The trials and tribulations of buying an Electric Vehicle (EV) 

The trials and tribulations of buying an Electric Vehicle (EV) 

Last week, the government (re)announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2030, as part of its 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’.

For those of you considering a more planet-friendly car, I thought I’d share my own experience about why I decided to go electric, how I chose my car, some basic info I wish I’d known before I started, and bust some common EV myths along the way too.

Before I bought my Renault Zoe I worried whether I’d have ‘range anxiety’, where I’d plug it in at friends’ houses, if it would charge on a 3-pin plug, whether I’d miss using gears, if I should get finance or try to buy it outright, if I’d still need to pay for car parks, how much of my electricity comes from fossil fuels…the list went on. 

Sci-fi dream car

Cut to – me in my EV gliding along effortlessly and gear-free, feeling like I’m flying along in a fantastical sci-fi hover vehicle from the future, feeling super-chilled with a huge grin on my face! Electric cars are such a joy to drive. Now I’ve finally taken the leap to electric, I wonder why it took me so long. 

Petrol in my blood

Growing up with a dad addicted to engines, who always raced contraptions of one kind or another, and whose business was selling Citroen 2CVs (yes, those charming pram-like cars with sardine-can soft-tops that were designed for French farmers in the 1940s), you could say I’ve always had petrol in my blood. Weekends were spent at car rallies, motorbike meetings and race circuits. On the day of my 17th birthday, with several weeks of car park practice already under my belt, I drove my dad round Birmingham city centre and within six weeks I’d passed my test. I never dreamed I’d one day leave the internal combustion engine (ICE) behind. I’m sure many of you feel the same. 

What changed?

I reached the point where my fear of what is happening to our planet and my desire to take a progressive step forward out-weighed the minor inconveniences that an EV would bring about. When it comes to climate change, I have long been talking the talk, but was I walking the walk? The facts and figures I learnt at Belper’s Carbon Zero events back in February 2019 really hit home. It was time to act, and quickly.

So, despite all the debate about whether an EV over its whole life cycle has a lower carbon footprint than an ICE car, I decided that, based on my own circumstances which I’ll elaborate on below, this would be one of the many positive steps I could take to start to take control of my carbon footprint. And so I began to walk that walk…

Photo courtesy of Rawfilm on Unsplash

Environmental impact 

At the time I attended the Zero Carbon events (Feb 2019) it was said that there’s a good argument for keeping older, efficient cars on the road. Unfortunately, my 12 year old Toyota Auris did not fall into this category! Plus major, hard-to-diagnose issues with the car’s various control systems meant expensive repairs were imminent: a major issue with contemporary cars all together, and similar to our white goods, they’re not built to last or easily be repaired. This, plus the constant guilt of driving around with a big black cloud of smoke behind me, choking pedestrians and cyclists every time I pulled off, became too much. 

An encouraging article – How EVs help to tackle climate change

I have recently come across this fact checked article which may be encouraging to EV owners, or potential ones. It explores in detail the lifetime emissions of electric vehicles, stating that EVs are responsible for considerably lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional (internal combustion engine) vehicles across Europe as a whole.” 

The piece goes on to say that whilst the manufacture of EVs produces higher emissions than for a conventional car due to the battery, this excess carbon is paid back within two years of driving. As a result, “even if a new EV replaces an existing conventional car, it would still start to cut emissions after less than four years of use compared to continuing to run the older vehicle.” Please do read the full article to understand how they have come to these conclusions.

Obviously, where your electricity comes from is key to keeping your driving emissions down – charging your car at home using a 100% renewable energy supplier means zero emissions. 

There are of course much ethical and environmental controversy around the manufacture of EVs. My hope is that with ongoing exposure and with government policy now behind EV ownership, that these issues will soon be a thing of the past.

Balancing cost vs range

A key factor that puts a lot of people off is the cost of electric cars versus the range you get for your money. They are more expensive to buy than conventional cars, prohibitively so for many people, but there are savings to be made on running and repairs costs, and it’s worth looking at older models if most of your journeys are local and short – all of which I’ll explore below.

I knew I wanted something similar in size to or smaller than my Auris (I feel that everyone hurtling around in huge over-sized chunks of metal is excessive and a luxury way beyond our needs, plus I have no kids to ferry about). Most of my journeys are six miles to town and back, as I live too far from a bus route – not an issue for any EV. However, my longest range requirement was that I wanted to get to my friends in London with no more than one stop to charge part way (although post-covid I plan to take the train for many of my longer journeys). But despite having a budget of £10,000 in mind, it initially looked like even this wouldn’t get me the car I needed. 

So I considered borrowing even more money and started to get excited about the innovatively styled BMW i3, but I soon realised that its hefty price tag seemed to offer looks and reputation but not much in terms of range compared to other cars on the market. Here are some of those I considered (new prices shown for ease of comparison):

Make Model Battery size kWh Range (from real world in winter to unrealistic factory environment) Price new in £
Renault Zoe ZE50 R110 52 135-295 26,000
Peugeot e208 45 120-255 25,500
BMW i3 120 AH 37.9 100-225 32,000
Nissan Leaf 36 95-200 27,000
Nissan Leaf e+ 56 140-300 33,000

Table info from

I looked at new cars initially as it was easier to find the data to compare models, then worked my way backwards until I found a good balance between affordability and range. Buying a new car never seems to make sense financially due to huge depreciation at the start, plus I decided, on reflection, that I could get what I needed without too much borrowing. 

It’s worth considering some of the cheapest EVs on the market – an early Nissan Leaf can cost as little as £5,000. However, it only has a 24kw battery, which means a max real-world range of about 80 to 90 miles when new, with a decrease of up to 20% in a used model – still great for local journeys, but not quite enough for me. Early Leafs may require a battery repair or swap however, so do investigate this when researching.

My final choice 

I test drove a two year old Nissan Leaf but decided it was much more ‘executive’ in feel than I needed and too big as well. I’m pretty down-to-earth with cars and practicality is fine with me, and that’s when I spotted the Zoe! I shopped around (worth doing) and finally found a two year old R90 ZE40 model, with 18,000 miles on the clock (I was advised that a higher mileage isn’t so much of an issue with EVs, especially with a rented battery) for £11,290. I was very pleased.  

A battery lease saves on upfront price tag

A major factor that helped to support me in my purchase was getting a battery lease, which is still available with older Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf models. This reduced the up-front cost by around £6,000, with monthly payments for the Zoe ranging from £59 for up to 4,500 miles per year, up to £110 for unlimited mileage, plus the added knowledge that the battery will always be covered in case of fault or failure. Hopefully by the time I change my car battery cost will have come down a lot and the new cars will be more affordable by then without leases. (Renault have already phased their leased batteries out.)

And what about the degradation of the battery?

It appears that EV batteries are fairing better than was originally anticipated. This helpful article from Which explores the life of EV batteries in some detail. Their survey concludes that, on the whole, batteries do degrade but only minimally, and that it is rare, and mainly in high-end SUVs, that a battery needs to be completely replaced. I also understand that older batteries with certain faults can be repaired – definitely worth looking into if you want to save money and buy an older model. If you’re still nervous then you can always buy a second hand Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf with a leased battery (see previous paragraph). 

EVs have cheaper repair costs and are tax exempt

To offset the initial purchase cost, it’s also worth considering that EVs have considerably cheaper repair costs than ICE cars. Consumer Reports, the US’s not-for-profit equivalent of Which, says that the “…estimated lifetime average repair and maintenance costs for BEVs and PHEVs are approximately half the cost of ICE vehicles.”  You can read the full article and find a link to the full report here.

What’s more EVs are tax free, plus they can be run for less money than petrol and diesel cars if cheap overnight tariffs are chosen with your 100% renewable electricity company. 

We have a huge mountain to climb – buying an EV is just one small step

I hope I’ve managed to cover some of the key points about buying an EV. I know there is a lot more I could say. In order to meet the dramatic carbon reduction targets we are faced with to bring global warming within a survivable rise, we need to do a great deal more than simply swapping all of our current cars for EVs. We actually need to drastically reduce the amount of cars on the roads and completely overhaul our approach to travel. Vehicle share schemes in every community and cleaner, more comprehensive public transport networks everywhere will be essential, as well as us choosing to shop and work more locally so that we can travel there on foot or by bike. Every big journey, however, starts with one small step…

I’d like to leave you with some questions to consider: 

  • Which of your current journeys could you make on foot, bus or bike? 
  • Could you change your routine or lifestyle to allow a bit more time to travel more slowly? 
  • If the majority of your journeys are very local but too far to walk, cycle or go by bus, and you can afford to financially, would you consider an EV? 

And finally, some things I wish I’d known at the start of my EV journey:

  • The OLEV government grant will give you £350 off the cost of having a home charge point installed, as long as you are eligible (see link below in Resources). The cost of a home charger after the grant starts from around £500 for supply and fit.
  • You may need modifications to your wiring to support a home charger, so factor in this cost as well as the charger + installation – a fairly standard requirement is an isolation switch which cost me £95. Some electricity companies install these for free (Octopus for example). 
  • EV’s are all automatic and only have one gear – Unlike conventional cars, EVs only need one gear due to the way in which they deliver power to the wheels, which makes acceleration generally rather fast and always very smooth. They are such a joy to drive and very zippy!
  • You can run a cable across a pavement to charge an EV – you just need to be safe about it, using trunking to cover it up. 
  • It’s helpful to (re)learn some electricity basics!
kW = measure of power My car’s motor is 68kw
kWh = energy used in an hour My car battery’s charging speed is anything up to 22kWh and it holds 44kWh of energy
kW / kWh = charging time (plus a bit!) At 22 kWh (the fastest public charge point I can use) my car takes approx 2 hours to fully charge 
  • You can charge on a 3 pin plug – but it’s very slow (mine only charges at 2.4kWh so takes over 17 hours from flat to full.)
  • Some electricity companies promise 100% renewable energy, but in reality don’t deliver it (e.g. Eon) – Instead they buy certificates for renewable energy but can’t always deliver it. Look out for truly 100% renewable companies.
  • EVs have a lower range and take longer to charge in cold weather, so expect your highest mileages in the summer!

Some useful EV resources:

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