Should I buy an electric car? The pros and cons of making the switch

A Peugeot electric car plugged into a Source London EV charging point, London. Picture date: Friday March 5, 2021. (PA)

The UK is on the road to becoming carbon-neutral and, from 2030, sales of all new petrol and diesel cars will be banned.

Sooner or later, motorists will have to consider switching to an electric car. The big question is whether it makes more sense now or later?

The transition from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars to electric vehicles (EVs) is being driven by the impact that petrol and diesel cars have on the environment.

Fossil fuelled vehicles are responsible for around a fifth of all carbon emissions in the UK, according to Greenpeace. There’s also a clear link between pollution and life-changing illnesses such as coronary heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer, and asthma.

Read more: When will petrol cars be banned? The government's plans explained

The argument for electric cars is compelling, but as with most things, EVs have their advantages and disadvantages.

We've weighed up the pros and cons of zero emissions vehicles to help you decide if an electric vehicle is the best option for you right now.

Electric car plugged into Evolt charge point in Cambridge, England, UK. (Photo by: Andrew Michael/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
An electric car charging point in Cambridge. (Getty Images)

The benefits of electric cars

  • An EV can cost as little as a third to run per mile as a petrol or diesel vehicle, depending on whether you recharge from home (cheapest) or use a public charger.

  • Electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly because there are no tailpipe emissions of harmful gases released into the atmosphere.

  • Running an EV unlocks various tax benefits. Road Tax, also known as Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) or Car Tax, is paid for by all car owners. However, as it's based on CO2 emissions, electric car drivers pay nothing because EVs are rated zero.

  • There are fewer moving parts and there's less to go wrong in an EV compared to a petrol or diesel car. It's estimated a switch to electric could save you an estimated 20-30% on service and maintenance costs compared to an ICE vehicle.

  • The choice of EVs is growing fast. Most major manufacturers now offer electric models in all shapes and sizes – and for all budgets. It's also possible to buy a used electric car, such as a Nissan Leaf, for less than £10,000.

  • Driving an EV is easier because they don't have gearboxes. Just select Drive, press the accelerator and go.

  • EVs offer a refined ride because there’s no engine noise from an electric motor, so you can relax and enjoy the smooth driving experience.

  • Electric cars have what's known as 'instant torque'. Unlike a conventional petrol or diesel car, you get all the torque (or oomph) from the moment you put your pedal to the metal, resulting in sports car acceleration.

  • EVs feature the latest driver assistance technology, making them some of the safest cars on the road. They also must undergo the same rigorous crash testing and meet the same safety standards required for ICE cars.

  • Business users of electric cars benefit from tax savings potentially running into four figures because there are no emissions from EVs.

  • If you live in central London, all EVs are completely exempt from the Congestion Charge, while some boroughs also offer free or reduced-charge parking.

The all-electric Nissan Leaf is produced in Sunderland (Photo: Nissan)
The all-electric Nissan Leaf is produced in Sunderland (Photo: Nissan)

The cons of electric cars

  • The upfront or purchase cost of electric vehicles is higher than petrol or diesel equivalents.

  • EVs have a shorter range than petrol and diesel-powered cars. Many diesels are capable of more than 500 miles on a tank of fuel, while EVs typically have an average range of 100-300 miles, and even then it is dependent on factors such as temperature and whether you're using ancillaries such as air conditioning.

  • The worry of not knowing whether you have enough charge to reach your destination, or "range anxiety" is still an issue for EV drivers. Especially those with ranges of less than 200 miles.

  • It takes a few minutes to refuel a conventional car, but it can take as much as several hours to charge an EV, depending on the speed of charger you're using.

  • Charging an EV is not as cheap as it was because home and public charger tariffs are creeping up as a result of soaring electricity prices.

  • The charging infrastructure is growing, but not fast enough to keep up with the boom in EV sales. According to the Zap-Map database, there were 32,663 charging points across 19,960 UK locations in June 2022. However, they are not distributed evenly, leaving many areas with little or no choice.

  • There is a new phenomenon known as "charger anxiety" which is when a driver arrives at a public chargepoint location only to find a queue of cars waiting, or worse still, a broken charger.

  • Critics claim EVs can’t claim to be "green" until all electricity is generated using renewables such as wind and solar. Currently, as much as a third of UK electricity is generated using fossil fuels (gas and coal).

  • There are environmental and human rights concerns over the production of lithium-ion batteries which rely on raw materials such as lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements, often obtained from developing countries.

  • Running an electric vehicle is emissions-free, but critics say it can take several years for an EV’s overall carbon footprint to drop below that of an ICE equivalent. The extra CO2 associated with EVs is largely attributed to the battery which is carbon intensive to manufacture.

  • Whether you’re buying or leasing, or choosing new or used, there’s less choice of electric cars compared to petrol and diesels.

  • EV battery packs do not last forever. They degrade over hundreds of charge/use cycles, becoming less effective in the process. Some will have a 'second life' providing electricity storage for homes and industry, but there are question marks over their long-term recyclability.

Read more: Electric vehicles are not worse for the planet – here's why

Read more: Why the UK is producing half its electricity from gas

So, should I buy an electric car?

Yes, if you can afford an EV or you’re willing to buy second-hand.

However, if you can’t have a charge point fitted at home, you live in an area with limited public chargers or an electric vehicle just doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle right now, it may be early for you to make the switch.

If you're not ready to go pure electric, you might want to consider switching to a hybrid car to cut down on your emissions and increase fuel economy.

Whatever decision you make, one thing is for sure - the future of driving is electric.