The 2030 petrol and diesel ban: your questions answered

From 2030, the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned. But what does it mean for you?

By Steve Smethurst

The UK is to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. According to the Government: “this will put the UK on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise cars and vans” 1. A second deadline of 2035 has been set for when all new cars and vans need to be ‘fully zero emission at the tailpipe’.

The move is bound to cause some confusion and consternation with people wondering when and if they need to ‘go electric’. One way to look at it is that it’s very much like vinyl records and CDs being overtaken by digital music, or videos and DVDs being replaced by streaming. Most drivers will make a fairly seamless transition to electric in the coming years – some sooner than others – but some will prefer what went before.

Why is this happening?

The move is part of what the Prime Minister has termed a ‘green industrial revolution’ to combat climate change. It’s part of a package of measures that includes increasing the amount of electricity generated by offshore-wind and hydrogen, along with improving the energy efficiency of homes. 

The government has set a target of ‘net zero’ by 2050, which requires a reduction in greenhouse gasses produced by transport. Both petrol and diesel cars burn fossil fuel, while emissions from diesel engines can also damage the lungs. 

Electric vehicles are no panacea, however. Sourcing the minerals used for batteries, dismantling batteries that have deteriorated, and building and delivering vehicles to customers worldwide all involve substantial CO2 emissions. Life-cycle emissions are not zero for electric vehicles, but as they emit fewer greenhouse gasses and air pollutants, they form a crucial part of the UK's attempts to drastically reduce transport's emissions. 

Why do we need to reduce transport emissions?

Transport is a big contributor to carbon-dioxide emissions through the burning of fossil fuels. The US government reports that fossil fuels were the source of almost three-quarters (74%) of total US human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 2. A switch to electric vehicles in the UK will help the country to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement’s target if a global temperature rise of only 1.5°C by 2050 is to be achieved 3.

What does ‘fully zero-emission at the tailpipe mean’?

This refers to exhaust pipes. Electric cars don’t produce any carbon dioxide emissions from fuel, so don’t require an exhaust, thus helping to reduce air pollution. The ‘tailpipe’ distinction is important because the emissions created during the production of an electric car are higher than for a conventional car. There are also tiny particles released from tyre and brake wear in all cars, so air quality is still an issue to some extent.

Will I still be able to buy a petrol or diesel car after 2030?

Yes. The change in the law only bans the sale of new cars. There is likely to be a second-hand market for petrol and diesel cars for many years after 2030 although there is a question mark over how well such vehicles will retain their value as people switch to electric. Most car manufacturers have committed to phasing out cars with internal combustion engines.

How much do electric vehicles cost?

The good news is that prices are coming down and a Government grant 4 is available to help soften the financial blow. However, buying a new car, whether electric or traditional, is expensive and grants for electric cars are likely to be phased out as the 2030 deadline approaches. 

Prices for new electric vehicles currently start at around £15,000 but rise quickly for bigger cars with greater range. The market for second-hand electric vehicles is still in its infancy, but as technology improves and new models are released, there should be a vibrant trade in ‘pre-loved’ electric cars. 

In terms of running costs, electricity is much cheaper than petrol and road tax for electric vehicles is currently set to zero. Electric cars are also free to drive into many congestion or low-emission zones. There are also fewer moving parts in a car without an internal combustion engine, so maintenance bills should also reduce.

What about charging and range?

Electric car batteries tend to come with multi-year warranties and if you can charge overnight at home (specialist installation may be required) then the public-charging network won’t often be an issue for you. This is improving all the time and the Government has announced that drivers are never more than 25 miles from a rapid charge point on England’s motorway and A-road network. 

By 2035, it’s expected there will be around 6,000 high-powered chargers across the network. There are currently less than 400 5. At the moment, small city cars tend to have a range of approximately 60 miles on one charge, with the maximum being around 250 miles. 

This is expected to increase in future models. Steve Fowler, editor in chief at Auto Express and DrivingElectric, told Aviva in this article that if you are on a long motorway journey and need to top up, then a 30-minute recharge should be enough to achieve 60% of the car’s range.

What are electric vehicles like to drive?

Electric vehicles often feel more responsive than conventional cars. They also have a low centre of gravity because of the heavy batteries. However, Icy weather can also adversely affect battery life, so you may need to plan journeys carefully in winter.

Where do hybrid vehicles fit in?

As the name suggests, hybrids combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor and batteries. Charging on hybrid electric vehicles is done by the internal combustion engine (and also regenerative braking), rather than via a plug and socket. They are typically more efficient than conventional cars, particularly in urban driving conditions, but are powered entirely by fossil fuels. 

Plug-in hybrids are slightly different in that they can be powered by both fossil fuels and electric power from a socket. 

When’s the best time to sell my old car and buy an electric vehicle?

This is the big question and there isn’t an easy answer. Aviva research shows that the demand for hybrid and electric vehicles has intensified, with almost half of UK drivers (46%) saying their next vehicle will be at least partly powered by electricity. The latest How We Live data finds 32% of UK motorists intend to opt for a hybrid model next time and 14% plan to buy a fully electric vehicle. 

Any decision will depend on your circumstances and preferences, but the pandemic has clearly had an impact with 52% of UK adults saying that it has made them more environmentally conscious. Among those hesitating, the main concerns relate to limited charging points (49%) and the cost of vehicles (49%). However, on the latter, it’s worth bearing in mind that leasing is much more common these days than buying outright and the rise of car-sharing/pooling is gathering pace. 

Buying a car outright is much less common than it used to be. It’s perfectly possible you may drive electric cars in the future without ever ‘owning’ one.

Find out more information on our insurance for electric and hybrid vehicles.

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