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Car buying tips

How to buy the best electric car

By Martin Pratt

Article 11 of 11

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How to buy the best electric car

Electric cars are clean, nippy and getting more popular. So should you buy an electric car? Find out how to buy the best model for you.

Thinking about buying an electric car? As more manufacturers are now producing all-electric cars for various classes, they're becoming more popular. 

But there's a lot you need to consider before you can silently start the engine and quietly drive away in your new electric car.

Read on for our top 10 tips on how to buy the best electric car, including how to get a government-funded grant towards the cost and the installation of a charging point at your home.

Already know that you want an electric car? The best are spacious, comfortable and can go long distances between charges. The worst are expensive, impractical and unreliable batteries-on-wheels. Avoid these lesser models by heading to our best electric cars.

1. Do you want an all-electric car?

Your main decision is to choose between two types of plug-in car: 

  • an all-electric car with a battery-driven electric motor 
  • or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), where the battery power and motor supplement are backed up by a combustion engine.

Compared with a hybrid car, purely electric cars have a reduced range. But electric cars are cheaper to run, because they use no fuel other than electricity.

2. Would you be better off with a hybrid?

If you live rurally or you do a lot of long-distance driving, the extra range of a hybrid may be a better option. The limited range of battery-powered electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf can be mitigated if you buy a petrol or diesel engine hybrid such as a Toyota Prius. The petrol or diesel hybrids provide fuel when the car reaches a certain speed or accelerates quickly. 

For the most part, hybrids are more efficient than diesel or petrol cars.

For the most part, hybrids are more efficient than cars that use just diesel or petrol as fuel and typically have lower emissions.   

3. Get a plug-in car grant

Government-backed grants are available through OLEV (Office for Low Emission 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 cost of a car, up to a maximum of £4,500 depending on its CO2 emissions and electric-only range. Only cars that can travel 70 miles or more on battery alone (and have CO2 figures under 50g/km) qualify for the full £4,500 grant.

4. You need to charge electric cars at home

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're 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. You can find a local, trustworthy electrician at Which? Trusted Traders.

Installing a dedicated vehicle-charging socket and system is recommended. 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 the vehicle and battery type. 

Grants are available towards the cost of installing a charging point at your home.

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. 

5. Are there electric car charging points near you?

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, tells you where the charging points are, 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. This gives you access to electric car charge points using your Apple or Android devices. 

6. Is there a charging point where you work?

If you have a long commute, having a charging point at work could be essential. It's no good if your car can only get you one way - no one wants to be stranded at work.

If there's a charging point en route you may be able to get away with not being able to recharge at work. Before you buy an electric car, always check that your frequent journeys are feasible.

7. No car tax for electric cars

For the time, electric cars are completely exempt from car tax. What's more, electric cars will be unaffected by the upcoming changes to car tax law as long as they have zero emissions. 

There is one caveat in the new legislation, however. If the car costs more than £40,000, the owner will be required to pay £310 per year for years two to six. Assuming they still own it, that's a total of £1,550.

8. What electric cars have the longest range?

Be sure to check the maximum range of the electric cars in your shortlist. The maximum ranges vary greatly between models. 

For example, Nissan estimates the Nissan Leaf will go for 155 miles on a full charge, whereas the more expensive Tesla Model S has an estimated max range of around 270 miles.

However, don't just look at the official figures. At Which? we do our own realistic range tests because, just like fuel tests, the figure manufacturers quote are often quite ambitious. We've found cars that fall 30 miles or more short of their quoted range. If you don't want to be caught out, make sure you check out the real ranges of the best electric cars

9. Do you need a lot of boot space?

Electric cars may be cheap to run but they can suffer when it comes to boot space. The huge batteries that keep the cars going need to go somewhere, and often that's in the boot. The same goes for hybrids. 

So make sure you check the boot is big enough for your needs before you buy.

10. Prepare for a different driving experience

Think electric cars are dull, slow and boring to drive? Think again. The basics of driving an electric car are the same - there's still an accelerator and a brake pedal. But in other ways an electric car can be strange to a seasoned driver. 

The lack of pistons and noisy combustion means electric cars ghost along very quietly, and they tend to be very nippy indeed. A lack of noise and quick acceleration can be difficult to get used to at first, as you may not appreciate how quickly you're moving and that may catch you out from time to time, causing you to brake harder than you normally would. 

But as you get used to it, the lack of noise can prove to be very relaxing. 

One difference to take into account when you drive is how quickly electric cars accelerate. The surprising speed can be dangerous, so make sure you take it slow the first few times you drive one.

Our independent tests provide the whole picture: electric-only ranges you can believe, the amount of boot space you can actually use, comfort and ease of driving. Find your perfect new car with our impartial, expert car reviews.