Electric car buying guide

electric car buying guide

With several new electric models confirmed to arrive in the UK over the coming year, the future promises to be an exciting one for electric car buyers. Now, buying an electric car is a real option for an large number of UK motorists.

This buying guide provides an overview of the key issues to consider when looking to buy an electric vehicle; which include whether an EV is right for you, the availability and choice of electric models, and the impact on vehicle ownership and running costs.

Who should buy an electric car?

There are three key issues that determine whether a battery electric car is right for you: Do you have access to off-street parking? Is your daily mileage under 150 miles? And are you looking to buy a new, nearly-new, or used car?

First, you need to have access to a garage, drive or other off-street parking area to be able to recharge an electric car overnight, the most common form of recharging method. Research suggests that around 80% of UK car-owning households already have access to a garage or other off-street parking facility (<50% urban, 70% sub-urban, and >95% rural). It is worth remembering that there is help available for those who would like to install an EV charging point in their home.

While it is never advisable to trail an electric cable across pavements or other public areas to connect a car parked on-street with your household electricity supply, if on-street parking is the only possibility, all is not lost. Government funding allows householders to apply for a public on-street charge point close to where they live. Interested homeowners should contact their local authority who can apply for funding on their behalf and manage the installation.

Second, your driving mileage needs to be less than around 100-150 miles per day - depending on the EV you are looking at - preferably on regular routes that you know well. For example, regular commuting trips are well suited to electric cars – around two-thirds of commuting trips are less than 10 miles and, most significantly, they are routine journeys for which the driver knows what to expect with respect to distance, route, congestion, road conditions and parking.

Third, there are no bargain-basement EVs on the market yet, so you will need to have a budget of around £5,000 at a minimum really to afford one. The electric vehicle market is still fairly young, and only now are we seeing EVs on the used car market that are more than five years old. As such, EVs still command a small premium over conventionally-powered vehicles, because of their relative scarcity. Factor in the significantly reduced running costs though, and they easily still make financial sense.

Most EV buyers will be looking at new or nearly new models, though the EV premium is still applicable here. Build costs are tumbling for EVs however, so prices are coming down all the time despite driving ranges improving. It means EVs are offering increasingly good value for money, and are practical propositions for a large number of new car buyers.

What models are available now?

Although electric vehicles have been available for decades, only in the past 10 years or so have the major manufacturers invested in high quality electric models. This has involved increasing driving range and reducing vehicle price, while recharging infrastructure has been - and is continuing to be - developed across the UK.

The key year was 2011 when the EV revolution truly began; as can be seen by the number of electric and plug-in hybrid models available in the UK. While only 9 EVs were available from the major manufacturers in 2011, this increased to 18 models in 2013, and now stands at more than 0 high-quality cars and vans, with more models due for launch this year and next.

Models such as the Renault Zoe, Nissan's Leaf and the BMW i3 have helped introduce EV motoring to the public, proving that reliable cars from major manufacturers can be a viable alternative to conventionally fuelled vehicles. Now there are around 150,000 plug-in vehicles on UK roads with more models being confirmed all the time.

Use the electric vehicle search for a list of all the electric cars and vans available in the UK.

Click here to search for available electric models

The cost of buying an electric car

In general, electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than their petrol or diesel equivalents. However, since 2011 the Plug-in Car and Plug-in Van Grants have subsidised the purchase of eligible cars, currently up to a maximum of £4,500; for vans, the amount is up to 20% up to a maximum of £8,000. These are fixed until at least October 2018, though the Plug-in Car Grant in general is guaranteed in some form or other until at least 2020.

From 1st March 2016, the current system of Plug-in Vehicle Grants was introduced. While the grants still represent a significant subsidy, they are less than the £5,000 previously available for eligible plug-in vehicles. What was once a flat rate across the two main technology types - pure electric and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles - the grant is now divided into two levels of support. Essentially pure EVs receive £4,500 off the cost of a new model, while PHEVs are eligible for a grant of £2,500, as long as they meet range, emissions, and cost restrictions.

The current PiCG rates are awarded using an EV classification system, each EV being classed depending on the level of CO2 emissions and the EV-only capable range:
Category 1: CO2 emissions <50g/km and a zero emission range of at least 70 miles
Category 2: CO2 emissions <50g/km and a zero emission range between 10 and 69 miles
Category 3: CO2 emissions of 50-75g/km and a zero emission range of at least 20 miles

Category 1 vehicles benefit from the full £4,500 grant while Category 2 and 3 vehicles receive £2,500. The current grant scheme will run until October 2018.

A price cap was also introduced in March 2016. Category 2 and 3 models with a list price of more than £60,000 will not be eligible for the PiCG, though all Category 1 vehicles will be able to have the full PiCG no matter what their cost.

Both private car buyers and fleets are eligible to receive the grants, which are administered by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) – no application forms are required as the dealership completes all the necessary paperwork on the buyer's behalf and the grant is automatically deducted from the vehicle price at the point of purchase.

As EVs tend to have a high purchase price but low running costs, leasing may be a better proposition. It removes some of the uncertainty about the resale value after 3-4 years - although this uncertainty is reflected in the leasing prices which tend to be a little higher than for similar conventional cars. The market is trusting EV values more and more though. Where some models like the Zoe and Leaf were available with battery leasing plans, this policy is increasingly being abandoned as batteries are proving extremely reliable.

Our available models page shows both the OTR purchase price and a guide lease price; if you are interested in leasing an EV, you can get a personal quote from our green car leasing partner.

Electric car running costs

Three significant financial incentives significantly reduce the costs of running an electric car or van: Zero-rated car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty); Zero-rated fuel tax (electricity also only attracts 5% VAT for private use); and the Ultra Low Emission Discount Scheme (ULED) which effectively exempts EVs from paying the London Congestion Charge and any forthcoming Clean Air Zone charges.

While electric vehicles may be more expensive to buy or lease, electric cars and vans are the only vehicles exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty ('car tax'). Changes to the car tax system from April 2017 have put a greater emphasis on zero-emission electric vehicles, with nothing to pay for the First Year Rate or Standard Rate. Only EVs with a list price of £40,000 or more will be charged anything to tax, coming under the Premium Rate rules, but these only apply for years two to six of the vehicle's registered life. Owners of electric vehicles will therefore save £140 per year compared to conventional petrol or diesel cars, and even £130 over plug-in hybrid models.

Fuel costs are also very low due to the competitive price of electricity (fuel duty is zero-rated) and to the high efficiency of the vehicles themselves – fuel costs can be as low as 3p per mile (depending on tariff). For an annual mileage of around 10,000 miles, switching from a conventional to an electric car or van could save you around £800 in fuel costs alone. To see how much you could save in fuel bills compared to petrol or diesel cars, visit our Fuel Cost Calculator.

For drivers in and around London, the other major running cost to consider is the Congestion Charge. All electric cars are currently eligible for the Ultra Low Emission Discount Scheme on the London Congestion Charge and T-Charge, giving them a 100% discount (although vehicles need to be registered and pay an annual £10 fee). With a standard £11.50 Congestion Charge and £10 T-Charge payable daily without the discount, this could provide potential annual savings of thousands of pounds.

Electric car charging

As previously mentioned, in most cases, electric vehicles are most suitable for people who have reliable access to charging facilities at home or at work. When travelling further afield, electric vehicle users will need to rely on the growing public charging network.

Public charging networks offer a mix of slow, fast and rapid charging points operated by either a national or regional network, the largest of which include: ChargeMaster POLAR, Ecotricity, Source London, ChargePoint Scotland, Plugged-in Midlands, Northern Ireland, Charge Your Car, InstaVolt, and POD Point. Once a member, EV users have access to all charge points in networks with which they are registered.

For further information on all the network operators across the UK, including area of operation, costs and access arrangements visit the Zap-Map public charging guide.

Click here to explore Zap-Map
Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:30th May 2018

Latest electric car news