Choosing an electric or hybrid car

The basics of low-emission vehicles

Whether you're concerned about your carbon footprint, or looking to save money on your fuel payments, electric or hybrid vehicles are becoming more and more popular in the UK.

If you're thinking about swapping your petrol car for a low-emissions model, here's the information you'll need to get started.

Electric cars

Powered exclusively by electricity (rather than petrol or diesel), energy is stored in batteries that can be recharged using your home electricity supply. Because they don’t use petrol, they don’t emit CO2

Electric and hybrid cars

Hybrid cars

Also known as 'low emission vehicles' (LEVs), hybrid cars combine an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine. The electric motor is usually used to provide additional power when accelerating or driving uphill. Because of the two power sources, hybrid cars use less fuel and emit less CO2 than standard comparable vehicles. 

How much do these cars cost to buy?

Generally, electric or hybrid cars cost more to purchase - typically around 20% more than the equivalent petrol or diesel car. This is because of the more expensive lithium batteries used in these types of vehicle.

However, they're often a lot cheaper to run than a petrol or diesel car. Electric cars costing less than £30,000 are exempt from road tax Footnote [1], with more expensive models generally falling into lower tax bands than standard vehicles.

Charging and range

One of the main reasons people are hesitant to buy electric vehicles is because the battery has a limited range, and once it’s reached, the car will need to be recharged.

Electricity is also a far cheaper fuel source than petrol or diesel, so you can expect to pay around a quarter of the cost per mile driving an electric vehicle than a standard one. The cost of charging an electric car will depend on your electricity tariff if you charge your car at home, or the cost of a public charging point Footnote [2]

Some electric cars have ranges of a little over 100 miles, while others have ranges well over 200 miles – and research has shown that most drivers don’t go anywhere near that far in a day Footnote [3].

However, range anxiety, or the fear of running out of charge, is still a major concern for people. It’s worth noting that Zap-Map currently lists over 10,000 publicly accessible charging points for electric vehicles around the UK Footnote [4], so it’s possible to recharge on a cross-country drive.

In addition to low-cost refuelling, there are also plenty of other perks to owning a low-emission vehicle. For example, electric and hybrid cars are exempt from the London Congestion Charge, and more and more public car parks allow free parking and charging points.

Insuring your electric or hybrid car

Early electric vehicle adopters struggled to find cost-effective car insurance as insurers had no historic data to price repairs. This led to many companies hiking up premiums, with some more expensive than petrol and diesel cars.

As electric alternatives became more commonplace premiums started reducing, but Vantage Leasing reported that electric car drivers are still paying an average of 14% Footnote [5] more than equivalent petrol or diesel models.

Many insurers offer exclusive products for electric vehicle insurance, as it’s often more complicated than standard car insurance.

For example, if you lease the battery, you may need separate insurance in case of accidental damage or theft. You may also need to consider power cable cover as the charging cable trailing across the floor can be a trip hazard.

Don’t be too discouraged by an increased insurance premium, and shop around, as prices vary. Also remember that electric cars benefit from other savings such as government grants, zero road tax and in some cases, free parking.

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More articles about buying a car

Do you know what car to buy and how to look after it? From deciding on hybrid vs electric to passing an MOT, here’s what you need to know.

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