. And car manufacturers are not making as large a range of electric cars as petrol and diesel cars yet.

Having said all that, electric car battery costs fell 87% between 2010 and 2019. The cost difference between owning an electric car or a petrol/diesel car is expected to be negligible by 2023.

Should I wait until the cost of an electric car falls lower?

Despite the extra cost of an EV, you can still make savings within months if you power it with the cheapest green energy

Should you hang on to your petrol car until 2023 then? Well, it's likely that, by that point, today's government grant of £3,500 will be long gone. Also, despite the extra cost of an EV, you can still make savings within months if you power it with the cheapest green energy you can generate or buy from the grid. If you wait, you will have missed out on some pretty impressive savings.

To find how quickly an EV would pay back for you, pop over to use our free calculation tool.

Metric Volkswagen e-Golf Volkswagen Golf
Purchase Cost (base model) £31,075 £23,340
Battery Capacity/Fuel Tank Capacity 35.8 KWh 55 L
Road Tax £0 £265
Cost to service From £297 From £175
Cost to fully charge/fuel up £5.01 (£1.79 off-peak) £68.20
Range from a full charge/tank 125 miles (summer) 100 miles (winter) 386 miles
Cost per mile Off peak, winter: £0.02, Off peak, summer: £0.01, Peak: winter: £0.05, Peak, summer: £0.04 £0.17
The UK's grid energy is getting greener - with nearly 50% renewables towards the end of 2019

The future of energy is flexible

Above we’ve assumed a cost per KWh of £0.14, which if you haven't been keeping up with your tariff switching, may be lower than you currently pay to your utility. Depending on where you live, electricity varies in price. It tends to be slightly more expensive in northern Scotland, and less expensive the further south you go. As a result, your cost could vary slightly from the estimates we’ve used.

The future lies in the tariffs that give you cheaper electricity at off-peak times

Also, the rate you pay depends on the kind of tariff you’ve selected with your electricity supplier. If you’re on the standard variable tariff, you’re likely to be spending a lot more money than you need to.

But the future lies in the tariffs that give you cheaper electricity at off-peak times. This is a real bonus if you’re able to charge your car at home, as you can take advantage of this, charging your car overnight when the electricity cost can be minimal. These 'smart tariffs' (so called because they rely on the data from a smart meter) makes the cost of running an EV in the UK even better compared to a petrol or diesel car.

The cost of your electricity has a big impact on your driving costs

For all these reasons, when switching to an EV, you should ensure that you’re getting the best deal on your energy. Electricity companies will install smart meters into your home for free, meaning it’s easier for you to take advantage of cheaper tariffs. If you can't get a smart meter fitted in your home yet, often because of poor mobile phone coverage, some of these tariffs will also work with the older Economy 7 and 10 meters.

Insurance for electric cars vs petrol and diesel

Your insurance premium is likely to be different depending on which car you drive. This is nothing new, and you’ll find a Land Rover Discovery with a V8 engine is going to cost a lot more to insure than a Nissan Micra even though they both may run on diesel.

If you purchase an electric vehicle, you might have heard that you can expect to pay a little more for your insurance. The primary reason for this is that not all insurers will actually cover an electric car. This makes it very important that you shop around in order to get the best deal.

As with all cars, shop around to find an insurer who can give you a good renewal quote

However, insurers are realising several things about electric car ownership:

  • there are fewer moving parts, so repairs are likely to be cheaper
  • the battery is usually fairly well protected in the event of an accident
  • you as an electric car owner are more likely to be a more considerate driver

As a result, and as electric cars generate more data for insurance companies to base decisions on, premiums are likely to reduce over the next few years until there is no difference between insuring a petrol/diesel car and an electric car.

Indeed, for some cars, this is already the case; in some circumstances a lower-end electric car such as the Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf can actually be cheaper to insure than the petrol/diesel equivalent.

As ever, common sense prevails - if you keep your car in a locked garage overnight and make sure the insurer is aware of any advanced security system you have in place to protect the car, you’re likely to receive a lower premium.

Some cars, such as the Renault Zoe, can require you to actually lease the battery as well as the car. The battery is the most expensive component of the car, so it’s good to clarify this when you take out a policy in order to check that your battery is covered against accidental theft or damage, as well as the car.

Metric Nissan Leaf Nissan Micra
Purchase Cost (base model) £29,790 £13,985
Battery Capacity/Fuel Tank Capacity 62 KWh 41 L
Road Tax £0 £145
Cost to service From £159 From £175
Cost to fully charge/fuel up £8.68 (£3.10 off-peak) £50.84
Range from a full charge/tank 168 miles (summer) 124 miles (winter) 460 miles
Cost per mile Off peak, winter: £0.02, Off peak, summer: £0.02, Peak: winter: £0.07, Peak, summer: £0.05 £0.11

How do you maintain an electric car?

Electric cars still need to be serviced and maintained at regular intervals, just like conventional cars. Even though there are fewer moving parts, your car will still need to be looked after. Things such as tyre pressure, brake fluid, windscreen wiper fluid, etc all need to be monitored and maintained to ensure your car performs as you would expect.

Tyre pressure is not something many of us think about on a regular basis, but for an EV, just like in a regular car, low tyre pressure can be dangerous and can actually reduce the range of your car. Range might fall 1 - 2% for every 5 PSI your tyres are below your tyre manufacturer’s recommended value.

Simple maintenance, like checking your tyre pressures, helps improve efficiency

Overall, maintaining an electric car is actually much, much simpler than maintaining a regular car. The simple reason for this is that an electric car has very few moving parts. A regular engine has an inordinate amount of things that move in order to generate the power required to drive the car. An electric car uses an electric motor to drive the wheels, with far fewer moving parts. As a result, there are fewer parts to maintain, fewer things to go wrong and therefore reduced maintenance bills.

You will still need to take your electric car in for an MOT at the same frequency as a regular car. Despite this, your repair costs are likely to be considerably lower given the reduced number of moving parts in the car’s drive train.

What if I want breakdown coverage in an electric car?

A regular car used to be able to be towed by another car or recovery vehicle very easily. An electric car cannot, and trying to tow certain models of electric car in the same way you would tow a regular car can actually cause significant damage. Certain electric cars can only be towed if their driving wheels are elevated off the ground, and others cannot be towed at all and will need to be placed on a flat-bed recovery vehicle should you break down.

This isn't just about EVs - more 4x4s and large SUVs on the road mean the roadside recovery services are innovating. The RAC has fitted a trailer system to 600 of their standard recovery vans.

Although the AA says most EV breakdowns aren’t related to the car running out of charge, as a short-term solution, all AA patrols carry Polar charging cards so they can take EVs to the nearest charging point for a free top-up. The RAC, meanwhile, has designed a lightweight mobile charger that will be fitted to its patrol vans.

The EV Boost charger works with Type 1 and 2 sockets, enabling it to charge 99% of electric vehicles, and typically provides 10 miles of range from a 30-minute charge. Power comes from a generator that’s permanently attached to the van’s engine.

Having your electric car serviced

Most electric car dealers will have a trusted network of service partners that are trained in servicing and repairing electric vehicles.

Tesla estimate that 80% of repairs can be done outside one of their service centres - if the issue is software related, they are able to diagnose faults and apply updates remotely, without you having to take your car anywhere. For other repairs and services that need an in-person visit, Tesla and other manufacturers will actually come to you - making servicing your electric car much easier than servicing a regular one.