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A guide to electric vehicles

If you want a more sustainable way to get from A to B, making the move to an electric vehicle could be the answer.

With the average car now costing around £80 to fill up at a petrol pump, switching to an electric vehicle (EV) could reduce your costs in the long run, as well as your carbon footprint.1  

If the idea of an electric vehicle has sparked your interest, read our guide to find out more.

What are electric vehicles?

An electric vehicle is just as it sounds – a vehicle that runs on electricity.

EVs are becoming more financially accessible, with a range of makes and models on the market. The 2 most popular types are 100% electric vehicles, also known as pure electric vehicles, and hybrids. 

100% electric vehicles

Fully electric vehicles are powered solely by rechargeable batteries. Just like a mobile phone, you plug it in and wait for it to charge. When it’s ready, the batteries will power the electric engine, setting your wheels in motion. 

Many people tend to charge their vehicle at home through the night, so it’s ready for the day ahead. But you’ll also find public charging points up and down the country.

The average distance an EV can travel is around 100 to 300 miles on a full charge, depending on the type of car you choose2.

Hybrids

Hybrid vehicles use more than one way to power the engine – typically a battery powered motor and a petrol/diesel engine. There are different types of hybrid cars currently on the market:

  • full hybrids – use the electric motor and combustion engine independently or simultaneously

  • mild hybrids – use the electric motor and combustion engine simultaneously

  • plug-in hybrids – can be plugged in to charge the electric batteries

Hybrids generally consume less fuel and emit less CO2 than petrol/diesel powered vehicles, so they can be a good transition into the EV market. 

The sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans are expected to end by 2030, followed by hybrid vehicles by 2035. This is in line with the Prime Minister's ‘ten point plan for a green industrial revolution’.3 This only affects the sale of new vehicles – you’ll still be able to buy a second-hand hybrid vehicle.

What are the pros of an electric vehicle?

There are a number of advantages to driving an electric vehicle, such as:

Driving more sustainably

When recharged from the national grid, battery-powered electric cars are estimated to have 66% lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to petrol cars, and 60% lower compared to diesel.4

If you do decide to buy an electric car and plan to charge it at home, you can check to see if your energy supplier uses renewable energy. This can help reduce your overall emissions even further. 

Driving in comfort

As the electric motor is much simpler than a traditional engine, EVs can be quicker to accelerate, and feel lighter to drive. 

The sound EVs make when driving is also improving. EVs are a lot quieter to drive – so as a safety measure, manufacturers are required to fit them with acoustic sound systems for when they’re reversing or driving under 20mph. This prevents them being too quiet, so pedestrians can still hear them when crossing the road.5

Low running costs

With less mechanical components compared to their petrol/diesel counterparts, electric vehicles often have lower maintenance and servicing costs. 

It also costs less to ‘fuel’ your car. According to the energy saving trust, it costs around £4 to £6 to fully charge a pure electric vehicle at home, and £8 to £10 if using a public charging point. This will give a typical range of over 100 miles. Driving the same distance (100 miles) in a petrol or diesel motor, will cost around £13 to £16. 

Some types of electric vehicles are exempt from vehicle tax, which means it’s free to tax them – saving you money. 

If you drive an electric vehicle through a Clean Air Zone, you also don’t need to pay a charge. You can also apply for a cleaner vehicle discount if you plan on driving in a congestion charging zone.

Buying grants and other incentives

Depending on the make and model of the electric vehicle, you may benefit from the government plug-in grant. This offers a discount on the price of a new low-emission vehicle. You don’t need to do anything to receive this – the dealer will include the value of the grant in the vehicle's price, if it’s eligible. 

Some employers may also offer a salary sacrifice scheme for EVs. This is where you pay off the car on a monthly basis using your salary, before tax and other contributions have been taken. 

You may also be able to make the most of the home-installation grant. If eligible, you could receive up to 75% towards the cost of installing an electric vehicle charging point at home. The grant funding is provided by the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS). You can find out more about the home-installation grant here

Things to consider

There are things you’ll need to take into consideration when looking at electric vehicles, including: 

Charging time

It can take some time to charge an electric vehicle, depending on the type of electric vehicle and the type of charging station you have. If you’re driving around, you may see a range of different chargers, such as:

  • slow chargers

    Slow chargers are usually installed at home or at a workplace and can take up to 12 hours to fully charge an electric vehicle.

  • fast chargers

    This type of charger can take between 1 to 5 hours to charge up a compatible electric vehicle. These are generally found in places you’re likely to leave your car for an hour or more, like a shopping centre.

  • rapid chargers

    Usually found in motorway service stations, rapid chargers can charge compatible electrical vehicle batteries to 80% in 30 minutes or less.

Finding a charging point

Knowing where to charge your electric vehicle can be a concern, especially if you have a long journey planned. The range you’ll get from your electric vehicle will depend on the make and model, as well as how you drive it. 

Many public places, like motorway services, petrol stations and some workplaces have charging points installed. There are also apps you can use to help locate charging points, which you could use when planning a journey. There may be a cost for using some charging points, so you may need to factor this into your budget.

EV batteries

There has been some focus on the environmental impact of mining the raw materials needed for EV batteries. The UK is part of international efforts to minimise this impact and protect the health and livelihoods of miners. 

Regulations are in place, which ban the disposal of EV batteries in landfill or incineration. Battery producers are required to take them back for free, and make sure they’re sorted at facilities, which meet the right recycling efficiency standards.6  

The government has funded schemes to test the recycling of key raw materials in batteries, and look at ways to localise more of the supply chain. The Faraday battery challenge aims for 95% of an EV battery pack to be recyclable by 2035.

Initial cost

Electric cars are seen to be more expensive than the petrol and diesel options. Initial costs can seem high when you consider the purchase price of the vehicle, plus the cost of getting a home-charger installed.

EVs are becoming more and more accessible to a wider market. There’s a range of different EVs on the market, so it’s important to look at all the options available if you’re looking to buy an electric vehicle.

Other transport options

There are other ways you can help reduce your environmental impact when it comes to travelling, including:

  • using public transport, like trains, buses and trams

  • cycling or using an e-bike

  • walking (where possible)

  • car sharing