Thinking of buying an EV? Top things you need to consider
31 March 2021 | Celia Topping
OVO's resident EV expert, Chris Britton, driving an electric car
This is the first in our series of EV Stories, where we meet various members of the OVO team and hear their first hand experience of electric vehicles. The series aims to offer you valuable insights into the reality of EVs, including real-life information on buying, driving, leasing, charging, insuring and beyond. We hope to be able to give you all the answers you need about this exciting technology, especially if you're thinking of making the switch.
The end of February 2021 saw over 455,000 registered electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads. Around 215,000 of those were pure-electric cars, and 240,000 more were hybrid vehicles1.
It signals the start of something momentous – because despite the impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, sales of EVs grew a whopping 66% on 2019’s figures. The Guardian recently reported that we’re on the “tipping point of mass adoption” of electric vehicles in the UK2. And, considering their numerous benefits, that should come as no surprise.
We spoke to OVO’s resident EV expert, owner and enthusiast Chris Britton about what to consider when buying an EV. So, if you’re on the tipping point of going electric, allow us to give you a few pointers that might just nudge you in the right direction.
Should I buy an electric car?
Electric cars are no longer a novelty buzz on the street. But it’s still a huge mental shift to start thinking in terms of “charging and batteries”, not “petrol and pumps”. No matter how much you research, there still might be questions and concerns lurking in your mind. So we hope this article is the last one you’ll need, to finally put to rest any qualms you may have about EVs. And then say a resounding “Yes!” to the question, “should I buy an electric car?”
What are the benefits of going electric?
Let’s be honest – there aren’t many downsides to EVs. And those naysayers harping on about upfront costs, charging issues and limited choice of vehicles are fighting a losing battle.
For a start, EV prices are constantly dropping, due to battery technology development. And as for charging issues? Well, they’re not really an issue at all. The UK charging infrastructure is coming on apace. As of now, there are even more charging spots than petrol pumps! Plus, the UK government has just pledged a further £20 million3 to create yet more street charge points – making the UK a global leader in the accelerated shift towards EVs (‘scuse the pun!).
And when it comes to vehicle choice? Well, there are around 130 different models and makes of electric vehicles available today – including family cars, hatchbacks, estates, small cars, superminis, SUVs, premium models, and vans. Does that sound like a limited choice to you?!
If that’s still not enough to convince you, here are 10 top reasons why you should be saying "Yes!"
- Environmental benefits – no exhaust fumes.
- Cheaper to run – no tax to pay, no fuel costs, and lower maintenance costs.
- Congestion charge discount – it’s not just London that has a congestion zone – other UK cities have Clean Air Zones4 too. But EVs are exempt.
- Improved driving experience – a smoother, steadier and safer drive.
- Government funding towards home charge points – find out how you can get money off a home charger of your very own.
- Good resale value – EVs don’t depreciate as much, or as quickly as their petrol-guzzling relatives. Some even go up in value5!
- Reduction in noise pollution – the EV revolution is also the quiet revolution, with a low hum replacing the combustion engine roar.
- Free parking – some authorities offer free parking, and even free charging to EV owners.
- Vehicle to Grid technology – energy stored in some EVs can be fed back into the national grid, to help supply energy during peak demand. This means you can use your car’s stored energy to actually make money!
To find out more about why you should be saying “Yes!”, read our guide on the benefits and disadvantages of EVs.
Are electric cars worth it?
If you think our planet is worth it, or your health is worth it, or your bank balance is worth it – then “Yes!”. EVs are a cleaner, greener, cheaper (in the long-run) alternative to petrol and diesel cars. Plus, by 2030, you won’t be able to buy a fossil fuel car any more, due to new government regulations. So there’s no better time to go electric!
Which electric car is best to buy?
If the above has piqued your interest, we can help you begin the exciting process of actually choosing the right car for you. We asked resident EV expert Chris where to start when looking to buy an EV.
“The first thing to think about is personal preference, of course. What kind of car are you driving now? And which manufacturers do you like?”, says Chris. “Most major manufacturers are introducing EV equivalents to their ranges. So you might be able to buy exactly the same car you’re driving now, but in EV form. Or if you want to upgrade or switch to something similar, that’s possible too,” he explains.
If you’re still unsure about the difference between hybrid and pure electric cars, and which might be more suitable for you, check out our guide.
And check out this handy tool from Zapmap, which helps you search for EVs available to buy in the UK. You can by search manufacturer and car class.
What’s it like to drive an electric car?
“There’s no better way to answer this than to go out and try one!” advises Chris. “And if you’re not keen on the idea of going to a car dealership at this stage, you could ‘try before you buy’, and join a car-sharing scheme like another of our OVO staffers did. This is the perfect way to get a taster for EV driving, in your own time, with no pressure to buy.”
Car-sharing clubs like Co Wheels, Zipcar and Ubeeqo all offer pay-as-you-go EVs – so why not take one out for a spin? Remember, there are no gears, unlike in a petrol car. You just push the pedal, and off you go! And because of the weight distribution of the battery and the motor, instead of a combustion engine, an EV driving experience offers:
- Speedy acceleration from standstill
- Responsive handling
- Smooth, quiet journeys with minimal vibrations
- No more changing gears – for an easy, effortless drive
What should you look for when buying an electric car?
Chris recommends asking yourself 4 main questions when you’re thinking about buying an EV:
- What do you use your car for?
- How far do you need to travel daily?
- How will you charge your car?
- What’s your budget?
It can be helpful to write down a list of your main criteria, so you can see what's most important for you while you do your research. This will narrow down your search and make the decision a little less overwhelming.
So let’s start with the first question:
1. What do you use your car for?
“If you just need a zippy runaround for about town, then one of the cool superminis could be perfect. Think the Renault Zoe, Mini Electric or Volkswagen e-Up. The only downside is they’re not ideal if you have, or intend to have, a family. In which case, take your pick from the many family saloons, hatchbacks and estates on the market – which will leave you lots of room for growth. And you could also take a look at the Hyundai Ioniq” (Chris’s ride!), “Kia e-Nero or Nissan Leaf for starters.
“You might be more interested in the premium end of the range. If so, you won’t be disappointed with the choices. The luxury EV segment may have been dominated for some time by Tesla – and its Model S and Model 3 are still world-class cars. But it’s a fast-growing market, with a sterling array of vehicles – such as the Mercedes-Benz EQC, Jaguar I-Pace, and the punchy Ford Mustang Mach-E.”
2. How far do you need to travel daily?
“For electric vehicles, range is key, as it’s a question of how far you can go on one charge. This is often the main sticking point for would-be punters, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s just a question of understanding what EVs are capable of, and all the charging options available. Range anxiety is no longer the worry it once was. Even the smallest, cheapest EVs have a totally commutable range of 70 miles, but the average EV offers around 180 miles on one charge.
“To be practical, if you’re regularly driving long distances, then a 150 mile range car isn’t going to suit you. On the other hand, the Tesla Model S has a staggering 379-mile range (and a price tag to match), but there are a great number of options in between.”
Chris recommends that you work out the distance of your daily commute, and also those longer distances you may drive to see family and friends. “That way, you’ll get a better understanding of what sort of range you need, and how often you’ll need to charge.” Which leads us on neatly onto the next big question...
3. How will you charge the car?
“The cheapest and most common place for EV owners to charge is overnight, at home, on their driveway. There are grants available for getting a smart charger installed, so this doesn’t have to be too expensive. I got one installed at my place in February 2020 and it cost me around £350,” Chris tells us.
For charging at home, the tariff you choose is crucial. OVO’s unique Drive Anytime tariff, guarantees OVO members a flat rate of 6p per kWh at any time of day. It’s designed for charging your car with their OVO smart charger. This means you could be driving for less than 2p per mile6!
“Although home-charging is ideal, it’s not impossible to own an EV if you don’t have off-street parking,” says Chris. “Many workplaces offer free or cheap charging to employees, so it’s worth finding out if yours is one of them – as this could become your main source of power.
“It’s also totally doable – although not as easy – to only use street charge points to charge your car. There are over 30,000 charge points across the UK, and some of them offer charging for free. But you’d have to do your homework to figure out where you could frequently park and charge. Plus factor in any extra cost to your EV budget.
“And when it comes to those longer trips to visit friends or family, all you need is a 3 pin plug adaptor to suit your EV. Get one of those and you could charge your car from your Auntie’s kitchen while you settle down to tea and biscuits – but remember to ask her first!”
For everything you need to know about where, how and when to charge your EV, read our handy guide.
4. What’s your budget for an EV?
“If you’ve got a cool £2 million to splash, then look no further than the new hypercar, the Lotus Evija. We can dream! Otherwise, it’s best to study the price difference between EVs and their old petrol equivalents. Generally, the lower the cost of the EV, the lower the difference in price.
“My Hyundai Ioniq, for example, was around £6,000 more expensive than its petrol-fuelled cousin. Yet a BMW i3 would be about £10,000 more."
Take a look at the chart below, compiled by Chris. It shows the payback running costs of a Mini Electric, versus the Mini Cooper.
"As you might expect, the more mileage you clock up, the quicker the payback – because to charge an EV costs a fraction of what it costs to fill up a tank. And just look at all that carbon you'd be cutting by going electric!"
EV leasing options
Buying one isn‘t the only way you can enjoy the benefits of a brand new EV. If you haven’t got the cash to buy one up-front, then leasing is your friend. In fact, leasing cars instead of purchasing them outright is becoming an increasingly popular alternative in the UK. Let’s have a look at why more of us Brits are now going the leasing route:
What are the benefits of leasing an EV?
“Who wouldn’t want a brand new car every few years?” laughs Chris. “Leasing an EV is pretty similar to renting anything else, and it’s a pretty simple process.”
- Choose the EV you like, and decide on a leasing period (usually between 2 and 4 years)
- Pay a small up-front fee
- Pay monthly installments
- Return the car after the leasing period is over
- Choose a new car!
“Aside from choosing which shiny new motor you’d like to take home, the only other thing you have to think about is how many miles you’ll drive in a year. It's important to get this right, as you’ll be charged a premium if you go over.”
So, apart from having a lovely new EV to drive, what are the benefits of leasing?:
- A fixed monthly rental fee makes it easy to budget
- Access to cars that you may never be able to afford to buy
- No need to worry about tax or insurance, it’s all covered
- No MOT to book, as new leases are exempt
- Maintenance packages can be included, for an additional fee
- Depreciation? Not your problem! Just hand it back and get a new one!
What about buying a used or second-hand car?
“If leasing’s not your bag, you still have the option of buying a second-hand EV. They generally don’t depreciate as quickly as petrol cars, so they may be a little more expensive – but they’re a good investment if you want to sell on later.
“With traditional vehicles, mileage is the focus – but in EVs, that’s less important. Instead, dealers, or private punters, look at the general “state of health” of an EV’s battery. Most EV warranties cover up to 8 years – but current thinking suggests EV batteries could last up to 20 years. Battery health is obviously critical. Losing 5% in a car with 200 mile range would reduce its range to 190 miles.”
It’s possible to get battery information from the car using the OBD Port, a bluetooth dongle and an app. For example, for a Nissan LEAF, you could use the "LEAF spy" app.
Does driving style affect a car’s range?
“If you want to sell on your EV after a few years, then how you drive it during your ownership is crucial. An aggressive driving style, where you accelerate fiercely, drive fast, and brake suddenly is particularly bad for an EV’s range – mainly because rapid acceleration means discharging a massive amount of energy from the battery in a short burst. A smooth, steady ride is far better.”
For more information about electric car batteries, types and how long they normally last, read our practical guide.
An easy reference guide: what to consider when buying an EV
We’ve given quite a lot of information here, so here's a quick summary of the main points:
- Think about what sort of car you drive now, and see if there’s an E-equivalent
- Your daily mileage – what do you mostly use your car for?
- Where will you charge your car? At home, at work, on the street?
- What’s your budget?
- Is leasing an option for you?
Read the second in our series of EV Stories, about copywriter Jayne, as she tackles driving an EV as an absolute beginner in one of Bristol's car-sharing clubs.
Sources and references:
6 The OVO Drive Anytime rate is 6p per kWh for EV charging. A Tesla Model 3 does 240Wh per mile, or 4.17 miles per kWh. A Model 3 driver could therefore charge on the OVO Drive Anytime tariff for 1.44p per mile.