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What is an electric car? Should you buy an EV now?

Published: 17 July 2019

► Electric cars explained
► How does a EV work?
► Should you buy one in 2019?  

The benefits of electric cars are obvious; they’re quiet, clean, relaxing to drive and inexpensive to run. Unsurprisingly, as a result, their popularity is growing – and, as technology advances and prices fall, more people will make the switch to zero-emissions motoring.

If you haven’t already, you too may be considering ditching your diesel or petrol car and buying an electric vehicle (EV) in the near future. It’s an increasingly appealing proposition, after all, given that countless millions are being spent on the development of both new models and better infrastructure. Subsequently, you’ll have both more choices and encounter less hassle when it comes to charging.

In this article we’ll outline everything you need to know about EVs, from what to buy right now, what you could wait for – and even buying used. We’ll also outline how much electric cars cost to run, just how easy they actually are to charge, and what the actual situation is regarding charging points in the UK.

If you’re looking at buying an electric car, read this first – or check out the more detailed advice pages below.

Further electric reading

Should I buy an electric car in 2019 ?

We’ll skip straight to the most important question first. ‘Is it worth getting an electric car?'

Sure, they’re more expensive than their ice-counterparts right now, but aside from price, an EV will fit into most scenarios in a similar way to a petrol or diesel car – but with lower running costs. Think about the length of journeys you tend to do, are they shorter than the range of an EV? Will you have multiple opportunities to top-up? If so, click here for a list of the best electric cars.

Like any type of new technology, EVs are improving but that doesn’t mean now is a bad time to get one. Improvements in technology mean quicker top-up times, destination charging and a growing charging infrastructure, so range is less of a factor.

Audi e-Tron

If you chose to wait, you could drive some very innovative metal from the likes of Volkswagen, Mercedes and more. Want to know more about those? Read our guide to the most interesting upcoming electric cars here.

Should I buy a used electric car?

Buying a used EV is surprisingly similar to buying any secondhand car, and some aspects are much better: Brake wear reduced thanks to regenerative technology, there’s less dirt and pollution from oil and combustion, and simple single-speed transmissions go wrong less than conventional ones.

The downside is that if things go wrong, repairs can still be very expensive and time-consuming, so if a deal looks too good to be true it could be a much bigger gamble than you anticipated. Read our guide to getting a used electric car here.


How does an electric car work?

Full electric cars shun an ICE (or internal combustion engine) for electric power, and use a motor to convert electrical energy from the battery into kinetic energy in the wheels. Usually electric cars have one motor – usually powering the rear-axle – but higher-end EVs such as the Audi e-Tron and Tesla Model 3 Performance use a motor per axle, and therefore have all-wheel-drive.

a dual-motor electric car

Also, the batteries?

Batteries are a heavy yet fragile component in an EV, so engineers look to put them in the safest place – but also the optimum area for performance. Most EV’s batteries are low and embedded in the floor, usually contained within a high-strength structure. It’s for this reason that car engineers call this a ‘skateboard configuration.’

Conventional thinking suggests that keeping the batteries low is good for performance, as it reduces the centre of gravity of the car. It’s a layout seen on pretty much all EVs you can buy nowadays; from the highly practical Audi e-Tron and Kia Soul EV, to the Polestar 2 and Tesla Roadster.

However, there are exceptions. The Audi PB18 e-Tron uses a mid-mounted battery, in order to lower the centre of gravity and keep the driver even lower to the ground.

How does an electric car charge - and what does it cost? 

In principle, charging an EV is exactly like charging a mobile phone. Once the battery has been depleted, EVs need to be plugged into a charging point. There are currently a few connection standards in 2019, and although there faster ones coming in the next few years, they’ll be found on higher-end models, first.

charging an EV

Charging stations for electric cars used to be few and far between but, as governments and car makers pour money into zero-emissions vehicles, electric charging points are springing up all over the country. Range is growing all the time, too, thanks to improvements in battery tech.

What’s more, it’s important to remember that an EV isn’t topped up in the same way a petrol or diesel car is. Electric chargers can be installed at your home – with destination chargers at the other end of your journey – so you’ll effectively beginning most rides with full charge anyway.

Want more good news? They're not too expensive to run either.  

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast