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How to buy an electric car (and know what to ask)

When looking to buy a car most of us will be familiar with the right questions to ask. How many miles per gallon does the car do? What is the acceleration like? And, most importantly, does it come with heated seats!

But now that everything is going electric, knowing the right questions to ask when buying a new EV car, isn’t always as simple. Often, it is made even harder by the lack of consistent vocabulary use between manufacturers and dealers. 

Fixed decided to compile a simple guide to the key questions to ask yourself, and your car dealer, before committing to a new EV purchase.

What to do before you even start to look

The key question here is where you’re planning to charge you car.

According to Andersen, a UK manufacturer of home chargers, a third of UK households do not have a driveway or garage where they could charge a vehicle. 

Others may have private parking, but access to install an electricity point may be problematic, for example if their parking space is located some distance from their property and they have to cross someone else’s land to get to it.

However, the Government is committed to the various deadlines it has put in place to ensure that all cars on UK roads are electric, and this is all going to happen in the next 10-15yrs.  Consequently, lots of things are happening in the arena of public charging points to try and make EVs a compelling alternative to petrol cars.

In the last eight years alone the number of public charging points has grown from somewhere in the region of 2000 to more than 34,000. Of these over 6,000 are rated as rapid and nearly 20,000 as fast. 

At present about 20% of new cars in the UK are electric or hybrid, which is relatively low compared to other countries in the world such as Norway where as many as 80% of new cars are electric. But, as the proportion of EVs on the road in this country increases the workload of the public chargers will also increase, so more will be needed.  

The good news is that if you’re thinking about buying an EV and don’t have a space where you can install a charger there are plenty of public facilities on offer if you look around. Check out the various apps and maps from providers which are available such as Zapmap and Carwow, or type a search into Google to find places near you.

The other bit of good news is that despite the myth that the national grid won’t be able to cope with the increased demand if we all start driving electric cars, this is apparently not true. 

The national grid has written extensively about the issues and challenges it faces to provide electricity as the demand increases because of EVs. But it is currently confident the net increase will only amount to something in the region of 10%. It does concede that load management techniques will need to be used at local and household level to ensure the demand can be spread across the day. But decreases in overall demand since the early noughties created by general more energy efficiency, should offset the growth in demand.

If you prefer the idea of powering your new EV with green energy, check out our other article about the best ways to do this.

Other key questions to answer before you look

When you’re sure you have an accessible and convenient location to charge an EV you’ll then need to ask yourself a few more practical questions.

The first of which is whether you can get a better tariff from your electricity provider. 

Although the current energy crisis has dampened enthusiasm from providers to offer EV friendly tariffs, some energy companies are still offering either a tariff designed for people with EVs or a tariff which incorporates the fact you will be using it to charge an EV.  

For example, some will offer cheaper overnight tariff charges to appeal to those who are able to charge their vehicle at night only.

Before you even start looking for a car, check out the tariff you are currently on and ask your provider if there are any other options open to you which might prove more cost effective if you start using your home supply to charge a vehicle.

What kind of car do you actually need?

In general smaller EVs are more energy efficient than larger ones. Unfortunately this means that unless you really need the space provided by a big SUV it is much more likely that your needs will be better met by purchasing a smaller car.

To figure out what is the best option for you think about the types of journeys you mostly make. Are they generally short or long? And how many people do you generally have to take in the car at any one time?

Bigger EVs which promise journeys of 300 or 400 miles before needing to recharge may sound ideal, but remember they will always be quoting best case scenario distances.  And the time taken to recharge will be longer if you have a large capacity battery. Plus, they invariably come with a bigger price tag in the first place.

This might be exactly what you need if enough of your journeys are long distance, but if your only long journey is the annual trip across country to see family, then a smaller car will almost certainly be more cost, and time, effective for you.

Remember, you can always hire a vehicle for one-off trips.

At the dealership

So, you’ve figured out the practical questions about owing an EV, and you’ve decided on the type of vehicle that you need to buy to suit your needs. The next step is to whittle down the list of possible vehicles to buy by reading online reviews and doing some research, then visiting dealers to take a look at actual cars and possibly even test drive a few.

Whilst you might be used to asking how many miles per gallon a car will do, the set of questions you need to ask the dealer are slightly different when buying an EV.

The key information is to find out how many miles per kilowatt the vehicle will give you. 

This will enable you to work out exactly what added cost you will be putting on your quarterly electricity bill. Ideally you’ll be able to buy something that will save you money on petrol or diesel costs, and even in these times when energy costs are sky high, this should still be relatively easy to achieve if you pick the right vehicle and the right tariff from your electricity provider.

Second you will want to know what the maximum number of miles the vehicle will do when fully charged.  Whatever the dealer tells you, subtract 5-10% to get a more realistic view because this can be affected by all sorts of factors from passenger/cargo weight to the weather. 

The manufacturer’s numbers will always be based on best case scenario. Plus, as time goes on the efficiency of the battery will degrade, so you want to know what you are getting for the medium to long term as well as just in the first few months.

Related to that point, be sure to ask the dealer what the battery life expectancy is and if there is a warranty. Car batteries are eye wateringly expensive, so you want to know you’re going to get value for money for a good length of time before it needs replacing. And that you are covered in case anything goes wrong in the first few years.

Lastly, be sure to ask how long it takes to recharge the battery. A good, fully electric car, should be able to easily cope with the average journeys undertaken by most UK drivers everyday without needing to recharge until you get home. But, there will be instances where you’ll need to recharge and you’ll be keen to know how much that will add to your journey time.

Anything else?

It seems that every choice we make as modern day consumers is loaded with risk and unseen responsibilities. Some car manufacturers however are taking the responsibility to arm consumers with the information they need, very seriously. 

Volvo, and it’s EV arm Polestar, for example, are really leading by example here by offering consumers a plethora of information about where and how the raw materials are sourced to make their cars. 

If you want to be a true 21st century responsible customer you could also think about quizzing your dealer for information on where they buy their batteries and metals, for instance, just to double check you aren’t funding problems you’d rather not give your hard-earned cash to.

Once you’ve covered off all these questions you’ll be back on familiar ground and can start asking all the usual questions that you’ve asked in the past when buying a car.  Most importantly you can make sure those heated seats are included in the price!


June 2023