A complete guide to electric cars
Electric cars are increasingly familiar on UK roads, having moved from niche attraction to mainstream alternative with a 16% market share. Customers have been persuaded by increased choice, longer driving ranges, the environmental benefits they can bring, as well as the financial savings drivers can make by going electric.
These savings are not only lower “fuel” costs than petrol or diesel alternatives, but also the lowest levels of car tax and company car tax, plus reduced maintenance costs because of fewer moving parts.
With restrictions on sales of new non-plug-in cars coming in the future, the question for a number of drivers is: what electric car is right for me? We cover all the aspects that might initially seem strange or different for newcomers to electric vehicles (EVs), covering what electric cars are, how far they can travel, how to charge them, and what it’s like to run an electric car.
What is an electric car?
There are a few different types of electric car, but the one that most will think of when talking about EVs are those powered solely by electricity. These pure-electric – or battery-electric vehicles (BEV) – are moved only by power from the car’s battery, which drives one or more electric motors.
Technically, an electric vehicle is one that can cover more than a very short distance on electric power alone, which includes plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). These have a smaller battery than a pure-electric car, with a driving range typically around 25-50 miles on a charge. They also have a normal petrol or diesel engine too, aiming to offer the best of both internal combustion and electric cars in one package. Short, regular trips can be completed on electric power, while fuel – or hybrid fuel and electric – power can be used for longer trips.
These are the two core types of electric vehicle, but there are two other sub-categories to be aware of. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) use an electric motor to drive the wheels, powered by electricity generated on-board with a fuel cell stack. This fuel cell uses hydrogen to generate electricity, charging a small battery that works as a buffer so there’s always power available on demand. The hydrogen is stored in on-board tanks, allowing refuelling to take a matter of minutes, and a long driving range. The downside is that, unlike EVs or PHEVs, the driver needs access to a hydrogen refuelling station, and there aren’t many in the UK – unlike petrol stations or EV charge points.
The final EV type is range-extended electric vehicles (REEV or REX). These sit between a PHEV and pure-EV, featuring a small engine and large battery. The engine is only used as an on-board generator, and can top up the battery on the go – it never drives the wheels directly. Otherwise, the vehicle can be charged and driven like a “normal” EV, with the engine used as a back-up system.
There are electrified vehicles as well, which include hybrids. Conventional hybrids (HEV) use a compact battery and small motor to support a petrol or diesel engine. These are able to start a car and perhaps run for a few hundred metres or so, but the electric motor is used to boost power and efficiency, rather than drive the vehicle properly. Unlike electric vehicles, hybrids can’t be charged from an external source, and instead rely on excess output from the engine or energy gathered under braking to charge the battery.
Finally, there are mild hybrid (MHEV) models, which work like conventional hybrids, but have a smaller battery and motor again. These essentially use a beefed-up starter motor to help the engine kick-in, or when under heavy load.
What EVs are available to lease?
Electric vehicles are available across all categories of cars and vans – from compact city cars to luxury saloons and SUVs. Models like the Honda e or MINI Cooper Electric are ideal for city drivers, while the likes of the Renault Zoe, Peugeot e-208, and Hyundai Kona Electric cover supermini and crossover customers.
Those interested in family hatchbacks and SUVs have the pick of models like Volkswagen’s ID.3 hatchback or ID.4/ID.5 SUVs, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and Kia EV6.
Premium models range from compact SUVs such as the Volvo XC40 Recharge and Audi Q4 e-tron, through to larger SUVs like the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC. More traditional saloons have seen rapid growth in recent years both from established names such as BMW’s i4 and the Mercedes-Benz EQE, plus newer brands like the Hyundai IONIQ 6, Tesla Model 3, and Polestar 2.
Even sporty models have been given the electric treatment, with high-performance versions of models like the Kia EV6 GT or Ford Mustang Mach-E GT, or stand-alone performance cars such as the Porsche Taycan line up and Audi e-tron GT.
Across the board, there are more than 200 models available, with a variety of power outputs and battery sizes.
What are the best-selling electric cars in the UK?
Tesla’s Model 3 (above) is comfortably the best-selling electric car in the UK, with more than 87,000 vehicles sold before the end of 2023. It’s dramatically ahead of the Nissan Leaf in second place – 52,700 sales – despite having been on sale for less than half the time that the Leaf has been available.
Tesla’s dominance is reinforced by the fact that its Model Y SUV has shot to third place in terms of best-selling pure-electric cars in just over a year’s sales, now accounting for more than 45,000 units.
Kia’s Niro EV – which includes its predecessor, the e-Niro – is in fourth spot, ahead of the Volkswagen ID.3 in fifth place, on 33,000 and 28,500 sales respectively.
Lowering the cost of leasing EVs
A regular criticism aimed at electric cars is that they’re too expensive. 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.
However, when the Whole Life Costs of (WLC) electric vehicles is considered, the monthly fees in running a car – leasing cost, fuel, insurance, maintenance etc – will see electric models return lower costs.
For example, a Hyundai Kona 115kW Advance 48kWh 5dr would cost around £499 exclusive of VAT on a 3+33 month/10,000 miles per annum lease.
Compare this with a petrol version of the Kona – the hybrid 1.6 GDi Ultimate – and the retail price and the monthly rentals on the same profile are lower – £393 per month. But if we look at the actual cost to run it – WLC over the lease period – it is £586 a month. Yet the electric Kona is £576 a month – more than £300 cheaper over the life of the lease. And there are greater savings for business customers and company car drivers who benefit from the advantageous benefit in kind tax rates.
Leasing an electric car is an ideal way to get into the EV market, with all the benefits both financially and environmentally that they bring, but without being hit by the higher upfront purchase price.
It also prevents you from being locked into a vehicle as new technology hits the market. For example, a lease car is changed every two, three or four years – allowing you to benefit from the newest EV updates. It also allows you to bypass any potential issues with residual values due to the rapidly evolving technology since leasing passes that risk to others.
Charging an electric car
One of the most daunting parts of running an electric car for some is charging it. It’s understandable considering it is a totally new process for many people. 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 the majority of public charge points. Each will be fitted with the plug correct for the EV it comes with at the opposite end – usually Type 2.
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 – such as a Pod Point wall charger which is available through CBVC Vehicle Management. 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 gradually 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 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 3-4p/kWh at home if on an economy or EV-specific tariff, while the UK average electricity price is around 35p/kWh.
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.
Some 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 20-40p/kWh from smaller charge points. Those large, rapid chargers that can recharge a car in 20-40 minutes will often charge around 60p/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 (23/24) are 2% for BEVs, while a typical PHEV will be 12%. To compare, hybrids sit around 18% depending on the model, and a 100 g/km petrol model is 25% – with a 4% supplement for diesels that are non-RDE2 compliant. BIK rates for pure-EVs remains fixed at 2% until April 2025 offering business users low tax certainty for a while, and will then climb 1% each year until FY 27/28 where they will be rated at 5%.
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 with ICE models, although there is some evidence that tyre wear on EVs can be faster.
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, largely because of the comparatively higher OTR price and the technology at play.
Getting insurance for an electric car should be no more difficult or expensive than an ICE model and most of the major providers will insure EVs. Our partner for electric cars, ElectriX, is owned by LV= which is a specialist insurer in electric cars.
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.
If you are leasing an EV personally but using it for business purposes occasionally, ensure that you have the appropriate business use cover. For companies leasing an EV, you will need fleet insurance.
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 250-300 miles or more, and premium models now regularly top 300 miles on a charge – some even 400 miles.
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, to the prevailing weather conditions. 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 and 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.
Electric vehicle FAQs
An electric vehicle (EV) is one that uses electricity to power the driven wheels. It can be used in the same way any comparable petrol or diesel car would be used, but relies on recharging to keep the electric motor powered – other than an FCEV (see above). It requires a battery and electric motor to work, and will be able to charge the battery both on the go by using brake energy recuperation when decelerating or driving downhill, or from an external source such as a home, workplace, or public charge point.
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.
Electric cars can be driven in all sorts of 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. Cold weather will hit driving range, as batteries are less efficient in the 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.
Prices vary depending on supplier, but around £895 for a 7.2kW home charging unit. There are grants available for landlords and businesses, depending on circumstances. These will be applied by an installer when purchased and fitted.
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 8 years/100,000 miles, and few batteries have been replaced because of a lack of longevity or due to failures.
Electric cars are tested to the same standards as any other, and many have high scores from independent safety body EuroNCAP.
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.
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. However, some EVs can 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.
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 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. Rapid charge points offer contactless bank card access as well, allowing a driver to tap for payment as they would paying for other goods or services.
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.
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.