Electric cars – the ultimate guide

There’s little doubt that electric cars (also known as EVs) will transform the car industry and will begin to dominate our roads in years to come. In this guide we take you through everything you need to know about electric cars.

Recent studies in the Journal of Applied Energy have proven that electric cars are now cheaper to run than their fossil fuel alternatives and can outperform them too.

Electric and AFVs (Alternative Fuel Vehicles) can not only go as fast as most supercars, but are also vastly more energy efficient than their fossil fuel equivalents.

This guide covers electric car ownership in general, but if you need to know more specifically about selling an electric car, we focus purely on selling in our other guide called how to sell an electric car. And if you’re ready to sell your electric car, you can start selling on Motorway now.

Read on for a deep dive into things to understand about owning an electric car…

electric car charging
Park up, plug in and re-charge your electric car. The future is now!

Modern electric cars can travel up to 670 miles on one charge, so bearing in mind the average car journey in the UK is just nine miles, a full charge will last most car drivers many weeks or even months. 

And with the UK Government having already announced that high-polluting diesel cars will not be welcome in London by 2021, at the end of 2020 it was announced that, as part of a proposed ‘green industrial revolution’, there would be an outright ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK from 2030. One thing is clear…

The future is green, the future is electric!

In this electric cars ultimate guide we’ll look at the following:

  1. How electric cars work
  2. How much is an electric car?
  3. Cost of running an electric car
  4. Electric cars pros and cons
  5. How much is car tax (VED) for an electric car?
  6. Electric car insurance UK
  7. How do you charge an electric car?
  8. How many miles can an electric car go? (how far you can drive without stopping)?
  9. How fast are electric cars? 
  10. Are electric cars better for the environment?

The rise of electric cars

Believe it or not, electric cars have been around since the early 1800s but they have never quite taken off. Why is this? Simple. They have been totally outperformed on almost every measure by petrol and diesel alternatives.

Electric cars used to be too inefficient, expensive to run, slow, and simply not comparable to other models in terms of performance. Well not anymore.

It’s likely you’ve been seeing more and more electric cars on the roads in recent times. Maybe the successful BMW i3 or a Tesla? But buying one is often a step into the unknown for most motorists.

With electric vehicles becoming a viable option for more and more motorists every year, we wanted to shine some light on the topic. We hope this ‘ultimate guide’ will help you get your head around all things electric and possibly even persuade you to make the jump to an AFV yourself!

How do electric cars work?

So how do electric cars really work? Well instead of burning a fossil fuel like diesel or petrol, they run on electricity that you use to charge an internal battery. Recent improvements in battery technology have given electric cars the edge they desperately needed in order to compete with their fossil fuel cousins.

Most EVs (electric vehicles) these days utilise a high voltage lithium-ion battery. Unlike the batteries in most cars, which are primarily used to power things like the radio and start the engine, the battery in an electric car runs everything including the motor.

If you are interested in digging deeper into electric car batteries and have questions like: what voltage are electric cars? We’d highly recommend having a read of Howstuffwork’s guide to how electric cars work.

electric car
The inner workings of the BMW i3 all electric car

Only a few years ago EVs were for enthusiasts or environmentalists. They were slow, they were expensive and they took hours to charge. Not anymore.

Experts expect that soon you will be able to recharge your electric car ‘to full’ in the time it takes to drink a coffee.   

This is all possible because of advances in battery technology. Lithium-ion batteries have a very high energy density and are less likely to lose their charge when not in use. This is known as self-discharge.

They are also lightweight, so great to have under the bonnet or chassis. The latest batteries can provide up to 620 miles on one full charge!

How much is an electric car?

So do electric cars save money for those in the UK? Well, a study conducted in 2015 revealed that the total cost of owning and running an electric car over four years worked out cheaper than a fossil fuel vehicle. This cost will more than likely have come down much further with modern efficiencies. So in short, yes – the cost of running an electric car vs petrol works out cheaper.

This is currently due to government grants and subsidies. However, 2020 is set to be the year electric vehicles become cheaper to run overall – without these subsidies.

In 2015, the latest year analysed, the cost of owning and running an electric vehicle was 10% lower than petrol or diesel equivalents. The study took into account initial cost, ongoing depreciation, fuel, taxation, insurance, and maintenance involved with owning an electric car.

This cost will have decreased further (with subsidies still available), making electric cars a very appealing option for those looking to save cash for the long term.

How much do electric cars cost initially? (Government grants on electric vehicles)

The initial cost of AFVs has dropped significantly in recent times due to the upscaling of production by most of the big carmakers, lower battery prices in the market, and government grants and subsidies.

The UK Government’s ‘plug-in’ grants will pay for 35% of the purchase on certain vehicles, up to a maximum of £3,000.

Costs vary hugely, but at the time of writing (January 2021), the cheapest model is the Smart ForTwo EQ which will set you back around £17,500 (with government grants).

The UK’s most popular electric, the Nissan Leaf will set you back around £26,845 while the most expensive Teslas are upwards of £100,000. You can find a list of vehicles eligible for grants here.

Are electric cars worth it? Pros and Cons

There are many advantages to owning an electric car. The key advantage has to be the cost of fuel but there are also many other benefits. Here are Motorway’s top 6…

1) Fuel is up to 5 times cheaper

Electricity for your car will cost you up to 5 times less than fuel for your petrol/diesel car.

2) Government grants are available

£3,000 grants are available from the UK Government to help with the initial cost.

3) They are better for the environment

They don’t use fossil fuels and therefore have a much smaller carbon footprint than their fuel-based cousins.

4) You pay no tax

There’s no road tax to pay (VED) in the UK for electric vehicles unless they cost over £40,000

5) They are fun to drive

Electric car motors are fundamentally different from the internal combustion engine and this makes for a totally novel driving experience. Acceleration is often much quicker.

6) Quieter driving experience

Electric engines don’t have any fuel to burn and combust, this makes them a lot quieter to drive.

What are the main disadvantages of owning an electric car?

Though we’ve been singing electric’s praises throughout this article, there are some downsides to ownership.

1) You have to wait for them to charge

Depending on the type of charger you are using (and the size of your car’s battery), it can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 12 hours.

2) Insurance is more expensive

Electric car owners can expect to pay around £330 a year more for their insurance than fuel-based vehicle owners.

3) Maintenance is more expensive

Many mechanics and engineers simply aren’t trained and don’t have the necessary knowledge required to repair an electric vehicle. Yet.

4) Higher initial cost

The Volkswagen Up! Petrol model will set you back £13,105 for the most basic model. The e-up starts at £23,555, nearly double.

5) They weigh more

These vehicles rely totally on the battery, these are often large and linked together in arrays or packs. This can weigh a lot and reduce the car’s range.

How much is car tax (VED) on electric cars?

It’s important to remember that all fully electric vehicles are totally exempt from vehicle excise duties (also known as car tax, or simply VED). This exemption is in place as long as the new list price of the vehicle is less than £40,000.

Hybrid vehicles (a mixture of electric and fuel) will be tax-free as long as they have zero C02 emissions.

If you live in London you won’t have to pay the congestion charge at all on an electric vehicle. At up to £14 a day, you could save up to a whopping £2,900 a year by switching to electric.

Furthermore, any electricity that is used to recharge an electric vehicle at home attracts a reduced rate of VAT (5%) as opposed to the full 20% VAT. You can learn more about tax breaks for electric vehicles in the Government’s document regarding tax benefits for low emissions vehicles.

How much is Insurance for electric cars in the UK?

Insurance is an area where traditional fuel-based vehicles win on cost. A recent study by Compare The Market found that electric car owners can expect to pay around £330 a year more than fuel-based vehicles.

The study found that while the average car insurance premium stands at £740, an electric alternative costs £1,070 to cover a year. The savings you can make elsewhere, particularly on fuel should easily offset this additional cost.

How much are maintenance costs for electric cars?

The Energy Saving Trust claims that as electric cars have fewer parts, they should in theory be cheaper to repair. However, this is often not the case as many mechanics and engineers simply aren’t trained and don’t have the necessary knowledge required to repair an electric vehicle.

It is for this reason, as well as the fact that the technology is moving forward so quickly, that electric vehicles can often work out to be more expensive to maintain.

electric car repair
Electric cars tend to be more expensive to repair

How much do charging stations for electric cars cost? Calculate electric car charging costs.

Going electric will save most car owners a lot of money on fuel costs.

Many estimates consider the cost of charging your electric car to be around five times cheaper than using a petrol or diesel car fuel equivalent. You can also charge your electric at home, meaning you never need to go to the petrol station again!

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that charging your car from home costs around £2 to £4 for every 100 miles.

If you would like to learn more about exactly how to calculate your electric car charging cost, we highly recommend you read this article from the EV Charging Solutions website.

How much do electric cars cost to run?

In conclusion, we think an electric car should work out cheaper to run overall, but it all depends on how much you are using the car and the particular vehicle you are looking at. It’s always best to do the calculations for your own requirements.

If you’re based in London and drive into the centre on a regular basis, then an electric car is a no-brainer due to huge savings on the congestion charge, you’ll also find free parking spaces and charging points for your electric.

However, before taking the plunge, we strongly suggest taking a look at some of the grants and subsidies provided by the UK Government, as these can help you to save even more money. 

How do electric cars charge?

Charging electric vehicles is often a worry for many potential EV owners and the process is frequently misunderstood. But don’t fear, it’s all pretty simple. When it comes to charging your EV you have two options:

A) Charge your car at home

B) Charge your car at a public charging point.

electric car charging socket
Cable up and charge! No more fuel caps, no more pollution

How do I charge my electric car at home? (home charging stations)

Most EV owners opt for charging at home, that’s going to be the best option if you have a drive or on-street parking outside your home. If you don’t have on-street parking at home then you may want to see the section below on charging whilst on the road.

There are two ways to charge your electric car from home.

Charge via the mains, like you would your mobile phone (this is slow)

Charge via a specialist home charging point (this is fast!)

Charging via the mains (3 pin)

All electric vehicles come with the correct cables and accessories to allow you to charge your car from home via the mains right off the bat. One end goes into the mains with a normal plug, just like the one on your kettle.

The other end goes into the charge point on your vehicle. This is known as ‘Trickle Charging’ and it can be slow.

For example, charging a Nissan LEAF to full (The UK’s most popular EV) could take between 12-15 hours.

With an upgraded 7KW charging point, you can get your charging time down to 4-5 hours.

The Nissan Leaf (20kWh battery model) will get you a range of around 107 miles on a full charge, although this can vary depending on speed and driving conditions.  

Charging with a home charging station

Having a home charging unit can decrease the time it takes to charge your EV by up to 10 times! They also increase safety as there is no need for cable trailing around your house.

You simply order one and have it installed at a dedicated point (often outside and near to where you park your car at night). 

The downside is that they have an initial installation cost of up to £1000, although you can get £500 off with the government’s OLEV grant. 

dedicated electric car charging points
Your dedicated electric car charging point will look something like this!

There are many variations available on the market. Which one you choose will depend on the vehicle you own. Pod Point, a popular seller for home charging points, offer three options: 3.6kW, 7kW, and 22kW.

The higher the kW, the faster your battery will charge. You will need to check whether your electric car is compatible with high kW charging before deciding which option to go for.

You can use the Pod Point website’s tool to help you find out which charging point it right for a particular vehicle.

In the example below I have selected my car, a Tesla Model S (I wish!) and then selected the option with a cable.

It then shows me that my particular EV will work with the highest kW charger available (22kW) and will charge to full in 4 hours.

Pretty swift considering the Model S can do around 310 miles on a full charge. By our maths, a ½ hour charge would give you an estimated 38.75 miles of driving. More than enough!

pod point car charging points
Pod Point is one of the most popular options for dedicated car charging points

How do I charge my electric car at public charging points and stations in the UK? (and where to find them)

If you need to charge your EV away from home there are plenty of charging points around the UK. Zap-Map provides a great map tool for locating your nearest charging point.

You can just click on a particular point to see information about who is providing the power and any costs. They also have a very handy app. As you can see from the image below there are already plenty of options all over the UK!

Pro tip: many electric cars now come with a smart GPS that will direct you to the nearest charging point.

electric car charging points
Source: Zap-Map.com

With the Government having announced it will spend
£400m on a national charging network, this infrastructure is only set to grow. Most charging points these days provide free ‘slow’ charging but many different providers may ask you to pay for ‘fast’ or ‘rapid’ charging.

Some providers may also require you to download an app or start a subscription to access charging. Polar, the largest charging provider, charges around £8 a month to become a member of. This will give you free charging at 80% of its stations.

You can find more information about the different charging providers and costing over on Zap-Map. It’s worth remembering that charging points will be far more ubiquitous in urban areas and more sparse out in the sticks!  

How do I charge an electric car at service stations? (and petrol stations)

The number of rapid charging points at service stations is increasing every day and the trend is only set to continue; especially with big players like Shell starting to compete by introducing electric charging points at their petrol stations.

The only provider of charging points at service stations on the UK’s motorways is Ecotricity. They currently provide around 145 public stations and 300 individual chargers at motorway and A-road services across the UK. They charge around £6 for a 30 minute ‘rapid’ charge. That will get you to 80% on most EVs. Just make sure that your particular vehicle is compatible with connectors available on site.

You can find out which connectors are available on both the Zap-Map website and Ecotricity’s site just by selecting the charging point you want to visit.

Pro tip: if you get your household supply from Ecotricity, you’ll get 52 free charges a year!

ecotricity sockets
Source: https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-the-road/our-electric-highway

What are Tesla charging stations? (Tesla supercharger network)

Tesla Supercharger network
Take your pick of Tesla and enjoy the benefits of the Tesla Supercharger network

Tesla now have their own charging infrastructure, for Tesla cars only, in place across the UK and around the world.

The Supercharger network is the fastest in the UK with speeds of up to 120kW available (more than twice as fast as your standard public charger). It will take around 30 minutes to get to 80% charge.

They operate two different networks, Supercharger (for rapid charging on the UK’s major roads) and Destination (for charging in towns/cities and places drivers are likely to spend their time). Destination charges are free to use by all Tesla owners.

Each year, all Tesla owners receive 400 kWh of credit for the Supercharger network absolutely free. That’s enough to drive about 1,000 miles. This could mean totally free travel (in terms of fuel) on long-distance journeys for most owners. 1,000 miles of additional charging cost will set you back £60, not bad considering the equivalent cost in fuel would be £158!

If you ordered your Tesla before 15th January 2017 charging on the network is free 100% of the time.

Touchscreen navigation systems inside every Tesla model can navigate you to the nearest Supercharger station or unit. Simply enter a destination on your touchscreen and ‘Trip Planner’ will give you the best route through Superchargers along the way.

You won’t need a smartphone app or card to charge your Tesla at a Supercharger or Destination point. The unit will communicate with the car to make sure the vehicle is a Tesla before allowing you to charge. Below is a map of all the charging points currently in the UK (Supercharger in Red, Destination in Grey).

Tesla charging network (January 2018)
Map of Tesla charging points across the UK – the number is growing all the time

How may miles can electric cars go without stopping?

With the majority of new AFVs able to travel for around 150 miles between charges (and some claiming they can even do 620), range anxiety won’t be a problem for most motorists.

Charging infrastructure is also growing rapidly, so if you’re in a town or city it shouldn’t be hard to find somewhere to park and charge your car if you run out rage. 

Range can also be extended if you drive efficiently. This is similar to petrol and diesel vehicles. If you keep the pedal to the metal for long periods, do fast starts and lots of stop-starting, your battery will run down faster.

How do I get the maximum range from an electric car?

Maintain momentum

Read the road ahead and reduce unnecessary acceleration and breaking.

Avoid braking harshly

Regenerative braking is a key feature with EVs. When you lift your foot from the accelerator, resistance (kinetic energy) is created, this is then used to recharge the battery while you drive. Harsh braking will reduce this process and lead to your battery running down faster than it might usually. 

 Keep it slow and steady

High speeds will increase energy consumption more in an electric vehicle than it will do in a traditional petrol/diesel model. This is because EVs don’t have gears and the energy saved by driving at high speeds in a high gear won’t apply to an electric.

Be conservative with the heating and air-con

Heating and air conditioning can add up to 10% on the total amount of energy withdrawn from the battery on an EV. Air conditioning will use up less power but if you’re travelling at low speeds it may save you a few quid to open the window instead!

Know your vehicle’s eco features

Lots of the latest EVs come with features that can save you power and money, so make sure to read the handbook for your model for specific information.

How fast are electric cars?

To many people’s surprise, electric cars are often faster off the mark than their fuel-based counterparts. This is not because they are more powerful per se but because the power is available earlier than a fuel-based vehicle.

The Tesla Roadster claims to hit 0-60mph in 1.9 seconds and 0-100mph in 4.2 seconds (times achieved by F1 cars), a quarter of a mile takes just 8.9 seconds. That’s the fastest time ever recorded for a production car!  This would embarrass most Lambos, Ferraris, and Porsche’s from a standing start. Top speed isn’t an issue either, with the Roadster coming in at 250Mph.

Generally though top speeds are slightly lower on most electric models, though the cars will be much quicker on acceleration.

A good demonstration of electric cars being quicker off the line but slower at top speed, check out this amazing video of a Tesla Model S vs the Mclaren 720S.

What are hybrid cars?

Hybrid cars use more than one means of propulsion. This means combining a petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor. They consume less fuel and emit less C02 than a comparable petrol/diesel model.

This means they are generally cheaper to run! You’ll also benefit from lower first-year VED (road tax) as well as avoiding congestion charges.

Toyota Prius hybrid electric car
The Toyota Prius, one of the most ubiquitous hybrid car models on the road

An extremely popular hybrid model is the Toyota Prius. It uses either its electric motor only, the petrol/diesel engine, or both at any one time.

The Prius is used by many Uber drivers in urban centres, as it’s very economical for city driving. When going at low speeds with lots of stop-starting, only the electric motor is used.

With hybrids you are getting the best of both worlds, you get some of the tax benefits associated with electrics and the performance and range associated with petrol/diesel models. They are especially great for those that drive in town most of the time. 

Unlike electric cars, the downside of hybrids is they still pollute (although not as much as standard petrol/ diesel cars).

That said, the range of hybrid cars is growing all the time.

Are electric cars better for the environment?

Electric cars still use electricity that may have been produced by burning fossil fuels, but estimates suggest that even if this is the case, they still produce less than half of the emissions an internal combustion engine produces.

If the electricity is produced by nuclear or hydropower the emissions produced can be as little as 1% of the internal combustion engine.  It is for this reason that we can safely say electric cars are MUCH better for the environment!

Thinking of selling your car to buy an electric?

Consider your options with our handy car selling guides and pages: