Electric cars – a definitive guide and tips for buyers

Electric car sales in the UK have risen dramatically in recent years. As of June 2022, there were an estiamted 477,000 pure-electric cars on UK roads. However, for many drivers the question remains: is an electric car right for me?1

With help from the Energy Saving Trust, we’ve put together this buyer's guide to help you decide whether to go electric.

Types of electric and plug-in vehicles

electric-cars-guide-types

If you’re considering an electric vehicle for the first time, you might be confused by the terminology you’re faced with. A summary of the commercially available electric car types is as follows:

  1. Electric vehicle (EV)
  2. Battery electric vehicle (BEV)
  3. Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
  4. Hybrid (HEV)
  5. Mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV)
  6. Range-extended electric vehicle (RE-EV)
  7. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCEV)

For more info about these vehicles, read our guide to the different types of electric vehicles.

What EVs are available?

These are exciting times for EVs with the number of vehicles available increasing rapidly – and new models launched almost weekly. 

Some popular models you’ve probably seen on our roads include the Audi E-tron, BMW i4, Citroën e-C4, Fiat 500e, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Honda e, Jaguar I-Pace, Kia e-Niro, Mazda MX-30, Mercedes-Benz EQA, Mini Electric, Nissan Leaf, Peugeot e-208, Polestar 2, Porsche Taycan, Renault Zoe E-Tech Electric, Skoda Enyaq, Tesla Model 3, Vauxhall Corsa-e, Volkswagen ID.3 and Volvo XC40 Recharge.

Here’s an up to date look at all the latest electric, hybrid and plug-in car reviews. We review used EVs, hybrids and PHEVs too.

How many electric vehicles are there in the UK?

We’re tracking the UK’s adoption of EVs on our 'Road to Electric' page; it breaks down the number of electric vehicles on our roads by the different types mentioned above.

Electric car buyers guide


electric-cars-guide

Where can I buy an EV?

New EVs can be bought from vehicle dealerships or leased through leasing companies in the same way as conventional cars.

Tesla is an exception in that it does not have a traditional dealer network and most sales are online. Other manufacturers are considering this sales model, too, and already sell cars online.

Used EVs can also be bought through traditional vehicle sales outlets including franchised and independent dealers. 

If you’re buying a used EV, look for a retailer certified for its EV knowledge and excellence through the Electric Vehicle Approved (EVA) scheme. 

This scheme is operated by the National Franchised Dealers Association and is approved by the Energy Saving Trust, which audits the retailers, and by the Government’s Office for Zero Emission Vehicles

Upfront cost

Some people buy electric cars because they’re fascinated by the tech (we’re looking at you, Tesla owners), while others base their decision on an ethical desire to ‘go green’.

For most of us, though, an electric car needs to make financial sense, which means considering the costs.

How much does an electric car cost?

EVs generally have higher purchase costs prices than their petrol and diesel competitors. But EV running costs are lower, as fuel, tax and maintenance are all, generally, significantly cheaper. 

The cheapest new EVs currently available in the UK start at around £21,000 once the government funded purchase grant has been deducted. Used EVs can be purchased in the UK from as low as £4,500.

As with conventional cars, buying second-hand is a much cheaper option, but then you’ll have to consider a potentially slightly deteriorated battery life. And buying a new battery is nearly tantamount to a write-off.

Generally, EV batteries have a long life, and degradation is minor. There will be a gradual reduction in capacity and range after many years, however. Here’s more info on EV battery life.

You’re not spoilt for choice, either, as there are far fewer pure electric cars for sale second-hand than petrol and diesel models.

The Nissan Leaf is the most common used EV, followed by the Renault Zoe.

Electric car leasing is often a much more affordable option for those looking to make the switch. Find out why in our EV leasing guide.

Electric car prices


electric-cars-prices

Just like their petrol and diesel equivalents, the price of electric cars varies widely, from less than £14,000 for a Renault Twizy to nearly £160,000 for a top-spec Porsche Taycan.

We have outlined rough prices for new electric cars within three budget levels below – just remember to check whether your choice is eligible for the government grant.

Top end EVs:

CarApproximate price
Tesla Model X£99,000
Tesla Model S£92,000
Audi E-Tron GT£82,000
BMW iX£76,000
Porsche Taycan£73,000
Mercedes EQC£66,000
Jaguar I-Pace£65,000
Audi E-Tron£61,000
Volvo C40 Recharge£58,000
BMW i4£52,000
Volvo XC40 Recharge£50,000

Mid-range EVs:

CarApproximate price
Mercedes-Benz EQA£45,000
Audi Q4 Sportback E-Tron£42,000
Tesla Model 3£41,000
Audi Q4 E-Tron£40,000
Hyundai Ioniq 5£37,000
BMW i3£34,000
Tesla Model Y£35,000 (expected)
Tesla Cybertruck£35,000 (expected)
Volkswagen ID.4£35,000
Kia Soul EV£33,000
Citroen e-C4£31,000
Kia e-Niro£31,000
Hyundai Ioniq£31,000
Peugeot e-2008£31,000
Vauxhall Mokka-e£30,000
Volkswagen ID.3£30,000
Honda e£28,000
Hyundai Kona£28,000
Peugeot e-208£28,000
Renault Zoe E-Tech Electric£28,000

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Entry level EVs:

CarApproximate price
Nissan Leaf£26,000
Mini Electric£26,000
Volkswagen Corsa-e£24,000
Volkswagen e-Up£21,000
Smart EQ Fortwo Coupé£17,000

If you’re buying used, choice can be limited and you won’t find an electric car for banger money. 

Used Nissan Leafs start from around £6,500, while Renault Zoe prices start from £8,000.

Find used EVs in your area with our RAC Approved Dealer network.

Cheapest electric cars

If we ignore the two-seat Renault Twizy (technically a quadricycle, rather than a car), you’re looking at the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, BMW i3, Smart EQ ForTwo amongst a few others.

We've got a rundown of the best new and used EVs for those on a budget. Read our cheapest electric cars guide.

Electric car battery lease

Today most EVs have owned, not leased batteries. Until a few years ago leasing the batteries was more common.

This was mainly to de-risk the process for EV purchasers, since if a battery failed or suffered a major loss of performance it would be replaced under the lease agreement. Leasing EV batteries also helps keep purchase costs down.

Used EV buyers are more likely to come across leased batteries – some of the earlier Leafs and Zoes have them. If you buy a used EV with leased batteries, you also need to sign a battery lease contract with the relevant car manufacturer.

EV warranty

EVs typically have between five and eight years’ (or 100,000 miles) warranty on the electric motor and battery components, which includes a performance guarantee to deliver around 70% of their original charge capacity.

For the rest of the car, the length of warranty depends on the manufacturer. It ranges from three years and 60,000 miles to seven years and 100,000 miles.

How much does it cost to run an electric car?


electric-car-running-cost

Fuel costs are much lower for EVs than for conventionally fuelled vehicles. The cost to charge an EV depends on the size of the battery and where you’re charging it.

Drivers that are able to charge at their workplace usually also receive free charging and there is no benefit-in-kind liability associated with this.

Check out our in-depth guide to electric car running costs.

Electric car maintenance, service and repair

Compared with petrol and diesel vehicles, EV servicing and maintenance costs are considerably lower.

This is because electric motors contain many fewer moving parts than internal combustion engines. In addition, EVs don’t have other familiar car parts like a gearbox, clutch, exhaust, catalytic converter or starter motor.

Even the brake pads and discs receive much less wear and tear because much of an EV’s braking is achieved through regenerative braking. 

Nissan says servicing a Leaf costs just £27 a month.

Read our EV maintenance, service and repairs guide.

Electric car MOTs

Like all cars, EVs have to pass an annual MOT test after they are three years old. The main difference is there is no emissions test.

The maximum car MOT test fee is £54.85, but many garages will undercut this.

Find a reliable garage with our RAC Approved Garages search tool.

Are electric cars more reliable than petrol or diesel cars?

Electric cars have only sold in significant numbers since around 2013, but evidence suggests they are very dependable.

A What Car? survey found faults occurred on just 5% of Tesla Model 3s, and the reliability of several other popular EVs also rates in the high 90s.2

For example, the Hyundai Kona Electric was rated as 98.5% reliable, the BMW i3 as 97.9%, the Nissan Leaf as 97.2% and the Jaguar I-Pace as 97%.

Does all that tech mean more servicing?

Electric cars still need regular servicing according to the manufacturer’s schedule, although there are fewer parts to fix. 

Until the battery needs replacement, your biggest outlay is likely to be new tyres.

And in terms of ‘more tech’, many issues will likely be software-related. These can be fixed remotely ‘over the air’ by some EV manufacturers.

How do you service an electric car?

An electric car should be serviced at a dealer that sells new EVs or a non-franchised service outlet where the technicians have been trained in high voltage system service and repair.

Electric car insurance

Insurance ratings – and thus costs – for electric cars tend to be slightly higher than for petrol or diesel equivalents. However, you may be able to negotiate a limited-mileage policy to keep costs down.

If you lease a battery, it remains the property of the car manufacturer, so your insurance company should be informed.

Read our full guide to EV car insurance.

EV Breakdown Cover

EVs are more reliable than conventional vehicles, but some parts can still cause breakdowns – such as tyres and the 12 volt starter battery.

From mobile recharging to all-wheels-up rapid deployment trailers, we do more than any other breakdown provider to keep you and your EV on the road. Read more about our EV breakdown cover options here.

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Electric car road tax

Following changes to the rates of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) in April 2017, zero-emissions vehicles are exempt from ‘road tax’ in the UK.

EVs also attract much lower rates of Benefit in Kind (BiK) company car tax and sit in the lowest 1% band of company car tax for 2021/22.

Electric car grant

The government grant administered by the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) used to apply to all EVs.

However, since March 2021, only EVs with a list price of less than £35,000 (excluding options) now qualify for a £2,500 grant.

VehicleMaximum grant
Electric car£2,500
Electric bike / moped£1,500
Small electric van£3,000
Large electric van£6,000
Taxis£7,500
Trucks£16,000
Plug-in hybridNot eligible

The EV dealer applies for and receives the grant, so if you’re buying the car you don’t need to do anything. 

Still, if you’re considering the economics of purchasing an EV, remember that prices quoted by dealers will almost always have the value of the grant already deducted.

How much does it cost to install an electric car charger at home?

The typical cost of a home charge point is around £800. Here’s a full rundown in our electric car charging at home guide.

Under its Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, OZEV currently offers a grant of up to 75% of this cost, capped at a maximum grant of £350.

EV Charging


electric-cars-charging

Charging your electric car can be done at home, at work or at a public charging point.

However, the world of EV charging can be complicated. There are different rates, charging speeds, voltages, battery sizes, ranges and connectors.

Check out our in-depth guide to how electric car charging works, how much it costs, and how long it takes.

Electric car range

New EVs typically have ranges of 150 to 300 miles, whereas older EVs are more likely to have ranges of around 100 miles.

Read our full guide on electric car range here.

Electric car battery life

Electric car batteries should last for around 10 years, but battery capacity will decline with age and use. 

However, battery life improves in-line with technology. As the industry evolves, the lifespan of a battery will continue to improve. This guide on EV battery life, breaks down all you need to know about looking after your electric car.

The cost of replacing batteries probably won’t prove economical as the car gets older. This may mean that an EV’s life-span is shorter than that of a combustion-engined vehicle.

Read more in our full guide on how long EV batteries last.

EV environmental impact

With no tailpipe emissions, electric cars contribute to reducing pollution in cities.

Non-tailpipe emissions such as brake dust and tyre particles will still be a factor, although the scale of their impact is still under investigation.

For more, read our full guide to the environmental impact of electric vehicles.

Driving an EV


electric-cars-driving

The first thing you’ll notice when driving an electric car is the silence.

The lack of a gearbox means acceleration is smooth and seamless. And because they produce maximum torque from a standstill, even basic models are quick off the mark. 

Apart from a faint hum when accelerating, the only noises come from the wind and tyres.

Gears in all EVs are automatic, while regenerative brakes slow the car when you lift off the accelerator to top up the batteries. Some cars even have ‘one-pedal’ settings or technology. This means that when you lift off the accelerator, the regenerative braking is much more severe – so you can roll to a stop at a junction and rarely need the brakes at all. 

EV performance

Electric motors produce their peak pulling power straight away, so there’s no need to rev the motor for swift acceleration, unlike in a conventional car.

Car manufacturers have more flexibility when it comes to packaging electric drivetrains. Mounting battery-packs close to the floor to lower the centre of gravity means EVs often handle well, too.

Electric car safety

Many electric cars are based on conventional petrol/diesel models, so there is no big difference in EV safety compared to internal combustion engine-powered cars.

The number of purpose-built EVs is growing, and the ability to package components more creatively (such as fitting batteries beneath the floor) allows for more effective crash structures.

Euro NCAP conducted its first crash test of a pure electric vehicle in 2011, when the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was awarded a four-star rating. 

Since then, several other popular EVs have been awarded five-star safety ratings from Euro NCAP.

Does an electric car suit you?


Right now, EVs are best suited to city-dwellers or suburbanites who commute less than 100 miles a day. That’s because the existing charging infrastructure is far more developed in cities than in rural areas.

However, this is changing - and with the government announcing new funding to expand its charging network - it is becoming a lot more convenient to drive an EV.

EVs are slightly more expensive to buy - both new and used - however, with 2030 fast approaching and the cost of fuel rising, there are many other advantages of owning an EV.

With the benefits of owning an EV increasing, now is the time to think about making the switch.

Are you sold on EVs? Perhaps you're already the proud owner of an electric car? Let us know in the comments below.

People also ask:

  • What are the Government’s targets for EVs?

    The UK Government’s targets (clarified in a 2018 Government publication called Road to Zero) are to end the sales of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2035, by which time all cars and vans sold will have “significant zero emission capability”. This terminology would allow the sale of plug-in hybrids with a significant electric-only range. However the targets also state that by this year “most” cars and vans sold will be zero emission e.g. pure electric or perhaps hydrogen fuel cell rather than hybrid or plug-in hybrid. By 2050 the target is for “almost every car sold” to be zero emission.

  • Are EVs only suitable as second cars?

    A few years ago this may have been the case but today many new EVs –even the more affordable models - have ranges in excess of 250 miles per charge so for many people EVs are become a practical option for a first or only car. Most EV owners do also own a petrol or diesel car but in many cases the thinking has been reversed so that the EV is considered to be the first car with a petrol or diesel, often an older vehicle, as a backup for the occasional long journey.

  • Do you need a special driving licence for an EV?

    No, you can drive an EV on a normal driving licence for that category of vehicle.

  • If you pass your driving test in an EV, can you drive a petrol or diesel vehicle?

    Since EVs don’t have gears, if you pass your driving test in an EV you can drive a petrol or diesel but only an automatic.

  • Are EVs only suitable for urban driving?

    No, EVs will cruise effortlessly at motorway speed and many, especially newer models, have ranges of 200 to 300 miles.

What are the Government’s targets for EVs?


The UK Government’s targets (clarified in a 2018 Government publication called Road to Zero) are to end the sales of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, by which time all cars and vans sold will have ‘significant zero emission capability’.3

This terminology would allow the sale of plug-in hybrids with a significant electric-only range, although these will also be banned from 2035.

By 2050, the target is for ‘almost every car sold’ to be zero emission.

Are EVs only suitable as second cars?

A few years ago maybe, but today many new EVs have ranges in excess of 250 miles per charge and are a practical option for a first or only car. Most EV owners also own a petrol or diesel car, but many consider the EV to be the first car, with the combustion-engined car as a back-up for occasional long journeys.

Do you need a special driving licence for an EV?

No, you can drive an EV on a normal driving licence for that category of vehicle.

If you pass your driving test in an EV, can you drive a petrol or diesel vehicle?

Since EVs don’t have gears, if you pass your driving test in an EV you can drive a petrol or diesel car, but only an automatic.

Are EVs only suitable for urban driving?


No, EVs will cruise effortlessly at motorway speeds and many, especially newer models, have ranges of 200 to 300 miles.

The RAC is leading the way when it comes to supporting drivers in the switch to electric vehicles.

An ever-increasing number of our patrol vans have built-in emergency mobile charging systems capable of giving an out-of-charge electric car enough power to be driven a short distance home or to a working chargepoint, while our All-Wheels-Up recovery system allows our patrols to safely rescue electric cars with no need for a flatbed.

Find out more about the RAC’s electric car breakdown cover.

Do the government give you a grant for an electric car?

The Government offers a plug-in car grant (PiCG), also known as the electric car grant. It is available to buyers of eligible electric cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles. 

The grant is administered by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and can be found here.

Below are the available PdCGs.

  • Cars - up to 35%, capped at £1,500
  • Mopeds - up to 35%, capped at £150
  • Motorcycles - up to 35%, capped at £500
  • Small vans - up to 35%, capped at £2,500
  • Large vans - up to 20%, capped at £5,000

Can I get a free electric car charger?

The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) provides EV owners with up to £350 for a charger. However, this is ending on 31st March 2022.

Read next in Choosing an electric car

Leasing an electric car is usually a much better option than buying one. Read our guide to electric car leasing next to find out why.

Read next

Visit the RAC Drive Electric Cars hub

Read our guides on choosing, charging and running an electric car.

Visit the RAC Drive Electric Cars hub

1 https://www.nextgreencar.com/electric-cars/statistics/

2 https://www.whatcar.com/news/2020-what-car-reliability-survey-electric-cars/n21867

3 https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consulting-on-ending-the-sale-of-new-petrol-diesel-and-hybrid-cars-and-vans/outcome/ending-the-sale-of-new-petrol-diesel-and-hybrid-cars-and-vans-government-response

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