How much does it cost to run an electric car?

  • Electric cars
  • Smart tariffs
  • Mar 04, 2020

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.

It’s easier than ever to start driving an electric car. Electric car sales are booming. Not only is the charging infrastructure becoming more robust, but the purchase costs are steadily coming down. New electric cars in the UK are now fitted with a special green number plate that could give you access to further money-saving perks, such as free parking.

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'. One unit of electricity, or kWh, gives you up to four miles of driving. If you currently pay the average UK electricity price of 14p per kWh, an EV charged at home costs less than 3.5p to drive a mile. However, if you are able to switch to a competitive EV tariff  - your driving can cost as little as 1-2p/mile.

These off-peak EV charging rates add up. Over a year, an driver covering 10,000 miles will pay half as much by switching to an EV tariff.

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

Compared to petrol, the savings are even more attractive. We compared two similar sized Renault models.

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 £2.60 (off-peak) £52.08
Range from a full charge/tank 160 miles (summer) 130 miles (winter) 501 miles
Cost per mile 1.5p 10p
Expected running costs per year for 10,000 mileage £232 £1060

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 could nearly double. However, when you compare it to the cost of filling up your petrol or diesel car, electric cars are overwhelmingly cheaper.  

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 (for now at least at least) mass produced in the same way that petrol and diesel engines are.

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 2024.

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 2024 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 with home solar or buy from the grid. If you wait, you will have missed out on some pretty impressive savings.

Read our detailed comparison: VW Golf vs. VW e-Golf

Read our detailed cost comparison: BMW 320d vs. BMW i3

To compare all the EVs on the market and see how quickly an EV would pay back for you, pop over to use our free, impartial electric car finder tool.

The UK's grid energy is getting greener - with nearly 50% renewables towards the end of 2019

The future of energy is flexible

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

The rate you pay also 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 on your bills than you need to.

But the future lies in the tariffs that give you cheaper electricity at off-peak times or that offer to manage your EV charging in return for cheap rates any time.

EV tariffs are a real bonus if you’re able to charge your car at home. 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 compare even better to a petrol or diesel car.

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 suppliers offer time-of-use tariffs that work with the old 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.

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.

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 £3.10 (off-peak) £50.84
Range from a full charge/tank 230 miles (summer) 170 miles (winter) 460 miles
Cost per mile 1.5p 11p

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. Check out our top tips on efficient EV driving.

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.