Should you buy an electric car?

6 min | 20 May 2022

Janice Warman

We'd all like our cars to be kinder to the planet. You could consider switching to an electric or hybrid car. We guide you through the maze of choices, including whether to buy, lease or hire, where to charge, and how much it will cost you. New petrol and diesel cars can only be bought up to 2030, so it might be time to think about making the change.

I have a car I love very much. It’s an ancient black classic convertible that sometimes leaks in the winter. And it is most definitely the last petrol car I’m ever going to own – because it’s time to go electric.

If you feel the same, there are some questions you need to ask yourself first. The first one is – do you actually need a car of your own? If you live in the countryside or a village and can’t depend on public transport, the answer is likely to be yes.

If you live in a city or a large town with good public transport, the answer is more likely to be no. You could rent an electric car by the day when you need it. There are low-cost alternatives to conventional car hire companies, including car-sharing clubs, which may offer electric vehicles in the UK. 

If you decide to buy, questions to ask include:

How much will it cost to charge my car?

It can be free to charge at many kerbside points in cities, supermarket car parks and petrol stations. And of course, you can charge your car at home, if you have parking outside. But some places do charge. For example, some public rapid chargers can cost between £6-£7 for 30 minutes of charging, which will give you about a 100 miles' range. If you charge your car at home, the cost will be added to your electricity bill. Charging an EV costs £500-£830 a year, if done mainly at home on a standard tariff, compared with the annual average fuel cost of £1,306-£1,916 for medium to large petrol or diesel cars.

Is there an adequate nationwide charging network?

The UK government plans to mandate electric car chargers in every new home built from next year. But there is still a lack of electric charging points across the country, and for many people, the driving range of an electric car is still a sticking point. The average is around 200 miles according to the Electric Vehicle Database, which gives a full list of ranges by car model (Opens in new window).

Should I choose a hybrid?

This is the conservative choice for now. It means that you will never be stranded for lack of a charging point, as long as you keep your fuel tank topped up. The technology is proven, and there are second-hand vehicles available. Although new petrol and diesel cars can only be bought up to 2030, hybrid cars can be bought up to 2035.

How does the cost compare to a petrol or diesel car?

Electric cars from new are generally more expensive on a like-by-like basis. But if you’d be happy with a small car, there can be good options available. Once you have your car, maintenance costs will be low. You will be free of road tax and high fuel costs, but insurance can be more expensive, as the large batteries and other parts in your new car are more costly to replace if they fail.

Another saving if you drive in London is that you will be free of the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) payments imposed on petrol and diesel cars. Birmingham’s low emission zone affects some cars, while LEZ zones in Glasgow and Bath currently only affect buses and transport vehicles, but not yet cars. Other low emissions zones are planned.

Should I lease instead?

You could consider leasing an electric car, which will free you of battery failure worries. Also, this means that as the technology advances, you are likely to benefit from driving a newer car, because it's easier to swap to leasing a newer model.

How green is the charging of electric cars?

The ‘long tailpipe’ theory argues that using electric vehicles does not always result in fewer emissions, compared to those from non-electric vehicles as emissions are simply shifted to the power plant, and coal is even more polluting than oil.  However, power generation is done at scale, at upward of 60% efficiency, and is far more efficient than many small Original Equipment Manufacturer car engines. A Medium (Opens in new window) article on the ‘long tailpipe’ theory shows that because the grid is getting cleaner every year, it means an EV gets cleaner as time goes by.

To compare the running costs of your petrol or diesel car to an electric car, you can use this calculator at Electric Together (Opens in new window)

Electric car ownership is gaining momentum

Norway currently has the highest proportion of electric vehicles and aims to be the first country to end all petrol and diesel car sales by 2025. By exempting battery electric vehicles from taxes applying to internal combustion engines, it hopes to reach 80% of sales in 2022.

People in the UK are switching to electric too. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that petrol cars made up less than half of new car purchases in December 2021. In 2021, new electric cars made up 26% of all sales, up from just 3% of new sales two years ago. And more electric vehicles were registered in 2021 than over the past five years combined.

There is some concern about whether the UK’s charging infrastructure will grow fast enough to meet demand, as ministers want more electric cars on the road by 2030, when sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned. But government grants for buying electric cars under £32,000 have been cut from £2,500 to £1,500. (Grants for wheelchair accessible vehicles remain at £2,500 for cars up to £35,000.)

I’d regarded my policy of buying older petrol cars and running them into the ground as greener than buying a new car every two years. However, I’m beginning the search for my next car – one that’s hopefully kinder to the planet when driven regularly.

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