Electric cars are rising in popularity as more of us opt for a battery-powered vehicle.
And while many people give environmental benefits as the main reason for their choice, another deciding factor can be their lower running costs when compared to a petrol- or diesel-powered car.
But do you really save money in the long run by choosing an EV? Let’s compare the running costs of a Nissan Leaf with a similarly powerful petrol Ford Focus to find out which is the cheapest to run (looking at a period of three years and 30,000 miles).
The purchase price
When working out the cost benefits of electric cars, it’s important to take into account the price of the vehicle in the first place.
It’s difficult to draw direct comparisons with petrol and diesel cars, as there are many differences in performance, technology and efficiency. We’ve selected two of the closest models, with the Leaf in base Acenta trim costing £26,645 (once the £3,000 government grant has been deducted), whereas the Focus in similarly specced Titanium grade costs £23,190, or £25,140 if you choose the automatic. For the benefit of comparison, we’ve gone with the latter – meaning the Focus would be £1,505 cheaper than the EV.
EV: £1,505 more expensive
Charging costs vs petrol prices
Charging costs will vary massively depending on where you charge your car. Given most EV owners do the majority of their charging at home, and to simplify matters, the costs here are based on purely plugging in your vehicle at home.
According to UK power, the average domestic electricity rate is 14.4p per kWh. The Leaf has a 40kWh battery, so you can expect a home charge to cost you £5.76, which will allow for a claimed 168 miles of range. Based on 30,000 miles over three years, you could expect to charge 179 times over that period – and you’d spend £1,031.04 on charging your EV in that time.
Let’s compare that with the Focus, which returns a claimed 44.8mpg. Based on current average petrol prices (106.8p at the time of writing), you could expect to pay £3,323.83 on filling up the Ford over 30,000 miles. That’s quite a clear saving with the EV of more than £2,000.
EV: £2,292.79 cheaper
All electric cars are now car tax exempt, which helps save money on your car’s running costs.
It’s during the car’s first year that you’ll notice this the most, as this is the only year that doesn’t attract a flat fee — instead it’s based on the model’s CO2 emissions. Petrol- and diesel-powered cars could cost you up to £2,175 in tax in the first year, followed by a flat fee of £150 from the second year onwards. These rules apply to cars registered after April 1, 2017. Before then, the rate continues to be based on a car’s CO2 emissions.
So with the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus, choosing the EV could save you £540 in car tax over three years. The Ford costs £215 in tax in the first year, followed by £150 for the following two years.
EV: £540 cheaper
Electric cars have fewer mechanical components than a typical petrol or diesel car, which means there are fewer things to service. This helps to lower the price of maintenance, although it’s worth noting that not all garages will service and repair EVs.
Electric cars typically don’t need to be serviced any more often than a petrol car, which makes comparisons with regular models easier.
Based on an annual service at a main dealer, you’ll pay £527 for three services with the Leaf EV (2 minor services cost £159 each; a major service costs £209). Compared with the Ford, this will cost you £825 over that time, with two minor services at £245 each, and a lengthier service in the third year costing £335.
EV: £298 cheaper
EVs are typically more expensive to insure. There are fewer electric cars on the roads, and they contain expensive electrical underpinnings, which can help to drive the price of repairs up.
While prices will depend on the model, an electric car will typically be more expensive to insure than the comparable petrol or diesel. We recommend you always get an insurance quote before buying.
Based on our insurance quote* the Leaf EV was more expensive to insure, with premiums of £600 each year, compared to £500 annually for the Focus
EV: £300 more expensive
*Insurance quote for a 40-year-old male marketing executive, married with two children, living in Reading with driveway parking and having 5 years no claims.
Electric cars generally hold their value well, with demand often outstripping supply, helping to keep used prices high.
But because EVs are more expensive, they have more money to lose. While depreciation will always vary depending on the individual car, we found the Leaf and Focus depreciated similarly.
After 3 years and 30,000 miles of use, the Leaf would be worth £13,150 – meaning it’s depreciated by £13,495 since new. Meanwhile the Ford would be worth £11,375 after three years, and therefore have lost £13,765. While the Nissan and Focus therefore depreciate at similar levels, you’re £270 better off by choosing the EV.
EV: £270 cheaper
So, is it cheaper to drive an EV?
- You’ll save money on fuel
- Free car tax
- Cheaper servicing costs
- Less depreciation
- EVs are usually more expensive to buy initially
- Insurance premiums can be higher
There’s no denying it – electric cars offer some significant opportunities to save money, not least with the comparable charging costs, which will just about always be far cheaper than paying for petrol and diesel. Using free charging points, where possible, or plugging in your car at home can bring down the cost even more.
While differences will vary depending on the particular EV, you can nearly always expect lower running costs by going electric.
Contrasting both the Leaf EV and Focus petrol here, our calculations show you would be £1,595.79 better off by going electric. So, yes, it is cheaper to drive an EV.