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Amid the petrol crisis, is it time to switch to an electric car?

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As some petrol stations ran out of fuel and queues of cars lined up outside those that did have stocks, causing lengthy waits for motorists waiting to fill up, many drivers’ thoughts turned to the option of buying an electric vehicle.

The classified ad website Autotrader says there was a 60% rise in searches for electric cars in the week after 24 September, when shortages at the pumps started. Industry figures show that the number of electric cars sold in the UK last month neared the figures for the whole of 2019.

Seán Kemple of Close Brothers Motor Finance, which offers car loans through dealerships, said the recent fuel shortages may act as a catalyst for some drivers to switch over sooner than planned. “With demand for electric vehicles already growing rapidly this year, the fuel shortages will have certainly further raised awareness for consumers of the benefits of owning an EV,” he said.

In the past, many drivers have been turned off by the upfront cost, which is typically higher than petrol equivalents. But with the price of production falling and battery prices coming down, switching is becoming more accessible. So is now the time to go electric?

The upfront cost

Although the cost of producing an electric car is decreasing, the price of an EV is still more than its petrol equivalent, a situation which is expected to continue for the next five years.

The insurer LV= compared similar models of electric and petrol vehicles, with the EVs coming out more expensive. For instance, it found that a Nissan Leaf cost just under £27,995, more than £5,000 more than a petrol Ford Focus; while the electric Tesla Model 3 cost almost £40,990, compared with £39,625 for a petrol BMW 320i.

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There are options for those who do not have the money to buy outright and do not want to take out a loan. Many buyers will choose to lease their cars. This means the driver pays a monthly fee for a number of years, after which they hand back the car or take a newer model and start another contract.

DriveElectric, a leasing company in Buckinghamshire, says most customers lease for between two and four years and get a newer model at the end of the term. A Nissan Leaf can cost from £200 a month on a four-year contract with the firm.

Monique Furniss from Rotherham-based Norton Finance said this option appealed to people who wanted to have the most up-to-date vehicle. “Since electric vehicle technology is developing at such a rapid rate, people who are interested in enjoying the environmental and financial benefits of an electric car are more likely to want the newest and therefore most advanced cars,” she said.

Alternatively, drivers can also now get EVs on a renewable monthly basis with everything included, giving them the opportunity of trying them out without committing to buying or a lengthy lease. Onto has contracts that automatically renew each month unless you cancel and has a Renault Zoe ZE50 on its books for £389 a month for a maximum of 1,000 miles with insurance, charging and maintenance included. Onto says there is no upfront deposit on the vehicles, but additional mileage above the monthly limit must be paid for, as well as delivery and collection fees. Elmo meanwhile has the same car from £379 a month with a limit of 800 miles. It costs £397.78 for 1,000 miles and £416.55 for 1,200 miles.

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Melanie Shufflebotham, the co-founder of the Zap-Map website and app, which helps drivers find charging points, said the subscription model was a good way to test an EV for the first time.

If you would rather buy outright, the government offers a grant for the initial purchase of qualifying vehicles, although it is not as generous as it was. The plug-in vehicle grant gives you up to £2,500 off the price of a brand new qualifying car as long as it costs less than £35,000.

Running Costs

Although the headline price of an EV is higher than its petrol equivalent, the day-to-day cost of driving the car should be lower. The LV= survey found that the switch away from filling up offers the biggest saving, with EV drivers with an annual mileage of 12,000 saving more than £900 a year.

Charging the car typically costs just over £500 a year,if it is mainly done at home. The average cost for petrol or diesel is £1,435 a year.

To work out how much it will cost you to charge an EV, multiply the unit cost of electricity by the size of the battery. In an example by DriveElectric, a Peugeot e-208 with a 50kWh battery at 5p per kWh will cost £2.50. To keep your spending down, you can switch to one of the specialist tariffs aimed at electric car drivers from suppliers such as Octopus Energy and EDF. Instead of the 12p-15p/kWh that many households pay for each unit of electricity, users on specialist tariffs can cut the cost to 4.5p per kWh at night. (EDF’s GoElectric 35 offers this rate.)

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EVs also get a 100% discount on the congestion charge in London, currently £15 a day. To get the cleaner vehicle discount, you must register, pay a £10 annual fee and submit documents to prove that you own the vehicle.

Insurance and tax

Insurance for EVs has been more expensive than for their petrol equivalents because, in part, the vehicles are more expensive. In the first six months of this year, the average cost of insuring an EV was £490, compared with £509 for a diesel and £456 for a petrol vehicle, according to the price comparison website GoCompare.

Alex Borgnis of LV= said batteries – which can be worth up to 50% of the value of the vehicle – may need to be replaced if they have been involved in an accident, even if they were not damaged. “But as more cars come on to the road, a lot of these challenges lessen, so we would expect owners to have more options in terms of insurance cover and price,” she said.

When taking out insurance, you should investigate whether the policy covers charging cables in case they are damaged or stolen or if someone trips over them and injures themselves.

One straightforward saving from buying an EV is road tax. Zero emission vehicles are exempt.