Could an electric car suit your family?

With the announcement of the extension of the government’s Plug-in Car Grant until probably 2020, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular than ever before. Many workplaces in major cities now offer charging points for electric cars and a number of benefits and incentives for EV owners.

So if you are looking to buy a new car for your family, could an electric car suit your needs and bring you cost benefits?

The target market

There are some people for whom the purchase of an electric vehicle just isn’t practical – anyone with a regular commute of over 100 miles a day, for example. If you’re considering making the eco-friendly switch to a purely electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle, you’ll find they are ideal for shorter commutes of up to 100 miles a day. You never want to be too far from the nearest charge point, so check carefully where nearest are to your home – although if you buy a hybrid, the petrol or diesel engine will kick in when the battery is depleted.

You’ll also need access to off-street parking of some kind, such as a garage or a drive for recharging at home. As 80% of UK households have access to private parking, this makes them a popular car option for a family home, rather than commuters living in city flats. It can be tricky to find a used electric vehicle and you’ll find you spend more on an electric car than a conventional motor, but over time the savings really do add up, and leasing is often a wallet-friendly option if you don’t want to spend too much.

The savings

So, how much could you actually save by choosing an electric car? Let’s start with the available grants:

· The UK government currently offers a Plug-in Car Grant giving you up to 25% off the cost of an electric car (up to £5,000 on confirmed models), now guaranteed until at least 2017
· There’s also a government grant of up to 75% towards the cost of purchasing and installing a domestic chargepoint for your new vehicle
· Electric car owners can save around £145 a year in vehicle tax as EVs are tax-exempt, and on an average 10,000 mileage, you’ll save £800 a year on fuel

There’s even better news for drivers living in or commuting to London, who are eligible for up to 100% discount on the London Congestion Charge – that’s a saving of up to £2,000 a year. Many London boroughs also offer discounted or free parking for EVs, and an increasing number of workplaces provide fast 7kW charge points where you can charge your vehicle whilst you’re in the office.

Electric vehicles could save you money on maintenance too. Their engines are three times as efficient as a petrol engine, offering the best mileage on the market and they’re incredibly quiet to drive – great if you’re doing the school run while trying to keep your little toddler asleep at the same time! An electric vehicle doesn’t rely on oil to lubricate the engine, eliminating the need for oil changes, and the brakes don’t wear as quickly, cutting maintenance costs to a minimum.

Then there’s the green criteria – for people concerned about their vehicle’s impact on the environment, the low emissions of an electric car means no more guilt about using the car instead of public transport for short school runs or shopping trips.

What type of electric car is right for your family?

Whilst the market for EVs was once limited, today there is a wider choice of vehicles available to suit solo commuters, couples and larger families. There are three types of electric vehicles, all with a lithium-ion battery:

· A ‘Pure EV’ runs solely on battery power, with a typical range of up to 160km on a full charge
· Plug-in Hybrid EVs (PHEVs) and Range-Extended EVs (RE-EVs) have a conventional diesel or petrol engine which takes over when the battery is depleted

With a hybrid, there’s no need to worry about running out of power when you’re nowhere near a charging point – hybrids such as the Toyota Prius with its 1.8 litre engine provide 51mpg on average and can reach a full charge in just 1.5 hours using a standard outlet.

The Nissan LEAF remains Europe’s most popular electric car, and the Renault ZOE has recently been named Auto Express’ best electric car to own. For larger families there are options such as the Kia Soul, which proved popular with Pope Francis amongst others, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV or the Chevrolet Spark, which gives you up to 82 miles on a single charge. There are even luxury electric cars like the Tesla Model S and BMW i8.

So, is electric for you?

There are definitely plenty of factors to take into consideration when deciding whether an electric car is the right choice for your family. But if you typically drive shorter distances every day, have access to private parking and are looking to make significant savings on initial purchase (with the government grant) as well as long-term fuel and vehicle tax, the new breed of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids could be an excellent choice.