Electric cars – should you buy or sell?

Considering which fuel type will be best for your next car purchase? We cover questions around buying a diesel or petrol car in other guides, but with the 2030 switchover looming, it could be time to consider buying an electric car. Is now the time to make the switch? We cover everything you need to consider in this guide.

There’s so much talk in the media of the country going carbon neutral over the next few decades, with bans on fossil-fuelled vehicles nearing the horizon it’s hard to know what the best course of action is for your next car purchase.

charging an electric car
Switching to a plug-in vehicle is a big decision.

While electrics can cost a lot more than their petrol or diesel counterparts, and while most are lacking the same range we can get out of a quick fill-up, EVs offer a great, potentially cheaper way to get around – especially for short journeys.

With many more cities looking at including congestion and emissions charging as well as Birmingham’s clean air zone and ULEZ in London, it could well make sense to start thinking of the EV route.

So, should you buy an electric car over a diesel, petrol or even a hybrid?

Should I buy or sell an electric car explained:

  1. When does an EV make sense?
  2. Should I switch to an EV?
  3. Should I sell my electric car?
  4. How far can electric cars drive?
  5. Are electric cars the future?
  6. Making a final decision on buying an EV

When does an EV make sense?

Currently, EVs only make sense in certain situations, they’re by no means a straight swap alternative for your current fossil-fuelled machine – unless you have incredibly deep pockets.

An electric car makes for a great commuter vehicle. If you only travel a few miles to and from work an EV will suit you down to the ground. You’ll save a fortune on fuel, and the lower range won’t even matter.

In fact, if you commute a total of 30-40 miles a day, you’ll probably only have to charge up once a week.

If you travel into central London regularly for business, an EV will save you a small fortune when it comes to the congestion and ULEZ charges.

All-electric cars are exempt from the fee, as are all the current PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) on the market as they emit less than 75g/km of CO2.

But the rules surround the congestion charge will change come 2025, with hybrids being phased out in the next few years.

The Ultra Low Emissions Zone in London will limit access for older vehicles
London loves EV drivers.

With other larger cities looking to introduce congestion charging over the next few years, electric cars make for a strong commuter argument.

It also helps if you have somewhere to charge up at home. On-street parking is a big no-no, you can’t trail a lead from your house, across the pavement to your car.

Ideally, you need a driveway or a garage, that way you can have a home charger installed allowing you to plug in whenever you’re at home.

You’ll also benefit from free parking at a majority of places while you’re plugged in and charging.

The charging infrastructure across the UK is all privately run and owned; therefore it can be incredibly hit and miss.

Unlike petrol stations where you can always fill up even if a pump or two isn’t working, a charger out of use could leave you stranded or driving miles in search of another, which again, may or may not be working.

It’s best to think of the EV charging network out in the wild as a ‘nice to have’ but don’t rely on it. BP Chargemaster are incredibly good at keeping theirs up to date and working, whereas Ecotricity tend to be more hit and miss.

It also costs a lot more to charge when out on the road compared to topping up a home. The average kWh cost of electricity is around 15.5p, so charging a 64kWh battery will cost you roughly £10, that’s for approximately 250 miles real-world range.

Should I switch to an EV?

If you’re after an electric car that can be a straight swap for your gas-guzzling vehicle they do exist, but most are very expensive.

Currently, Tesla are the only manufacturer with a near 400-mile range – their Model S ‘Long Range’ costs from £77,000. While their ‘Long Range’ Model 3 can drive roughly 350 miles on a single charge and is still expensive at £47,000.

Compare that to an equivalent fossil fuel model like the mid-spec BMW 320d, and you’ll be looking at just £35,000.

And therein lies the main issue with EVs currently, they’re expensive compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

There is one alternative that’s cut the cost of EV ownership, the £39,000 Hyundai Kona. In terms of the way it drives it’s just like a Tesla, i.e. you can use the heating or air-con and drive as you usually would without seeing a considerable drop in range as you do in the likes of the Volkswagen eGolf.

how an EV works
A cross section of how an EV works.

So along with Tesla, there’s currently one other EV out there that you can switch to without sacrificing the way you usually use and drive your car. Alas, neither are cheap.

Renault’s ZOE is currently one of the smallest and cheapest electric vehicles on the market, with prices starting at £25,670 and you’ll get roughly 220 miles to a charge.

That’s approximately the price of a top of the range small hatchback, so more realistic in terms of the purchase price. Comparing it to a regular petrol car of the same size, you’re only probably losing about 100-150 miles from a full ‘tank’.

Once again, EVs come down to the cost/usability argument. They cost more than a fossil-fuelled vehicle, currently offer less range, but could save you a decent amount in terms of fuel, servicing and even parking charges.

All these savings would however take years of ownership to recoup over the initial outlay.

But if you analyse your current vehicle use and commit to the world of electric long term, you’ll be financially better off.

You could also go down the used route, second-hand electric cars that are three or four years old have seen an incredible drop in price compared to their new counterparts. The best bit is, they nearly all have seriously low mileage.

Should I sell my electric car?

If you own an electric car, you could be wondering if it’s time to sell up, maybe you aren’t getting the range you need, your battery has degraded or a change in circumstances is forcing you down the hybrid route.

When it comes to depreciation electric cars are pretty much the same, if not slightly better than their fossil-fuelled brothers.

Let’s take the Renault ZOE for example, you can find used models that are around £13,000 with 15,000 miles or less on the clock at just three years old. New, these would have been around £19,000. In three years an average ZOE has lost 37.5% of its value, or £6,000.

Taking a look at a mid-spec Titanium Ford Fiesta of the same age and mileage prices are £9,000, new these would have been £16,000. That’s a loss of £7,000 or 56% of the original price.

As you can see, the prices are higher for the electric car when buying, but also when selling. There’s only a £1,000 difference but the EV beats the traditionally fuelled car when it comes to residual values at the three-year mark.

Finding the right time to sell an electric car can be a little easier as their prices fall slower than petrol or diesel cars, so you can keep them for longer to offset the loss. Some older EVs like the first-generation Nissan Leaf have even seen prices climb slightly over the last few years.

If you need to sell your EV but still want to save money and be Green along the way, then you could think of switching to an LPG converted car.

LPG is roughly half the price of petrol or diesel, the MPG is similar and conversion costs are only around £1,500. Second-hand models are also incredibly cheap to come by, often commanding little extra value over non-converted models.

EVs have a bright future ahead, and with battery life being far better than anticipated keeping your electric car for the long haul isn’t always a bad idea.

If you’re ready to sell an electric car of any age, we go much deeper and cover more important things to consider in our how to sell an electric car guide, our how to sell a tesla guide or sell your electric car now.

How far can electric cars drive?

Often the biggest question, and it has a lot of variables, mainly depending on the car you buy. But let’s start with the way batteries work.

Temperatures below 4 degrees C make the chemical reaction that happens in batteries slow down. Cold batteries discharge quicker and create less power than they will in normal, temperate climates.

In the UK, our temperatures hover around 4-6 degrees for most of December to March, not a great time to be an EV.

To protect themselves from this variation in temperature EVs can warm and cool the batteries with liquid. So pre-conditioning the car before you drive it will not only make it nice and warm for you getting in, but it will help the battery too.

The Tesla Model 3 is the newest EV on the block.
Tesla’s Model 3 balances style with performance and range.

On average you’ll lose around 20% of your range in colder conditions. Some EVs will also limit the amount of power you can use during colder weather to help protect the cells.

Next up is the car you buy, most EVs have different battery sizes, but they’re largely comparable in terms of range.

EV battery power is rated in Kilowatt-hours, or kWh, a Renault ZOE has a 52 kWh battery, whereas a Tesla Model 3 has either a 54, 62 or 75 kWh battery, the larger the battery, the longer the range and the higher performance. Both the 52 kWh ZOE and the 55 kWh Model 3 can drive around 220 miles on a single charge.

Most hatchback EVs will achieve over 200 miles these days, the only car that’s incredibly limited is the Smart ForTwo EQ, these have around 100 miles of range from its small 17.6 kWh battery, which is still ideal as a city runabout or a commuting tool.

Are electric cars the future?

Now, this is a big question, while electric vehicles are superb vehicles for going green and lowering emissions, they may not be the ultimate, end solution.

You also have to think about their incredibly slow take-up by the big players. Ford have only just released their Mustang Mach-E, BMW currently only have one pure EV, the i3, Mercedes first all-electric model, the EQC is about to go on sale, and only this year Audi introduced the e-tron.

These are the world’s biggest car manufacturers, and they’re only just fielding their first electric vehicles. To put that into perspective, the Tesla Model S went on sale in 2012.

Shell Hydrogen Filling Station UK
Hydrogen could well be the future.

It shows a lethargic, almost resilient move to electric by the main manufacturers. So what is the future?

Well, it’s rumoured the slow development of EVs is due to a tendency for the big manufactures to look past them as the overall silver bullet, hydrogen is said to be the real future for our cars – by some…

It only takes a few minutes to fill up a hydrogen car, much the same time as it takes to pump petrol or diesel. It can also give the sort of range we’re used to in our current vehicles.

In simple terms, they’re still an EV, driven by electricity and propelled by motors. The only difference is they use hydrogen rather than a huge built-in battery. The car turns the hydrogen into electricity, which powers the motors.

And what do they emit? Pure water.

There are only 10 hydrogen filling stations in the UK, which hampers things drastically. The good thing about hydrogen though is that it can be pulled from the air around us, so is made on-site at each filling location.

It does however use a lot of energy to make the hydrogen, energy which could be going straight into EVs.

They’re also even more expensive than EVs at the moment, but as with anything, mass adoption will bring that down pretty quickly.

Electric cars may be booming at the minute, but if they’re the ultimate future, that is a debate that will range on in the years to come.

Making a final decision on buying an EV

As you can see, going electric isn’t as easy as just replacing your old petrol or diesel car with a new one.

Currently, the switchover just isn’t that seamless for everyday car buyers, you have to have serious money to purchase something that has the equivalent range as your cheap as chips diesel car.

You need to consider how you use your car, is it for short journeys, do you drive to and from work then to the shops at the weekend?

If they’re all local trips with infrequent longer distances, an EV will be perfect for you.

Equally, you need to be committed to keeping the car for at least 3-5 years to really see the returns when it comes to those savings.

The Volkswagen e-golf might be small on range but it looks just like a Golf with no frills.
There’s a lot to weigh up before you make the switch.

The good thing about EVs is there are far fewer moving parts to go wrong, and batteries have been seen to last up to 10 years while only losing about 10-20% of their original capacity. So buying an electric car could well solve your transport needs for a decade to come.

What’s clear is times are changing, and with the government looking to ban the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles by 2030, we only have 10 years to work out where the industry is heading.

Want to learn more, or is electric not right for you?

We’ve got a list of the best electric cars on the market right now, and it also shows some upcoming models that will be out within the next 12 months.

Equally, if you’ve decided that going electric isn’t for you, we’ve got a best Euro 6 guide that covers off the greenest cars available to buy today.