Buying a car Electric cars guide
Thinking about buying an electric car? Our guide tells you which performed best in our tests, how to get a government-funded grant towards the cost of a new electric car and the installation of a charging point at your home.
We've tested a number of electric cars. Find out which cars outperformed the competition by seeing our Best Buy car recommendations.
Pure battery power electric cars
When choosing which type of plug-in car to buy, your main decision is whether to choose an all-electric vehicle with only a battery-driven electric motor, or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), in which the battery power and motor supplement, or are backed up by, a combustion engine as well.
We test electric cars in our lab in the same way we assess conventional petrol or diesel-powered cars, subjecting them to the same stringent tests. Below is a summary of the pure battery power electric cars we've tested, which includes three Best Buys.
Plug-in hybrid cars
Plug-in hybrid models come in two types. Firstly, there are those which are similar to the familiar Toyota Prius or Honda Insight in their technologies, but with plug-in external charging to enhance their range (and speed) in their all-electric mode.
Alternatively, there are a small number of models which, in urban conditions and on shorter journeys, run mostly as electric vehicles, but have a small internal combustion engine as well which kicks in and acts as a generator to charge the car's batteries; in these, known as range-extended electric vehicles or RE-EVs, the engine does not directly drive the wheels. Examples of range-extended electric vehicles include the BMW i3 Range Extender (or 'REx'), and the Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt (both now discontinued in the UK).
Plug-in car grants
You can get grants for buying an electric car and installing a home charging point
Government-backed grants are available through OLEV (Office for Low Emissions Vehicles) towards the cost of selected electric vehicles. The plug-in car grants (there is a similar scheme for vans) are awarded in three categories, and currently cover 35% of the basic purchase price or £5000, although the scheme is to be reviewed in May 2015.
To qualify for the grants, vehicles must meet a set of criteria defined by OLEV; these include, for all-electric vehicles, being able to travel a minimum 70 miles between charges. PHEVs must be able to go at least 10 miles in electric-only mode. Eligible vehicles are listed on the OLEV and Department for Transport websites, and the discount will automatically be taken off the price of the car at purchase - there is no need for the buyer to apply.
Home charging points
Although many electric vehicle owners do charge their vehicles from domestic sockets - in their garage, for example - this is slow and potentially dangerous, especially at older properties. If you are thinking of doing this, your domestic electricity circuits and wiring should be checked thoroughly by a suitably experienced and qualified electrician to ensure that you have the necessary circuit-breakers, isolation switches and resistance to overheating.
Installing a dedicated vehicle charging socket and system is recommended, and many car manufacturers have teamed up with charging equipment-makers to offer a charger designed to work with your electric car. A 32 amp unit will charge up to 30-60% faster than a conventional socket, depending on vehicle and battery type.
Grants are also available towards the cost of having a charging point installed at your home; OLEV is currently offering up to £700 (or 75% of the cost) towards equipment fitted by one of its approved suppliers.
Finding an electric charging point on the move
Zap-Map tells you the speed of the charging point as well as location
If you need to charge your electric car or plug-in hybrid when you're on the move, there are a number of different websites mapping the various publicly-accessible charging points across the entire country. These include on-street charging points in city centres, for example, as well as the growing number of high-voltage fast-chargers and rapid-chargers at strategic service stations on the motorway network.
Zap-map.com, for instance, not only tells you where the charging points are, it also tells you the kW output of that specific charging point and the type of connecter required to charge at that location. It can also navigate to it.
There are also free smartphone apps, including the Charge Your Car app, that give you access to electric car charge points using your Apple or Android devices.