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Everything you need to know before you buy an electric car

Here’s how to choose the right electric vehicle for your needs (Picture: Skoda)

The electric vehicle (EV) market is growing rapidly.

In 2020, there were 108,205 new EV registrations in the UK, according to the Department for Transport, putting the total on the road to an impressive 300,000.

That’s no surprise: with the government’s 2030 deadline to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and with 2035 marked as the year to halt the sales of hybrids, for many the drive away from traditional fuels has stepped up a gear.

Thinking of going electric?

From selecting a vehicle and charging options to government grants, here’s our simple guide to what you need to know before you buy.

The choice

Gone are the days when a majority of EV models were dinky tin cans nobody would want to be seen in. Today, there are sports cars like the Porsche Taycan, city cars such as the Honda E, SUVs like the Skoda Enyaq iV and estates such as the MG ZS EV.

There are also many cars that come in both petrol and electric versions, and it’s the electric models that are often the smarter choice, delivering a smoother drive and lower cost of ownership.


The MG ZS EV is a great electric option for those who want an estate (Picture: MG)

How far will you go?

Range is dictated primarily by a car’s battery size, which is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Usually there are two numbers: gross, meaning the total battery size; and net, meaning the actual usable capacity.

By utilising less than its capacity, a car can help preserve its battery’s health over its lifespan. The bigger the net number, the further a car will be able to go — but that range will drop if you use the heating or air-con, or if you drive fast (doing 60mph instead of 70mph can improve your total range).

Our tip is to work out how many miles you do on a typical journey and choose an electric car that can manage this, with a bit of extra margin thrown in.

Charge at home

To get the most out of an electric car, you will want to charge at home. Using your normal three-pin plug is a last resort as it can take upwards of a full day to charge an electric car.

A dedicated wall-box installed on the side of your home or in your garage is a better bet as these can charge the majority of electric cars overnight.

The beauty here is that you may never have to visit a fuel or recharging station. Your car will always be topped up and ready to go in the morning. While it’s plugged into your wall-box, you can even instruct the car to preheat the cabin for a specific departure time.

Woman charging electric car and making time adjustment on a smartphone

Charging up at home is best (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Public power points

Fast chargers can top up your car in a fraction of the time it would take at home — although they are usually far more expensive so are best used to help you cover long journeys away from home.

Keep an eye on the charging speed, which is indicated in kW (kilowatts). The higher the number, the faster it will charge your car, although the charger will only go as fast as the specific car will allow.

The number of public chargers in the UK isn’t quite as high as many would like, and they can sometimes be unreliable, but their quantity and quality are improving all the time.

2G8R67B Instavolt electric charging points at various charging stations in Norfolk UK

More charging points are being added each year (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

Government schemes

Electric vehicles are more expensive than petrol or diesel equivalents, although they are cheaper to run so the total cost of ownership of an electric model can be lower over its lifespan.

You can even get help with your purchase if you buy an electric car that sells for less than £35,000, as such models qualify for the government’s £2,500 OZEV (Office For Zero Emissions Vehicles) grant. Cars that cost more than that won’t qualify — see the government website for an exhaustive list of cars that qualify.

Charging costs

Charging your electric car at home on an economy 7 tariff is best as it gives you lower charging costs during off-peak hours. Some tariffs can be as low as seven pence per kilowatt-hour. During those times, charging an electric car with a 50kWh battery pack will cost you £3.50 (£0.07 x 50).

If your car, with 50kWh battery pack, can travel 200 miles and you have a daily commute of 30 miles per day, that’s a whole week of driving for £3.50.

It’s best if you do charge at home but charging weekly at a public charge point (while you do your shopping) becomes a viable option too. So don’t rule out an electric car if you don’t have off-street parking.

Ask the car doctor: Cazoo automotive editor Phill Tromans

Plug-in hybrids, what are they?

There are various types of hybrid cars but plug-in hybrids are particularly popular. Also known as plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs), they combine a battery and electric motor with a combustion engine.

Unlike so-called ‘self-charging’ hybrids, a PHEV can be plugged into a home or public charger to recharge the battery and it will travel longer distances — between 25 and 55 miles — on electric power only.

If you do lots of short journeys, this can cut fuel costs. You’ll barely need the engine and the cost of charging the battery is much lower than petrol. Downsides? You’ll need somewhere to plug it in. PHEVs also tend to be pricier to buy and are less fuel-efficient when the electric motor is not in use.

MORE : New homes must have electric vehicle charging points from next year

MORE : Adding sound to electric cars ‘will make them safer for pedestrians’

MORE : Is getting an electric car the solution to the climate crisis?

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