Buying an electric car – our ‘personal’ experience

Posted on: February 9th, 2021

Buying an electric car – our ‘personal’ experience

Since electric vehicles (EV’s) first came on the market I have been pining for one.

For the last few years that mostly involved browsing Autrotrader, but last month, with ever growing concerns about climate change – and looking for something to cheer me up – I decided it was time to take the plunge.

The complexity of the journey from that decision to getting the car surprised me, us, immensely.

My area, sustainable investment, is not always easy – and I have spent much of my life trying to help decode it for people – but I was genuinely surprised by the complexity of buying an EV .

The experience left me feeling that some serious streamlining (and common sense) is needed if EV sales are to increase as swiftly as many of us hope they will.

I am writing this blog not as an EV expert – which I am far from being – but to attempt to help speed up this process for others.  I have focused on flagging areas we were not aware of, feel may be easily overlooked, or struggled to get information on…

1 Electric or Hybrid?  There still seems to be a debate about whether hybrid or EV makes more sense. To my mind there’s no competition. Petrol engines emit CO2 whereas EV’s plug into a grid which is increasingly going green – and have no direct carbon emissions.

Life is of course full of compromises – and from a family perspective we remain a ‘hybrid household’ as we have more than one car.  I’d like to think we can go fully electric soon, but we need to grow in confidence and experience first – so for now we will use the EV whenever we can and a petrol car when we can’t.

2. Which car?  Electric cars are not cheap.  Even once I’d come to terms with the fact a Tesla wasn’t on the cards most EV’s still looked pretty pricy.

Second hand Nissan Leafs and Renault Zoes – given the reviews, price and range – were our lead options – and both came recommended.  But as it turned out our (late teen) offspring took an instant dislike to the Leaf and loved the ‘super-mini’ Zoe look – and as the Zoe’s range was better the decision was easy.

There are downsides to the Zoe.  The seats don’t split and the boot is tiny.  It is clearly not designed for dog owners – but as our dogs have no objection to sitting on seats (they normally do anyway) we swiftly decided we could live with that.

3. About Zoe.  It turned out that buying a Zoe is far more complicated than we expected.  Probably the most painful part was trying to understand the differences between the various car models.

As friendly as the sales people were – we had to work out for ourselves what the different classifications and car ages meant in terms of driving range and charge times. (Note – these are substantial.)

The Renault method of classifying Zoe’s as either ‘R’s for ‘rapid’ (where they charge faster at home) or ‘Q’s for ‘quick’ (where they charge faster when out and about – using more powerful chargers)  is properly quirky.

The fact they now only sell ‘R’s’ made things worse as we wanted a ‘Q’.

Renault apparently decided a year or two ago to focus on improving home charge times, which seems odd to me as it is unlikely many people are ‘anxious’ about not being able to charge rapidly a car at home.  Fear of having to wait two hours at a motorway service station while the battery charges seems more likely to me – so the rarer ‘Q’ (that no one seemed to understand) had our  vote.

4.  Buying a charger. Unless you have a sensible alternative you will need to be able to install a home charger if you are going to own an EV.  You can not however qualify for the partial government subsidy for the (over £1,000 to fit) charger without already owning an EV.  That is all rather chicken and egg – and explains why we currently have a car we can’t really drive.

After wading through numerous websites and filling in online forms that appear to confuse the buyers of not exactly cheap charge points with cattle (apologies cattle) we eventually settled on a small Midlands based company (API) who we understand to be independent and staffed by humans. They helped us work through the various options and will be fitting our charger soon.

Fitting a charger point involves running a substantial cable directly from your mains electricity junction box to the outdoor car charger.  This process is not exactly easy if your junction box, like ours, is in the middle of your house. (Ours will require tunneling through book cases etc) . In order for the charger to be fitted all home electric, gas and water supplies must be ‘earthed’ because of the power load – which was okay for us but apparently can be a deal breaker. Working this all through involved sending multiple ‘site’ photos, copy certificates and information about our service providers – but we got there in the end.

We didn’t go for the cheapest option.  We wanted to a more discrete EO charger unit and also the option to run the charger direct from our solar panels – should it ever be sunny again.

This could all yet go wrong yet – but we await our charger (if not the drilling) with great anticipation.

5.  Range Anxiety.

In spite of endless reports about ‘range anxiety’ – the fear of EV batteries running out of power whilst out and about – information on this important topic is scant, especially for second hand cars – as we found out.

I fully understand that suppliers and the rest of the sales and marketing chain are largely learning on the job.  This market is moving fast.  However, given that the main difference between these cars and others is that they are powered by electric batteries I was genuinely surprised that car manufacturers, retailers and car websites were not packed with information about charge times and ranges.  They are not – although Autotrader (online – not on their app) does carry some useful information.

In the interest of fairness I will admit that I have similar concerns about elements of my own sector. Sustainable, responsible and ESG investmnet funds regularly ‘omit’ to explain their SRI policies, strategies and intended impacts in any real detail hence – in part – Fund EcoMarket…

Complexity does not help either market of course – for EVs factors such as cold weather appear to affect the range quite substantially – as does the way the car is driven – so being overly precise is presumably viewed a risk – and a potential hostage to fortune.

Range is probably the reason we decided to go with the 43kw Zoe.   For the model we bought official tests (NEDC) show our 2018 model can do up to 250 miles per charge.  Equally frequently (thankfully) published ‘real life’ (WLTP) tests indicate a range of ‘up to 186 miles’ … lower, but still fine in our view.  When we collected the car – on a cold day – its ‘full’ battery capacity showed as being 162 miles.

6. Zoe’s battery saga. 2018 Renault Zoe’s come with leased batteries – a transaction that is separate from the car purchase. I trust Renault’s intentions were good at the time – as not ‘selling’ the battery reduced the price of the car .  And Renault does offer the option to ‘buy out’ their batteries.  (Which  would have added  £5,000 pounds to the cost of our car – and duly put us off).  However having to buy or lease two separate items and pay £69 per month for the battery (for up to 6000 miles a year) feels pretty unsatisfactory – particular in lockdown.

I appreciate there are advantages to this system, for example if the battery fails, which apparently ‘never happens’ – but paying the monthly battery fee feels like the perceived ‘price advantage’ of not paying for petrol has rather evaporated – even if in reality it has not…

7. Insurance. Whilst going through the paperwork attached to buying our Zoe we spotted that we should pay close attention to its insurance.

On the plus side the Zoe is surprisingly cheap to insure (for all ages) – but the battery lease makes the insurance more challenging. Owners need to add the value of the battery to the cost of the car for insurance purposes to ensure the battery would be covered in the event of a major accident.

We could easily have missed that.

8. Resale. Another note in the T’s&C’s that very nearly brought our purchase to a halt related to what happens to the battery when we eventually sell the car.  In brief, no matter how little the car is worth (I normally keep cars for around 10 years), when we sell the car we will remain liable for the £69 per month charge on the battery until the buyer has finalised taking over the contract.

Although sensible from Renault’s perspective we, like most others, would be unable to credit check whoever we might sell to -so that made us feel very exposed.

The documentation strongly implies that Renault expect all Zoe’s to be returned to them for resale (which seems both anti-competitive and unrealistic).  They did however belated answer our call and assured us the process involves them dealing directly with any future buyer before cars are handed over, which gave us enough reassurance to continue the process.  (I suspect that this messy and presumably expensive process may have contributed to their shift away from leasing batteries separately for newer models).

9. Tax etc.  We were well aware that buying an electric car would mean we paid no road tax and could drive in the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) in London – not that that holds any interest.  But a further important aspect that we nearly missed was the ‘benefit in kind’ tax situation for those able to buy through a company – like ourselves.

Once we realised that there is no ‘benefit in kind’ tax due on electric company cars this year (it increases to 1% next year and 2% in tax year 2022-23) it made sense for SRI Services to own the car. A very welcome benefit.

10. Driver verdict.  We are still feeling a touch bruised by much of this process – although it was interesting.  And given the combination of lockdown, snow and not having a charger we haven’t driven the car all that far yet –  but our verdict on the Zoe is nonetheless a resounding ‘thumbs up’ so far.

It is not the Tesla that I once test drove – but I may very well end up preferring it.

It is a small car, particularly in the back – which is fine now that we rarely have a car full of offspring  – and it is surprisingly roomy in the front. It is also quite a high car – which will work well for older relatives.

As for driving – it is seriously nippy, lovely and quiet – and easy to drive.

I also feel far more comfortable driving it as using a petrol car is so clearly at odds with what I have devoted my career to being and doing – and perhaps equally importantly it also feels just plain fun to drive … and right now what could be more important than how a car makes you feel?!

In brief – I’m glad we made the effort…