How should you choose an electric car?

  • Electric cars
  • Oct 16, 2020

What's so good about an electric car? There are no exhaust emissions, which is good news for local air quality. An electric car is also amazingly smooth and quiet to drive. They can be quite good fun, too, because electric motors give an instant response when you touch the accelerator, making many modern EVs are extremely quick off the mark.

Who should be thinking about an electric car?

There are electric cars in all shapes and sizes. What has been a market full of hatchbacks has over the last 12 months fast been filling up with family-friendly MPVs, SUVs and estates. There's an electric car for (almost) everyone.

Consider an electric car if...
✔ You drive less than 150 miles per day
✔ You have a garage or driveway
✔ You're a company car driver
✔ You drive most in cities or rural areas
✔ You want to lower your carbon footprint
✔ You have solar or are considering solar on your roof

Electric cars aren't so good for...
✘ Regular journeys of several hundred miles
✘ People who aren't prepared to make any stops on long journeys
✘ Towing
✘ Daily on-street charging (though this will change)
✘ Lowest purchase prices

We’re going to concentrate on 100% electric cars (or BEV, short for Battery EV) in this article. That means:

  • no PHEVs (plug-in hybrids)
  • and, of course, no ICEs (internal combustion engines)

Why do we think you should consider a 100% electric car right now?

Well, ranges are improving and prices are much more affordable, yet the government grant is still fairly generous. Public charging is something people have heard a lot about, but as an electric car driver you will do almost all your topping up overnight. The public network is working better all the time, so you won't feel stranded even on the occasional longer journey.

Plug-in hybrids might seem like the perfect compromise, but they stop you from achieving some of the key benefits of going electric.

A fully electric car gives you:

  • lower cost per mile
  • much lower CO2 per mile (this doesn’t come out of the exhaust, but from the electricity that you power it with)
  • lower maintenance costs (fewer moving parts)
  • future-proofs you against possible emissions zones and changes to road tax for hybrids
  • and (we think) protects the resale value of your car
Explore all the cars that match your requirements with our quick electric car finder tool
Evolution of electric cars
An evolution of electric cars from the 1890s, to the G-Wiz, early Renault Zoe to the 2021 Megane

What should I look for in an electric car?

1. Range

Range is how far your EV will go on one charge. Range is determined mostly by the size of the battery.

If you have the budget, there is probably an EV with a battery big enough to cover your longest journey. You probably aren’t looking to spend £80k though, and there’s plenty of other options out there which will fit most people's journeys well.

Electric car batteries don’t go as far as their petrol equivalents on each 'full tank'.  But comparing fuelling a petrol or diesel to the way you are going to fuel an EV is like comparing apples and oranges. An ICE is only ever filled up at a petrol station when it gets a little empty. Your EV will be topped up regularly, maybe every night, at home without you really thinking about it. In this way, it's more like charging a phone than filling up your old car.

EV charging
Charging an EV: more like topping up your phone than filling at a petrol station

When looking at range you need to ignore the manufacturers figures.  All car companies have to legally state a WLTP range. (WLTP = world harmonized light-duty vehicles test procedure and is a global, harmonized standard for determining the levels of pollutants, CO2 and fuel consumption.  But these tests aren’t exactly how you are going to drive your car, so always ask about the real-world range, as they are much closer to the distance you'll actually be able to travel between charges.

Most new full electrics (known as BEVs) offer a “real world” range of over 150 miles. In the UK only about 1% of our journeys are over 100 miles!

In winter, your range is quite a bit lower than in summer. Typically, an EV will cover around 20 percent fewer miles in cold weather versus summer.

How an EV could change you:

You’ll plan ahead on longer journeys - meaning you’ll have a quick look at a route to reassure yourself about the charging options

You may drive slower on motorways - at least on longer journeys. You will discover that this really impact how quickly you get there. A long car trip on a motorway is when mild speeding helps the least. For the maths behind this read more here.

2. Heating

After range, the effects of temperature are what you need to consider next.

A new petrol car has a thermal efficiency of around 35%.  The remaining 65% is lost as heat. EVs on the other hand don’t have an engine pumping out waste heat and instead you have to use the battery to provide the heating.  

To reduce battery use when out and about, preheating your car while still plugged in is highly recommended.  This can be easily done using the car “control” app - so certainly worth checking out the app as part of the car selection process.  

Our advice is to get all the heating options available - heat pumps, heated seats. Heated seats (and steering wheels) are an efficient way of keeping you warm in the car, so should be considered essential if you drive in the UK!  

A heat pump is nifty gadget that make heating your car far more efficient, so usually worth the extra investment too.

Will I lose money buying an electric car?

The resale values of electric cars are on the up. This is down to more and more makes and models entering the market, as well as better understanding among buyers of the benefits of hybrid and electric cars. Electric cars are worth considerably more money after the typical ownership period of three years and 30,000 miles of driving.

Chris Plumb, the Cap hpi car resale expert's resident EV guru, told This is Money: 'The value of a used electric or hybrid vehicles depends on a few factors. The high cost new of some models, when coupled with limited new car production over the past few years, can translate into reduced volumes entering the used car market, which helps to protect values.

'Also, we have seen healthy growth in demand for used alternatively fuelled vehicles from consumers, which has also contributed to some models holding their value as the supply and demand are evenly matched.'

Will prices of electric cars fall further?

Yes, as batteries are expected to fall further in price, electric cars are expected to reach price parity with petrol cars by 2024. However, you can expect to pay back the extra cost of an electric car quite quickly through lower running costs. If you make the decision today, the chances are you will have paid back the extra cost of going electric, and paid back the carbon embodied in your electric car before this parity is hit.

Find your time to pay back a switch to electric with our clever cost and carbon calculator tool