Electric cars and other eco vehicles

An electric car being charged

Sick of rising petrol prices? Keen on a greener vehicle? You may be considering an electric or hybrid car, but how practical and affordable are they?

While sales of electric cars have really soared in just a few years, you still don't see many on the road.

That's particularly true outside cities, where councils have been slower to install the infrastructure needed to encourage drivers to use electric cars.

If you're wondering how practical and affordable an e-car is, here are some points to consider.

Are electric cars affordable?

It's easy to assume that electric cars are futuristic technology that's simply unaffordable for the average household.Car

But that's not necessarily true. The Renault Twizy costs less than £7,000,[1] although it's a two-seater that looks more like a futuristic dune buggy than a car.

Part of the reason the price is so low is that you don't buy the expensive battery. Instead you pay a monthly fee to rent it, which varies depending on the number of miles you do.

There are affordable, family-size cars such as the Nissan Leaf available at prices that don't measure too badly against many comparable petrol or diesel vehicles.

Are electric cars cheaper to run?

With no road tax or London congestion charge to pay, electric cars are an attractive option for some drivers, and volatile fuel prices can make them more competitive.

The Nissan Leaf costs around 2p a mile to power, compared to 13p a mile for a similar petrol-fuelled car. The Twizy costs about £1 to fully charge.

Electric vehicles offer a clean and green alternative to petrol and diesel powered transport
Greater London Authority

For motorists who regularly drive through the centre of London, it's possible that electric cars could save them thousands of pounds a year.

Can you insure them?

It's still early days for electric car technology, and many car insurers are unwilling to cover them just yet.

But that doesn't mean you can't get protection, just that you'll have fewer insurers to compare prices from.

That's why it's so important to compare insurance premiums for electric cars so that you can find the best price possible and not just snap up the first insurer that offers you cover.

What's more, increasing number of insurers are entering the electric car market, meaning that our regular top tip not to auto-renew your insurance is even more important with this sort of vehicle.

Because fewer insurers cover electric vehicles, premiums may not be as competitive and you might have to pay more than you would for a standard car.Car insurance groups

However, because electric cars pay no road tax, you'll be able to offset at least some of that extra cost.

Are electric vehicles greener?

There's quite a lot of debate about whether electric cars are actually kinder to the environment than standard engines.

After all, the electricity has to be generated somewhere, and that has a carbon footprint.

Also, some people have suggested that manufacturing and disposing of the batteries has a greater environmental impact than the drivers realise.

However, they are certainly better for the local environment. Unlike standard engines, electric cars don't pump any pollution out as they run, which is one of the reasons why cities are so keen to encourage them.

A full charge will cost around £2-3 and will give a typical range of 100 miles. Driving 100 miles in a petrol or diesel car will cost around £12-18 in fuel
The Energy Saving Trust

How practical are electric cars?

The good news is that electric cars can be very easy to charge, especially if you have off-road parking or a suitable plug socket in your garage.

It can take up to eight hours to fully charge an electric car, although that depends on the model.

If you live in a flat or don't have a suitable parking space then it can get trickier, although many cities are investing in charging bays so that flat dwellers can easily power up their motors.

Increasingly, service stations offer rapid-charge bays where you can get a decent power-up in under an hour.

The battery life will be an issue for some motorists. Fully electric vehicles display the anticipated mileage on the dashboard, but that can drop dramatically if you don't drive efficiently.Fuel cost calculator

As a general rule, the faster you go the quicker you'll burn through your battery, so motorway driving can really slash the number of miles the car can do on one charge.

For drivers mostly covering urban miles and making just short journeys, electric cars can be perfectly practical.

What are the other options?

An alternative to a fully electric car is a hybrid vehicle, one that uses both an electric motor and standard engine.

These use less fuel and emit less CO2 than normal cars. They also qualify for lower road tax.

Some hybrids generate electricity as they are driven, while others can be charged just like an electric car.

These are called 'plug-in hybrids' and the Toyota Prius is probably one of the best-known models.

Because a hybrid can also run on petrol, you don't get the same 'range anxiety' as with an electric vehicle, so some drivers see this as a more acceptable compromise.

By Felicity Hannah