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Climate action: 10 steps to choosing electric vehicles

Cars are responsible for about 10% of our emissions. Switching to electric vehicles is therefore a key action you can take to significantly cut your carbon. 

Here, we provide a step-by-step guide to making the switch.

Over its lifetime, driving an electric vehicle will save around 16.5 tonnes of CO2e, even once the higher emissions from its manufacture are factored in. This is equivalent to someone in the UK’s total emissions for a year and a half!

Switching to electric can feel like a big decision, so here we run through all the things you’ll want to consider before making any choices.

10 Steps to switching to an electric vehicle

Choosing an electric vehicle is becoming more and more viable. As costs drop and charging points improve, they are only going to become a better option over the next few years.

1. Consider what type of electric vehicle would suit you

There are a few different types of electric vehicles (EV):

  • Battery electric vehicle: what most of us think of as an EV, it runs off a battery and can be plugged in and charged at home.
  • Plug-in hybrid: has a battery and can be charged at home, but also has a backup internal combustion engine (ICE), meaning that it switches to use petrol once the battery runs out.
  • Hybrid electric vehicles: sometimes advertised as ‘self-charging hybrids’, they run off a mixture of electricity and petrol or diesel. The petrol or diesel engine charges the car’s batteries, making it more efficient than a conventional car. However, RAC says, “The battery is significantly smaller, so you shouldn’t expect to achieve any more than a couple of miles of pure electric range at low speeds.” Sales of new hybrids, along with petrol and diesel cars, will be banned in the UK from 2035. 

Deciding which type to get will depend on your needs and what you’re using it for. However, pure electrics will be substantially better for the environment. Unless you’re sure you’d only use the petrol tank for emergencies, you may even want to steer clear of a plug-in hybrid.

A 2021 study found that carbon savings from plug-in hybrids were far lower than official figures claimed because they weren’t being charged very often so the battery just wasn’t being used all that much. This meant their emissions were much closer to those of conventional vehicles.

Our shopping guide to cars discusses the ethical pros and cons of different vehicle types further. RAC also has a guide to all the different types of electric vehicles.

2. Look at different electric vehicle options

If choosing an electric car, you probably want to prioritise range (the number of miles it can drive with its battery fully charged) alongside price and ethics. The average electric car could go around 220 miles after charging as of 2021, and the figure is only going to increase over the next few years. Some very high end models now have a range of over 400 miles. Other electric vehicles will do as little as 85 miles though, so check that you’re getting one that meets your needs (particularly with older cars if buying second hand).

Unsurprisingly, the more expensive cars usually have better range. A Tesla Model S will have a range of around 350 miles. Whereas some Mini Electrics will take you just 110.

The Electric Vehicle Database is a great website for comparing range, charging time and efficiency for pure electrics.

Our shopping guide to cars rates and ranks 39 different car brands. As well as carbon issues, it discusses conflict minerals and biodiesel, and highlights companies involved in military supply.

3. Consider what you can afford

Electric cars are known for being expensive. The average electric car costs £50,000 if bought new in the UK, with the cheapest model at £22,225. Yet, despite this significant initial investment, electric cars are on average cheaper than a conventional petrol or diesel car (an ICE) over their lifetime.

The average petrol car driver could save around £600 in running costs each year by switching to electric. That’s around £7,200 less over a 12 year lifetime. This is because they’re cheaper to refuel, have lower overall maintenance costs and currently get free road tax (from 2025 they will pay the same as the average petrol vehicle). If you can afford to fork out the initial sum an electric vehicle is a great choice. 

When working out what you can afford, remember to factor in the cost of a home charging point and any government grants you might be able to get for this.

If you can’t afford to buy an electric car outright, you could consider doing a long term electric-vehicle rental or joining a car club that offers electric vehicle hire. Our article about reducing road travel and our shopping guide to cars both talk more about car club options.

Public charging points can be expensive, so if you need to keep costs down you may have to plan around being able to charge at home.

While there are no UK-wide schemes to support switching, it’s worth checking if your local government is offering any support.

White electric car plugged into charging point on house

4. Think about when to replace your car

Electric vehicles are expensive. Consider setting a target for when you’d like to get one, to help you with saving. You may decide to save a little longer and get one with a better range to ensure it works for you. Luckily, costs are likely to go down and infrastructure to get better over coming years.

You might also want to think about when to replace in terms of the environmental impact. Although electric cars save a lot of carbon over their whole lifetime, it isn’t necessarily always better to immediately replace your petrol or diesel car. Electric cars require a lot more energy to manufacture than conventional ones – between 40 and 60% more in fact.

For this reason, carbon experts disagree whether it is worth replacing early, depending on exactly what numbers they are using. The decision will in part depend on what you are replacing, and with what: a larger EV will have a higher manufacturing impact. But replacing an old gas guzzling 4x4 right now might make sense too.

5. Consider getting a dedicated EV home charger

Electric cars can be charged from a regular 3 pin socket. However, you may want to buy a dedicated EV charger. The benefit of this is that it’s much more powerful than a regular socket and can therefore charge your vehicle much faster.

Dedicated EV chargers range between 3.7kW and 7.4kW in power – compared to 2.3kW for a normal socket. This means that they can charge your vehicle about two to three times as fast as a socket. The more kW your charger offers, the faster it will charge your car.

The time needed to take your car from empty to full will depend on the size of the battery. The bigger the battery, the longer the time taken to fully charge (although this will also allow you to drive more miles). For an average 60kWh battery, it will take just under 8 hours to go from empty to full with a 7kW EV charger. If you’re getting a car with a very large battery, you will almost definitely want to get one of the most powerful EV chargers - otherwise you could be waiting 20 to 30 hours for it to completely fill up!

A 7kW charger is likely to be more expensive than a 3kW one. Zap-Map estimates that a 7kW charger will cost £700 - £1,200 fully installed.

6. Decide what else you need from your home charger

As well as wattage, you’ll want to consider other factors when choosing your charger.

Are you short on space? Look for a more compact charger.

Do you have WiFi? Home chargers use the internet. If you don’t have a home WiFi connection, look for a charger that is 4G integrated so you can use your phone data. If you don’t have mobile data either, it gets more complicated. Check out the Speak EV forum for advice.

Do you have solar panels or are you planning to install them? If so, you might want to get a solar integrated charger, which can turn on charging when there is excess energy being generated from your solar panels.  

Do you want smart or intelligent charging? Smart or intelligent charging can stop or start charging depending on the price or carbon-intensity of the electricity available. You’ll need a smart tariff (see below) for this to work.

Do you have more than one electric vehicle? In which case, you might want to look for chargers with a second socket.

Love My EV has a brilliant tool on its website that allows you to select the features you want and shows you a list of suitable chargers.

7. Check local charging points

Most of the time, you’re likely to be charging your electric vehicle at home. However, you may sometimes want to charge when you’re out and about.

Use Zap-Map to check possible charging points near you or on routes you often take. Public chargers can be remarkably fast: you can use a rapid charger often just in the time of a normal break. For many you can add 100 miles of range in about 30 minutes. Love My Ev advises stopping charging at 80% because the last 20% will take much longer.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to find available public charge points: Zap-Map doesn’t tell you which ones are already occupied.

Once you have an electric vehicle, you might want to spend a bit of time finding the best route planning map for you. Love My EV has a route guide map.

Electric cars charging at public points

8. Check if you can get financial support for home charging

Some government help is available for smart home chargers if you live in rented accommodation or a flat. You can claim 75% of the cost of a home charger, up to a maximum of £350 through the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV). Landlords can also get support, so if you’re a renter, it might be worth speaking to them about the options.

In Scotland, Energy Saving Trust offers up to £400 towards the cost of purchasing and installing home charge points for electric vehicles for those living in rural areas. The fund is currently closed but will reopen next year, and you can register your interest now. 

There is also a workplace grant scheme to help workplaces install chargers.

If you're low income, live in Scotland, and are within a 20km radius of a Low Emissions Zone, you could qualify for grants of up to £3,000 to dispose of a higher emissions vehicle.

9. Find a qualified installer for your home charger

Many home charging points include the cost of installation. If not, you’ll want to look for an installer who has been qualified under the government’s Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV), which shows that they have the right training and insurance. Installers will only be qualified for certain brands of home charger. The Government website allows you to search for an installer by your postcode.

If you’re receiving a government grant towards the cost of your charging point, you have to use an OZEV approved installer.

The person installing your home charger should help you work out where the charger would be best placed and how to park your car to access it. They’ll briefly turn off your power to connect your charger to the mains.

10. Consider switching to a smart electricity tariff

A smart electricity tariff essentially offers you different costs for your electricity depending on when you’re using it. At some times of day, the UK will have a plentiful supply of electricity. For example, if the sun is shining, we’ll have lots of solar power, or if it’s the middle of the night, few people will have their lights or kettle on. At these times, electricity is cheaper.  

A smart tariff essentially alerts you when those times are, and allows you to plug in your vehicle at those moments. If integrated with a smart charger, you’ll be able to just leave your car plugged in and it will automatically charge once the electricity is cheap.

The best news is that cheaper electricity usually means greener electricity. Renewable energy is always used first when available. When demand for electricity is greater than the available renewable supply, the UK national grid will turn to its fossil fuel or nuclear plants to make up the shortfall. At these moments, electricity will also be expensive. So by avoiding these times for charging, you’re reducing the amount of dirty energy we use.

Our shopping guide to energy suppliers talks more about smart tariffs, and which brands offer them.

Why is switching to electric vehicles important?

The next ten years will be critical in mitigating the worst impacts of climate breakdown. By reducing our individual carbon footprints, we can help make change.

Transport accounts for about 25% of our emissions. Of this, cars are responsible for 40% and flights for 24%. We therefore will need to travel less, switch to greener options, improve the efficiency of vehicles, and run them on greener fuels if we are to decarbonise our travel.

In order to meet the UK’s net zero targets, 97% of new vehicles registered need to be electric by 2030.

Ethical Consumer’s Climate Gap Report

In October 2023, Ethical Consumer published its third annual Climate Gap report looking at consumer action on climate change. It looked at twelve key actions consumers, governments and companies must take for the UK to reach its emissions reductions goals, and how far we are from meeting them.

It found that although there has been some progress in some areas, we are likely to miss most of the key targets.

In 2023, the Climate Gap report found that emissions from travel are now going in the wrong direction, after falling during the pandemic. However electric car registrations are increasing.