Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, with a combination of low running costs, longer driving ranges, and a greater choice of models. Not to mention the beneficial impact on the environment.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that current government policy is to steer consumers towards EVs and intends to ban the sale from new of petrol and diesel vehicles starting 2030.
However, questions remain for many as to whether an electric vehicle is right for them.
There are plenty of myths surrounding electric cars, and questions as to what they are, how they work, and what potential benefits they can bring? We answer all of these questions and more, giving you a good grounding in all things EV.
What is an electric car?
There are a few different varieties of electric vehicle, though the one most would think of as an electric car are those powered solely by electricity.
It’s not quite as simple as that however, with a number of new terms introduced to the motoring world that could be confusing for potential drivers.
Pure- or battery-electric vehicles (Pure-EVs/BEVs) are driven only by the car’s battery, which needs to be recharged to extend its range. Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) have a smaller battery, but gain support from a petrol or diesel engine, allowing drivers to cover short trips on electric power, and fall-back on fuel for longer runs.
The above are the two core types of EVs, though there are also hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs), which carry hydrogen in on-board tanks that’s converted to electricity, and these qualify under the definition of ‘electric vehicle’, though remain rare in the UK. Range-extended electric vehicles (REEV or REX) use a small engine, but this never powers the wheels, rather it acts as an on-board generator to recharge the battery on the move.
There are electrified vehicles as well, which include other hybrid models. Conventional hybrids (HEV) use a small battery and electric motor to aid a petrol or diesel engine, which undertakes most of the work. The aim here is to reduce how hard the engine works when under load. Mild hybrid (MHEV) models use what is effectively a larger starter motor to perform a similar task as a conventional hybrid, though with an even smaller battery and motor to improve overall efficiency.
What EVs are available to lease?
Electric cars are available across every category of car and van, ranging from tiny city cars to luxury saloons or SUVs. The likes of a Smart car or Honda e would suit city drivers, while there are models such as Renault’s Zoe, the Peugeot e-208, MINI Electric, and Vauxhall Corsa-e in the supermini class.
Family sized vehicles are covered by the likes of VW’s ID.3 hatch and ID.4 SUV, Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, the Kia e-Niro, and Hyundai Ioniq 5 - plus many more. Premium markets see Audi’s e-tron, the Mercedes Benz EQC, and Jaguar’s I-Pace available in the SUV sector, or Tesla’s Model 3 and Polestar 2 as saloon models.
Finally, luxury or performance models are available from the likes of Porsche with its Taycan, the Audi e-tron GT, Tesla Model S, and Mercedes-Benz EQS. There are more than 100 different models available, and increasing numbers have options in terms of battery (and therefore range) and power ratings.
Nissan’s Leaf the best-selling pure-electric car in the UK
What are the best-selling electric cars in the UK?
Nissan’s Leaf has been the long-term best-selling pure-electric car in the UK, having pioneered the market with its launch in 2011. Since then, the market has grown rapidly, and Tesla’s Model 3 is due to overtake the Leaf before the end of 2021.
Renault’s Zoe remains a popular choice and is one of the best-selling EVs both in the UK and Europe, as is Tesla’s Model S saloon. All but the Model 3 have been on sale for several years, so hold a decent lead over the rest of the market.
However, EVs such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro have quickly caught up, and models including Volkswagen’s ID. electric range and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E are winning customers over with a choice of models.
Lowering the cost of leasing EVs
A regular criticism aimed at electric cars is that they’re too expensive to buy. While prices are getting closer to comparable petrol or diesel models all the time, it’s true that EV prices are higher than those internal combustion engine (ICE) models.
There is a £2,500 Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) grant available for qualifying electric cars - effectively all pure-EVs and FCEVs that can cover at least 70 miles with zero-tailpipe emissions, and cost less than £35,000. There is also a grant for home charge points where these can be fitted, which takes £350 off the cost of a fully-installed unit.
The other point to consider is that, although the monthly lease rental of an electric car is often more expensive than a traditional petrol or diesel car, it’s overall running costs may well be lower thanks to the extremely low running costs of these vehicles. The team at Leasing Gorilla (call 01283 351201) will be able to explain this to you more fully.
Leasing an electric car is also an ideal way to get into the EV market, but without being hit by the higher upfront purchase price. It also allows you to avoid potential issues with depreciation due to the rapidly evolving technology since leasing passes that risk to others.
Charging an electric car
One of the most misunderstood parts of running an electric car is charging it. It’s understandable considering it is a new process for many. Typically an EV will come with two charging cables that deal with all eventualities. One will have a three-pin plug on the end, turning any domestic socket into a fuel station. The other will have a plug called Type 2, which fits most public charge points. Each will be fitted with the plug correct for the EV it comes with at the opposite end.
There are two main different types of charging - AC and DC. The former is used at home and most public charge points, requiring the Type 2 cable to be plugged into the unit and car. DC charging is used for rapid top-ups, where thicker cables capable of carrying more power are tethered to the charge point itself.
A Renault Zoe with its 50 kWh battery would take around 20 hours for a full charge from a three-pin plug, but it’s recommended for regular charging to use a dedicated wall unit. These are generally available with two different power levels for home use, the higher of which will recharge the Zoe in around seven hours for a 0-100% charge.
Rapid charging is calculated to 80%, because the high speeds involved mean it’s more efficient and extends battery safety. After this point it will still charge, though at a lessening rate. With the Zoe, a rapid charge will take around 45 minutes. All of the above times are quoted for a charge from 0%, which very rarely happens. Most drivers will charge from around 10% or more.
Many EV drivers plug their car in overnight, waking up the next day to a fully charged car. This is particularly easy for those with access to off-street parking at home, but it could just as easily be charged at a workplace for charging during the day. For many areas where off-street parking is limited, there is often good public infrastructure to use in a similar manner.
When driving longer distances, rapid charge points are spaced across the country. It’s worth checking potential routes before setting off to make sure there are charge points along or near your route. One of the best places to look for public charge points across the UK is Zap-Map.com.
Electric car running costs
Running an electric car is often cheaper than a petrol or diesel alternative. Charging can cost from only 5-8p/kWh at home if on an economy tariff, while the UK average electricity price is around 16p/kWh. (Sometimes it's even lower now that the utility companies are offering special EV charging structures that make use of low-use periods for charging.)
If we use one of those special EV tariffs as a guide - 5p/kWh - it would cost around £3.85 to fully charge a Volkswagen ID.3 with a 77 kWh battery (77 x 0.05). This would get the driver 340 miles of range. Put that alongside a comparable VW Golf able to return 54mpg, and to cover the same distance, it would cost about £38 in petrol at 135p/litre.
Many public points such as those at supermarkets or hotels are free to charge, but even when they are not, the price tends to be around 20p/kWh from smaller charge points. Those large, rapid chargers that can recharge a car in 20-40 minutes will often charge around 40p/kWh as a general guide.
Taxing an electric car
Electric vehicles are the cheapest models to tax, whether looking at car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty - VED) or company car tax (Benefit in Kind - BIK).
All pure-electric models cost nothing in terms of VED, either for the first year or ongoing rates. Zero-tailpipe emission models are also exempt from the Premium Rate, normally applied to any model costing £40,000 or more when new for years 2-6.
BIK rates are also the lowest around, and company car drivers can save thousands of pounds a year by switching to an electric car. BIK rates for the current financial year (21/22) are 1% for pure-EVs while a typical PHEV will be 11%. To compare, hybrids sit around 16% depending on the model, and a 100 g/km petrol model is 24% - with a 4% supplement for most diesels registered before 2021. Next financial year the rate for pure-EVs goes up, but to just 2%.
EV maintenance and reliability
Electric car maintenance costs are considerably lower than comparable petrol or diesel cars, in part due to the fact there are fewer moving parts in the motor than in an engine. Looking at pure-EVs, there is also no exhaust to wear out, no gearbox, clutch, starter motor, or most of the mechanical elements normally found under a bonnet.
Likewise, thanks to regenerative braking - slowing a car down by inverting the motor and charging the battery rather than drawing from it - brake wear is significantly less as well. Tyre wear is comparable or better than ICE models, even though an EV would typically be heavier, because efficient low-rolling resistance tyres are often fitted.
Electric cars require an annual MOT after three years of being on the road, just the same as other petrol or diesel models. They are covered under the same regulations regarding roadworthiness, and the same maximum test fee of £54.85 applies.
Electric car warranties and battery life
All major manufacturers offer the same warranty for an electric car as their petrol or diesel models - identical cover and for the same age or mileage restrictions.
The only difference is that manufacturers usually offer a separate drive battery warranty. This is largely to give greater peace of mind for the driver, and covers faults or a loss in charging capacity, typically should it drop to 75% or less of its original capacity.
These warranties tend to be for eight years or 100,000 miles, and very few batteries have ever been replaced under warranty simply because longevity and reliability has proven to be extremely good.
Insuring an electric car
Insuring an electric car is a very similar process as with ‘traditional’ vehicles. Policy costs tend to be a little higher overall for electric cars, mainly because of a relatively young market when it comes to certain parts and garages able to repair EVs.
However, this is often offset by the fact that EV buyers are looked on as being a little more responsible in general. Essentially, getting insurance for an electric car is no more difficult or expensive than an ICE model.
Many insurance policies can come with roadside assistance - though this can be picked from a different provider if preferred. Increasing numbers of breakdown service vehicles have the equipment and expertise to get electric vehicle drivers to safety, including on-board chargers, or equipment to tow them to the nearest charge point should the car run out of charge.
What’s an EV like to drive?
Electric cars are broadly similar to ICE models, but different in a number of key areas. There are no gears to deal with, so those familiar with driving an automatic will quickly feel at home. Throttle response is instant as well, with many electric cars leading their classes in acceleration times.
Braking can be carried out in the same way as ‘normal’ cars, but EVs also feature brake energy recuperation, which uses the energy that would normally be lost under braking to charge the battery. It means some EVs can be driven using ‘one-pedal’, slowing significantly or even to a complete stop by simply lifting off the throttle - naturally the brake pedal is there as normal and can be used when required.
Handling is essentially the same as many will be used to coming from an ICE car. There is added weight because of the large battery, though this is often placed in the floor of the car, lowering the centre of gravity and aiding agility.
The biggest difference most notice is the noise, or rather lack of it. Driving off is almost silent, apart from the generated noise created by the car at low speeds to allow pedestrians to hear the car coming. At higher speeds, there is wind and tyre noise as you would get from an ICE car, but little motor noise.
Electric cars can now cover significant distances on a single charge. The idea that EVs can only go a short distance is a myth and, as a general rule, compact cars can comfortably cover 150-200 miles, family cars often reach 250 miles or more, and premium models regularly top 300 miles on a charge.
There are models with ranges shorter or longer than the above guides, but there is a wide choice across each class, with a variety of driving ranges and power outputs to pick from.
Plenty of factors impact driving range, from the types of road travelled on to the environment. Batteries don’t like cold weather, and an EV’s battery is no different, so it won’t work as well in winter. High speeds will hit range as well, but conversely, EVs are ideal for urban traffic. This allows the stop start nature to aid efficiency with brake energy recuperation helping extend range.
Should the worst happen and an EV runs out of charge, there is no great need to panic - stressful as the situation no doubt would be. The car doesn’t need resetting, rather simply transporting to a charge point and plugging in. Many breakdown services are now beginning to equip their patrols with kerbside emergency electricity boosters which will supply you with sufficient range to reach a charging point.
Can you use an electric car in the rain?
An electric vehicle (EV) can be driven in any weather, in the same manner as a driver would head out in a petrol or diesel model. The electrical systems are sealed and insulated against the elements, though EVs will still struggle in extreme weather as any vehicle would.
Can you recharge an EV in the rain?
As with the electric motor and battery, the systems required to charge an EV are weather-proof within reason. Taking a cable out of the boot and plugging it into a car will cause no issues with charging, no matter the weather.
Can I drive an EV in winter?
Electric cars can be driven in all sorts of weather, though cold temperatures will impact driving range. Batteries work poorly when cold, so the indicated driving range in an EV will be lower in winter than in summer. Certain technologies counter this, with heat pumps able to warm up batteries, mitigating this impact, though these use some energy to do so.
How much does a home EV charge point cost?
Prices vary depending on supplier, but around £459 would comfortably cover a 7.2kW home charging unit. This includes the £350 government grant, which requires a certified electrician to fully install the charge point.
How long to EV batteries last?
Battery longevity is something the industry initially underestimated. Early EVs were offered with a battery leasing model in case the cells didn’t last a long time - leaving it to the manufacturer to bear the brunt of replacing them. However, reliable and long-lasting batteries have seen this model abandoned, and manufacturers instead offer a lengthy battery warranty. This is often for eight years/100,000 miles, and few batteries have been replaced because of a lack of longevity or due to failures.
Where can I charge an electric car?
Most drivers charge at home or at work, convenient and familiar spots. There will likely be public charge points close by as well, and these can be found using maps such as Zap-Map.com, Wattsup, or even Google and Apple maps.
Are EVs safe to drive?
Electric cars are tested to the same standards as any other, and many have high scores from independent safety body EuroNCAP.
Can someone steal a charging cable from an electric car?
Charging cables are locked at both ends, preventing someone from stealing them. When charging, the cable locks at the charge point, and again when the car is locked. Even should one unlock - such as a completed charging session - the cable will still be attached.
Can I tow with an electric car?
Most EVs aren’t rated for towing, as the mounting points for a towbar aren’t available because of the position of the car’s battery. Having said that, some EVs can now tow, and although they tend to have low weight limits, can tow a small trailer or similar. Accessories such as roof racks and cycle carriers can often be bought for EVs as well as other cars.
How can I access a public EV charge point?
All UK public charge points require ad hoc access by law, allowing anyone to come along and use them without becoming a customer first. This means that although many charging network operators offer the use of RFID cards and apps, any driver can arrive at a point and start charging relatively easily. Most networks allow ad hoc access through a smartphone app, with the customer inputting a name, email address, and payment method (typically bank card), before being able to start and stop a charge. Most rapid charge points now offer contactless bank card access as well, allowing a driver to tap for payment as they would paying for other goods or services.
Do I need to keep the battery constantly topped up?
No you don’t. Most users let the battery charge run down to about 20% before re-charging when they know they will need it for a journey. The notion that EV drivers are constantly looking for charging points is a myth.
Are there manual versions of EVs?
No, all electric vehicles are automatic only. When you want to reverse, the electric motor simply spins in the opposite direction. Software limits how fast an EV can travel in reverse.