Electric cars are quick, efficient and mostly environmentally friendly. Yet with every new technology there are differences and some potential disadvantages that need to be taken into consideration.
Combustion engine cars have been around for over 130 years, constantly being refined and improved along the way. The first electric cars were introduced even earlier than that, but it’s only in the past decade that they have risen to challenge the establishment.
Even though EVs have improved exponentially in that time, there are still some drawbacks that need to be overcome. Here we analyse the most common concerns and see whether they are still a valid barrier to EV ownership or just an outdated misconception.
1. Limited Battery Range
The average petrol car can easily do four or five hundred miles on a tank of petrol. A diesel car might do closer to 700 miles. The all-electric Peugeot e-208 on the other hand needs recharging every 217 miles.
Is a lower range really an issue?
This may seem like a real disadvantage until you realise that the average car in the UK is driven a mere 20 miles each day.
That would mean a recharge every 10 days for the Peugeot e-208, or just three times each month. In reality, you would only need the range of a petrol or diesel car if you regularly do hundreds of miles each day. And there are many new EVs that are capable of well over 300 miles between charges.
2. Battery Lifespan Concerns
Many people worry about how long their EV’s battery will last. The general consensus is that it should last around 10-20 years and up to 150,000-miles. A measured driving style and careful charging habits both help extend your battery’s service life, and if you are buying a new car every few years then you will be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty anyway.
The typical EV battery warranty is around eight years and 100,000-miles, far more generous than most combustion engine warranties.. The warranties usually state that if the maximum battery capacity drops below 70%, it will either be replaced or repaired.
Replacing an EV battery out of warranty costs serious money, but such scenarios, while not unheard of, are far more rare than some initially feared.
Internal Combustion Engines don’t last forever either
The average internal combustion engine can last for many, many miles if well-cared for. However, during that time you may need to replace several components that might not be covered under a warranty. The cost of an engine overhaul can bring big bills, meanwhile, while a needing a new engine is a cost that will write many cars off, and can happen – just ask anyone who has experienced a snapped timing belt or chain.
Factor in the higher running costs of a combustion engine over all those years (can be twice as much per mile travelled) and you may well be financially better off even if you have to replace your EV’s battery after 10 years.
3. Charging Infrastructure Worries
Worries about the location and availability of EV charging points may deter you from considering an electric car. While the rollout of charging points hasn’t always been trouble-free, the fact is that the UK’s EV charging infrastructure is improving at a rapid pace.
EV charging infrastructure is expanding all the time
There are just under 8,400 petrol stations in the UK. As of late 2022 there were over 57,000 public charging connectors throughout the UK, spread across 21,000 locations, and while there isn’t equivalence across these technologies, as it takes so much longer to recharge an EV compared to filling a fuel tank, it goes some indication of the growth of the charging network – something that will only continue to increase.
This is not to say an electric car is right for everyone just yet: if you don’t have off-street parking at home, being entirely dependent upon public charges makes driving a fair bit less convenient – though some manage this nonetheless.
There are also concerns around how easy recharging EVs is for drivers with disabilities, with manned petrol stations having staff on hand to help with pumping fuel if this is needed, but most EV charging stations being unattended, and charging leads and plugs being relatively heavy and unwieldy, particularly when juggled with moving a wheelchair around and negotiating kerbs, for example.
4. Long Charging Times
Filling up your petrol or diesel car can take just 5 minutes. Charging your EV can take anything from 30 minutes to an hour using the latest public rapid chargers. You may be twiddling your thumbs for an entire day if you are using a standard domestic socket. This can seem like an instant deal-breaker, until you dig a little deeper.
Changing Your Charging Mindset
Filling up your petrol or diesel car requires little forethought. You just fill it to the brim every time the fuel light comes on. When it comes to electric cars a mindset change can make all the difference.
- Charging point speeds – If you are doing a road trip and need to add a lot of charge, then look up the fast-charging points along your route. Using a 150kW charger as opposed to an 11kW one will save you a lot of time.
- Range requirements – Don’t fill up your EV to 100% at each opportunity. Rather add the range you need to complete your journey. This will save you time and money as public chargers cost more than using your wall box at home.
- EV charging speed – Some EVs have fast charging capabilities allowing you to fully charge your battery at an appropriate fast charger in well under an hour. Adding 60 miles of range can take just a few minutes.
If you aren’t using your EV’s entire range each day, then charging speeds really aren’t that big a deal. You can just plug your car in at the shops or at home and top it up for a few hours. A typical 7kW home wallbox can add between 10-30-miles of range per hour.
Just remember that charging plugs can differ between EV makes and models. Some systems accept more than one plug type and the most common European one is the Type 2 plug which is the industry standard connector.
5. Low Top Speeds
Electric cars are quick, there is no lag or delay in the power delivery either, so it all feels absolutely effortless. But, unless you are looking at the top end of the EV market, most family-friendly SUVs and hatchbacks are limited to relatively low top speeds. Some can barely hit 90mph where even a base-spec petrol car will do well over 100mph.
The need for (relevant) speed
- Firstly, the UK speed limit on the motorway is 70mph. Having a car capable of much more than that is somewhat pointless.
- A high top speed rating on a petrol or diesel car is usually an indication of how powerful it is, which makes a difference to how it accelerates at lower (legal) speeds. This is not the case with electric cars.
- Due to their high torque and always-on power delivery, electric cars tend to have just one gear. This provides seamless acceleration up to 60-70mph, but tapers off thereafter due to the limitations of the gearing. This is the perfect compromise in the UK, and your small electric SUV will handily see off many petrol-powered sports cars away from the lights.
- If you plan to visit the Autobahn on a regular basis, then a Tesla Model S or Porsche Taycan should suit your needs. Both are capable of 160mph+ and the Taycan even has a second gear giving it powerful acceleration at these high velocities.
6. More Expensive to Buy
Electric cars tend to cost more than their internal combustion counterparts. The Peugeot e-208 costs just over £34,500 in GT trim. The top-spec 129bhp petrol Peugeot 208 in the same trim is £27,290. Even though the e-208 is quicker, that’s a fairly large price gap.
It’s not quite so marked with pricier luxury cars. For example, the base Porsche Taycan is just £2,600 pricier than the entry-level Porsche Panamera. But the car’s price is just one consideration when looking at costs.
There’s more to it than just the price tag
- Electric cars incur no road tax until 2025– You can save up to £2,365 in your first year of EV ownership compared to a petrol or diesel car. Admittedly, that figure is for a gas-guzzling vehicle, but even a base Nissan Qashqai will set you back £220 in VED tax in the first year and £155 from the second year onwards. EVs will pay a flat £165 fee from 2025-on.
- You won’t pay the £40,000 VED surcharge until 2025 – A petrol or diesel vehicle costing more than £40,000 is charged a £355 tax surcharge from the second year of ownership for five years. That’s a £1,775 saving for you if you go the EV route.
- EV running costs are lower – On average the cost per mile for an EV is less than half of what it is for your internal combustion car. And that’s just the fuelling/charging costs. Electric cars need less frequent servicing and with fewer moving parts there isn’t as much to go wrong. Most EV services involve a brake fluid and windscreen wiper rubber replacement and a good clean. Over a three-to-five-year ownership period, this can translate into hundreds if not thousands of pounds saved.
- No Clean Air Zone Charges – Many city centres have clean air zones where only vehicles with ultra low emissions or no emissions are allowed to drive without being charged. You will pay £12,50 each day to drive inside London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, that can be as much as £250 every month if you aren’t in an EV.
8. Environmental Impact
An electric car produces zero emissions, however, the method of electricity production has a direct impact on how environmentally-friendly it really is. Creating the lithium-ion battery pack is also more environmentally harmful than the manufacturing process for an average petrol-powered car.
- Electricity generation – Recharging your EV using solar panels is going to result in a far lower carbon footprint than if you relied solely on a coal-powered power station. The practical reality is somewhere in the middle, with Europe’s power system continually moving towards renewable energy sources, an EV’s environmental impact should improve over time.
- Battery packs – The battery pack is the single most environmentally harmful component of an EV. This is constantly improving as advances in battery production and the development of sustainable battery disposal and renewal sites help lower the environmental impact.
There are, however ethical concerns about the sourcing of raw materials for electric cars and their battery packs, with cobalt and lithium, to name but two examples, not always associated with ideal production models. The oil industry, though, is not known for its perfection, either, and while this does not negate some of the issues around EVs, millions of us have been happy driving petrol and diesel cars despite this.
So, should I get an electric car?
Electric cars can be a great choice if they meet your motoring needs. And, aside from the practical considerations like low running costs and tax benefits, EVs are smooth and very responsive to drive.
Needing to cover long distances doesn’t automatically discount an EV, though, especially if you have access to fast chargers and buy the right model for your needs.
If you live somewhere remote or at a location that doesn’t allow you to conveniently charge your EV, then a conventional petrol, diesel or hybrid car may be the best for now, while it is tricky to recommend an EV to someone without a driveway unless they are prepared to make some sacrifices. Either way, with the constant advancements in EV technology and charging infrastructure, an electric car may soon be in your future – if nothing else because legislation will force this to be the case eventually.
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