Your guide to buying an electric vehicle

Your guide to buying an electric vehicle
Your guide to buying an electric vehicle

Get switched on to the world of electric cars

Sales of cars with electric motors are on the up in the UK. Almost 70,000 have been sold this year – that’s all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars, which together make up the alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) market.

They are particularly appealing to those who drive largely in town: they minimise emissions, cut fuel costs and, in many cities, enjoy benefits specifically reserved for electric car drivers. Add in the fact 150 miles of range will cost you just £3 if you charge at home, and the benefits are obvious. Here, then, is how to go about buying an electric car.

Buying an electrified car

The first stumbling block many have with electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars is the fact they are more expensive to buy than conventional models. But while this is the case on paper, there are government grants that will help take the sting out of this. For example, if the car emits less than 50g/km CO2 and will do at least 70 miles as an EV, you’ll get a £4,500 grant.

Even if it can only do between 10 and 69 miles under electric power alone, you’ll still get £2,500 off. Some manufacturers are even offering specific green car incentives on top of these: trade in a diesel car for a low-emission BMW or Mercedes and the firms will give you an extra £2,000 off, on top of any government cash.

Understanding electric car lingo

The next challenge many have is the electric car lingo bandied about. So here, we’re going to clear things up, starting first with the different types of car.

EV: that’s electric vehicle – these are cars that run only on electric. You ‘refuel’ them by plugging them in and charging the batteries. These models enjoy the most government and local authority money-saving benefits.
EV example: Nissan Leaf

Hybrid: also known as a hybrid electric vehicle, or HEV, these models combine a normal petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor and batteries. You don’t plug them in, as the batteries are charged when you brake, but their electric range is minimal.
Hybrid example: Toyota Prius

Plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV): Like a normal hybrid, but with much bigger batteries that can be plugged in and recharged. They offer a far greater electric-only range than normal hybrids, and offer many of the money-saving benefits of an EV.
PHEV example: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Hydrogen electric vehicle: Also known as fuel cell cars, these combine hydrogen with oxygen to create electricity which powers an onboard motor. They’re rare, because they’re expensive and hard to refill with hydrogen.
Hydrogen electric vehicle example: Toyota Mirai

Battery lingo

Batteries are at the heart of electric cars. Here are some of the terms involved, explained.

kWh: Battery capacity is measured in KWh – that’s kilowatt hours. The bigger the number, the larger the range should be: a Tesla Model S 85D, for example, has an 85KWh battery.

Ah: Some car makers measure battery power in Ampere Hours, or Ah. A BMW has either 60Ah or 94Ah batteries – 22kWh and 33kWh respectively.

Lithium ion: The most popular type of electric car battery at the moment is lithium ion tech, similar to high-capacity units found in mobile phones and laptops.

Charging lingo

The world of charging electric cars seems complex, so here we summarise the essentials.

Types of charging: There are three types: slow (3kWh), fast (7-22kWh) and rapid (43-50kWh). The bigger the number in KWh, the faster your car will charge up – the difference between slow and rapid, for example, is stark. A full charge on a Nissan Leaf with a slow charger takes up to eight hours – and as little as three hours with a fast charger.

Types of plug: Not all electric cars have the same plug. The most popular is the Type 2 ‘Mennekes’ seven-pin type. A Mitsubishi Outlander has a Type 1 five-pin plug; you can get convertors that allow Type 1 plugs to be used at Type 2 chargers.

Mains charging: The slowest type of charging, using a three-pin domestic socket. Make sure your electrical system is checked over for safety before you start using it regularly to charge EVs.

Wallbox / home charger: A dedicated home charging station for your car; take either slow or fast charger systems.

Public chargers: You’ll find these at motorway service stations and at the roadside. They are either fast or rapid chargers – but you have to pay to use them. Popular charging network Ecotricity charges £6 for a 30-minute rapid charge.

10 best electric cars

  1. Volkswagen e-Up: EV
  2. Nissan LEAF: EV
  3. Toyota Mirai: hydrogen fuel cell
  4. Kia Soul EV: EV
  5. Tesla Model X: EV
  6. Hyundai Ioniq: EV / PHEV / hybrid
  7. Volkswagen e-Golf: EV
  8. BMW i3: EV / plug-in hybrid
  9. Tesla Model S: EV
  10. Renault Zoe: EV

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