What You Need to Know About Electric Cars

As recently as two decades ago, the electric car was closer to a futuristic concept than an everyday reality. But today, motorists of all budgets can make the most of what electric power has to offer. The latest generation of luxury electric vehicles is setting new standards for performance and style, while the majority of cars from leading manufacturers now have at least one affordable hybrid or all-electric model available. It's an exciting time for buyers, but it's also easy to be overwhelmed by this booming market. In this guide, we'll take you through what electric cars have to offer and discuss their main pros and cons.

What you need to know about electric cars

Pro: they’re eco-friendly

The most obvious benefit of an electric car is its minimal impact on the environment. If you want to be part of a sustainable society and contribute to a better future for the planet, there’s really no alternative to the mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or all-electric car.

Mild hybrid cars have a petrol or diesel engine that’s regularly supported by an electric motor while cruising, and they offer impressive fuel efficiency. A typical example is the 2018 Toyota Prius, which can provide around 56 mpg. Even more unprecedented are the figures quoted for plug-in hybrids, which combine a regular fuel engine with an electric engine that can also power the wheels independently. Look at the 2018 BMW i3 for a slightly above-average example: it can provide up to 109 miles to the gallon. Then there are all-electric (EV) cars, which run entirely on electric power.

By cutting down on how much fossil fuel you’re burning through, electric vehicles emit much less CO2 than their traditional counterparts. With the 2020 VW Golf GTE Hybrid, you’ll be responsible for carbon emissions of around 25 g/km, compared to an average of at least 100 g/km for petrol or diesel models. Of course, with an all-electric car, that figure becomes 0 g/km.

Pro: they’re cheap (in the long term)

Another factor that could convince you to go electric is the fact you could make some serious savings. This might seem strange when you consider that this new technology usually comes with a higher price tag up front. However, the long-term running costs for an electric vehicle can be significantly lower than for those running on petrol or diesel.

The most obvious savings are due to electric cars’ lower fuel costs. You’ll be going through a lot less fuel if you opt for a mild hybrid or plug-in hybrid engine, and if you choose an all-electric car you won’t ever have to pay for petrol or diesel again.

Beyond the fuel costs, an electric car can also save you money when it comes to tax. Like many authorities, the UK government offers significant road tax discounts to incentivise the use of environmentally friendly power. Any car with CO2 emissions figures below 50 g/km is completely exempt, while owners of vehicles that emit less than 100 g/km will also pay significantly less than the norm. On top of this, London-based motorists could save even more money with electric cars, as they won’t have to pay the capital’s congestion charge.

Finally, you stand to make more savings with electric cars due to their lower maintenance costs. Although the technology is more advanced, running a car on electricity is a lot simpler than using petrol or diesel, and the engine setup in an electric vehicle is much less complex. Fewer mechanical parts means less chance that something could go wrong. Moreover, the assistance of an electric motor in a hybrid car will reduce the strain on your petrol or diesel engine, making it more reliable and longer-lasting.

Pro: they’re quiet

For old school petrolheads this might not be a huge benefit, but many people will enjoy the calmer cabin ambience that comes with an electric vehicle. Less (or no) fuel combustion means a notably hushed engine sound, even at higher speeds. The only real sounds you’ll hear are from wind resistance and friction on your tyres. All-electric vehicles are particularly quiet, and even an average hybrid can sound like a smooth, refined car from a much higher price point. You’ll also be cutting down on noise pollution, which is an underrated environmental benefit to accompany the impressive sustainability figures we mentioned earlier.

Pro: they can (sometimes) drive in their own lane

We all hate being stuck in traffic. If you’re often commuting to and from work in a rush, or you just get sick of the queues in your town centre, buying an electric car could have a considerable impact on your quality of life. Many areas have dedicated carpool lanes for larger groups to incentivise group car sharing, and you can make use of these lanes even without passengers if you’re driving an electric car.

Con: the upfront cost can be expensive

Maybe the main stumbling block for buyers who want to join the electric revolution is the short-term cost. In general, initial outlay for a model’s electric version will be higher than for a petrol or diesel equivalent. Buying a new car will probably cost more, and the relative novelty of the technology means that you’ll also find fewer electric-powered models available on the used market. View our list of the best cheap electric cars to view budget-friendly options.

Another thing that’s worth bearing in mind is the variance of fuel economy figures for mild hybrid cars. While you might get some great mileage out of driving them long distances, the frequent starts and stops of city driving could see their economy drop close to the level of a standard petrol or diesel car.

Con: electricity can’t carry you as far (yet)

Another current drawback of electric cars is that they tend to have limited range. This is particularly relevant to all-electric vehicles, but it will also affect plug-in hybrid owners who really want to get the most out of the engine tech that they’ve invested in. Whereas a petrol or diesel car could take you up to 400 miles on a full tank of fuel, the figures for electric engines are considerably lower (even if you can afford a Tesla).

The Hyundai Kona electric has a range of around 278 miles, which is one of the best available on the market as of 2021. Average figures for the sector are closer to 180 miles. An electric car’s range can also go down significantly in colder weather, as the battery’s chemistry will be affected by the low temperatures. For a plug-in hybrid, a good all-electric range is currently around 40 miles.

Read our expert advice article to learn more about how far an electric car will travel and the best performers.

Con: recharging can sometimes be tricky

The relative difficulty of recharging an electric engine is another factor that’s worth bearing in mind. Firstly, it can take a while. Whereas refuelling your engine at a petrol station can be done in under five minutes, electric engines take at least 15 minutes to recharge at a recharge station, and a more common figure is around an hour. Some vehicles can even take up to 20 hours to fully charge, so this will often necessitate installing a dedicated charging station in your home. Take a look at how you can charge your electric car in seven easy steps for useful advice.

While getting a wallbox installed at home and even at work is easier than ever these days – there may even be funding available for the installation, depending on where you live – you’ll not always be at home when you need to charge up. When you’re out on the road, it’s still more difficult to find a charging station than it is to find a petrol station. This may not be the case forever, as electric cars are gaining in popularity and more stations are popping up. But for now, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Buying an electric car is definitely a future-focused choice, and the technology will only improve. But you should be aware of all the electric car’s pros and cons, and consider your own personal priorities. Can you afford to shell out extra now for savings further down the line? Are you ready to change how you power your car? Whether you’re going electric or staying with traditional engines for the time being, be sure to check out our guides and in-depth reviews to get informed.

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