How do you choose an electric car?

  • Electric cars
  • Oct 16, 2020

Where do you start with choosing an electric car? Is going electric right for everyone? We answer all the frequently asked questions about picking your first EV.

An electric car is amazingly smooth and quiet to drive. They are easy to drive - thanks to one-pedal driving and gearless motors. They can be quite good fun, too, because there is an instant response when you touch the accelerator, making even the most budget EV extremely quick off the mark.

Who should be thinking about an electric car?

There are electric cars in all shapes and sizes. Over the last 12 months, the EV market has fast been filling up with more family-friendly estates and SUVs. There's an electric car for (almost) everyone. Explore all the cars that match your requirements with our quick electric car finder tool

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 do most of your driving in towns, 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 a single stop on a long journey
✘ Towing (unless budget is no object)
✘ People without off-street parking
✘ Lowest purchase prices

Why choose an 100% electric car?

Plug-in hybrids might seem like the perfect compromise, but they stop you from achieving some of the key benefits of going electric. Ranges are improving and prices are much more affordable, yet the government grant for a full electric is still fairly generous.

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

The UK's public charging network does need to become easier to use and more reliable, but remember that a typical electric car driver with off-street parking does almost all charging at home, usually overnight. The public network is growing and getting better all the time, so you won't need to worry about the occasional longer journey.

Three things to 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. 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 show you the WLTP range. WLTP stands for world harmonized light-duty vehicles test procedure, and is a global, harmonized standard for determining the levels of pollutants, CO2 and fuel consumption.  You are going to drive your car like the test, so better to look to 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 offer a real world range of over 150 miles. The rule of thumb is that your overall range will be roughly 80% of the WLTP.

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. Factors such as how fast you drive and your use of heating will affect this in practice. See our top tips for driving an EV in the winter.

2. Price

Like buying any car, the price you pay is determined by a multitude of factors. With an EV there is also the added element that most models are available with a few different battery pack options.  

If you had unlimited budget, there is probably an EV with a battery big enough to cover even your longest journey. You might not need the extra weight and expense of a large battery, and there are plenty of other options out there which will fit most people's journeys well.

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3. Heating

Why should heating be your top three? 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 if you hope to drive to the limits of your range regularly.

How an EV could change your driving:

You 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 longer motorway journeys. You will discover that this really impact how quickly you get there: driving for 50 miles at 75mph only saves you 6 minutes compared to cruising along at 65mph. A long car trip on a motorway is when mild speeding helps the least. For the maths behind this read more here.

Evolution of electric cars
An evolution of electric cars from the 1890s, to the G-Wiz, early Renault Zoe to the 2021 Megane

Will I lose money buying an electric car?

The resale values of electric cars are on the up. Electric cars are worth considerably more than their petrol counterparts after the typical ownership period of three years and 30,000 miles of driving.

Values are a product of restricted supply with increasing demand. Chris Plumb, the Cap hpi car resale expert's resident EV guru, told This is Money: '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.'

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 as early as 2024.

However, 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. Cheaper fuel, lower running costs, government grants and incentives all help make an electric car pay its way.

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