Exchange and Mart Guide to Electric Cars

Image of the rear of an electric car, showing it is plugged in to a charging point.

Introduction to electric cars

Electric cars have been growing in popularity for many years, with more manufacturers focusing on alternative fuelled vehicles in their ranks and making a strong commitment to reduce emissions across the globe. Further fuelled by the up and coming ban of all new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles in the UK by 2030, the Government has increased its support and investment into charging infrastructure, making the switch to electric for many car buyers more accessible.

There are many reasons for making the switch, but also other considerations to take into account.

If you’re thinking about buying an electric vehicle now or planning to in the future, then our complete guide will help answer all of your questions.

Early Development of Electric Cars & History

While the concept of a functional, reliant and consistent electrically powered car is something we associate with the modern technological world, it might shock many to learn the first vehicle of this nature was built as far back as 1837.

In fact, until the 1930s, electric cars were a popular option amongst road users. With less noise and vibration, as well as an easier means of starting (there was no cranking of a handle, as was the case with rival manufacturers), 28% of all vehicles on the road in 1900 were electric.

Things would change as the years progressed, with internal-combustion engines helping gas-powered cars to slash the price of their electric counterpart. The battery-powered electrics couldn’t compete for value, with some figures showing them selling at $1,750, while the gas cars of the time sat at just $650 per model.

Interest would peak again as the 20th century progressed – thanks largely to a heightened awareness of the dangers of pollution. The British government were at the forefront of conservation acts, bringing the Clean Air Act into effect in July of 1956.

At the start of the 70s, the US would follow suite, passing their own Clean Air Act. These legislations saw entire nations pay more attention to what they were pumping into the atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, around this time electric vehicles experienced a resurgence.

While stances would change somewhat thanks to the passing of these regulations, drivers would still largely stick by their tried and tested gas and diesel models throughout the next few decades.

With the growing threat of climate change gripping the world, attentions would again turn to the development of environmentally friendly means of transport. The 1996 GM EV1 would be the first foray into this new generation of electric vehicles, but would ultimately fail to capture the imaginations of a world who were not yet fully aware of the dangers of greenhouse gases.

It would be Toyota who first really cornered the modern market. To date, their hybrid-electric Prius option has sold more than six million models since they became the premier option – with a total of 10 million hybrids.

The success of the Prius, coupled with the need to adapt to a pollutant-conscious world, sparked a new wave of electric motors from the likes of Renault, Volkswagen and BMW. We’ll discuss the different options in more detail later.

These days, your choice of electric and plug-in cars is vast, with the majority of manufacturers introducing EV options or even having their own EV range.

By 2020, Tesla was making headlines for taking over the electric car market around the world, with the Model 3 surpassing the Nissan Leaf as the world’s best-selling plug-in electric car. By March 2020, it was the first electric car to sell more than 500,000 units globally.

Since then, the brand has continually developed its line of electric cars, releasing their own ‘Powerwall’ charging unit for at-home use and coming up with some amazing concepts.

Positive Environmental Impact

In the modern era, a primary motive for buying an electric car comes in the form of the benefits it has on the world itself. There are a cluster of reasons why choosing one of these models will have a positive impact on the Earth. Some of the most prevalent include:

Stylised image of a lightning bolt surrounded by two circular arrows.
  • Renewable energy – Electricity is a form of renewable energy. This means you won’t be expending limited resources, like fossil fuels, to power your car.
Image of the recycling symbol.
Stylised image of a cloud with a downward pointing arrow coming out of the bottom of it.
  • Lower levels of pollution – Owing to the nature of electric engines, there are far fewer emissions. In fact, an EV has zero polluting elements coming from its exhaust.
Stylised image of a battery showing 80% charge surrounded by two circular arrows.
  • Recycled batteries – You’ll be able to recycle the engine (or battery) of an electric car. This reduces the need for production – which in turn lowers the overall damage done to the environment.

But an EV doesn’t just have an impact on global factors. You can also experience benefits to your health and that of those around you.

Health Benefits of Driving an Electric Car

Having evolved in a world where there were little to no carbon emissions for thousands of years, it’s perhaps no surprise the past couple of centuries have had such a sudden impact on people’s health.

The World Health Organisation report as many as 7 million people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution. They broke down the averages for outdoor pollution-caused deaths:


Ischaemic heart disease




Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - (COPD)


Lung cancer


Acute lower respiratory infections in children

Nitrous Oxide (NOx) is a gas emitted from cars powered by fossil fuel engines and is directly linked to respiratory issues. If fewer of these cars are on the road, there will be a reduction in the amount of NOx being pumped into the atmosphere.

Types of Electric cars

There are three kinds of vehicles that run on electricity. Firstly, the dual-engine hybrid, or Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV). This is still primarily powered by an ‘old-fashioned’ combustion engine that is linked to an electric motor. As you drive, the battery recharges when the vehicle slows down, called ‘regenerative braking’.

Secondly, there’s the plug-in hybrid (PHEV). This is where the battery can be recharged by plugging it into some form of charging socket and also using regenerative braking. And thirdly, we have the 100% electric car (EV), with an exclusively electric engine and plug-in rechargeable battery.

Different Brands and Models

Manufacturers are really embracing the electric vehicle segment, with many offering eco-friendly models or full EV ranges.

Nissan Leaf

This model was first produced in 2010 and is one of the leaders when it comes to recycled cars on the market. With a comfortable ride and a decent amount of space inside, the Leaf has sold over 500,000 models worldwide as of December 2020.

New Fiat 500 EV

Released in 2021, this is the very first all-electric car from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FCA conglomerate, a model to be marketed as the 'New 500' and sold alongside the existing petrol hybrid model.

Hyundai Kona Hybrid

Another new release for 2021, targeted at car buyers that are after a small Crossover that's particularly city-orientated and are not quite ready to take the plunge into full-EV motoring.

BMW i3

Not to be outdone, reports suggest 95% of the BMW i3 can be recycled. This futuristic vehicle comes with a patented iDrive system, which works as both an in-built satnav and a means to check the battery life of your car.

Volkswagen e-up!

The VW e-up! is practically identical to its petrol sister car, the up!. However, the removal of the gas engine means there’s actually more space for passengers – raising the number to three. There’s also a trio of driving modes: normal, eco and eco+.

Renault Zoe

The Zoe looks most like a petrol and diesel option. In fact, it’s hard to notice it’s an EV at all, with its sleek finish more akin to a regular road vehicle.

Tesla Model S

Unlike the other manufacturers mentioned, Tesla are a company who specialise solely in the production of electric vehicles. It’s no surprise they’re the only name who’ve been able to create a successful sports car on the EV market.

These vehicles provide just a small glimpse into the world of electric cars. Almost every top manufacturer has at least one model on the market, giving you more choice than you might realise.

The Difference Between a Hybrid Car and a fully Electric Car

While they’re similar in nature, there are important differences between a hybrid (which mixes both electricity and fuel) and an EV.

Stylised image of a disc. The top half contains the outline of a car with a lightning bolt symbol in it to symbolise an electric car. The bottom half contains the outline of a car with a lightning bolt and a rain drop in  it, to symbolise a hybrid car.
  • 1A hybrid car is designed to be more environmentally friendly, but it still possesses a conventional engine. It mixes a petrol motor with an electrical battery to create a more powerful propulsion system.
  • Also, in the case of a hybrid, the internal combustion engine is the more important of the two power sources. The electric battery serves as more of a complement to the petrol engine and provides an additional level of support, rather than a primary means of power.
  • Hybrid cars have the potential to store electrical energy they’ve created, whereas an EV needs to recharge regularly at a power point. This self- production and storage is something electric cars have not yet managed to perfect.
  • Levels of pollution are also drastically different, given the hybrid’s inclusion of a combustion engine. While levels of emission will be lower than in a regular petrol or diesel option, they’ll still play something of a part.

The Difference Between an Electric Car & a Diesel/Petrol Option

When it comes to this comparison, the changes are a lot more noticeable. These apply to both the environmental impact and the design and build itself.

  • 1There are far fewer moving parts in an EV than a gas-powered car. This is largely due to the fact a battery powers it. In a combustion engine, you’ll find a variety of parts making up the overall unit, including the transmission, drive shafts and a series of belts and fluids.
  • Electric cars tend to have a slightly shorter range than petrol or diesel. In fact, this is probably the main concern of most drivers with an EV. The fear, dubbed range anxiety, is being alleviated somewhat by constant improvements to battery life.
  • It takes a lot longer to charge an EV than it does to fill up a regular car with fuel. This is largely what contributes to range anxiety in the first place, as there’s a concern a battery may die between destinations.
  • Most notably, electric cars will emit a considerable amount less pollution.
Stylised image of a disc containing a petrol pump. The left half is a charging point for electric cars, while the right half is a normal petrol pump for regular cars.

Check out the table below for a comparison of some of the core factors of each:

ElectricImage of a white Nissan Leaf.

Nissan Leaf

CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Max driving range: 168 miles (standard model)
RRP: £21,030 - £31,730
Road tax:
£0 per year
HybridImage of a white Toyota Yaris Hybrid.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

CO2 emissions: 92g/km
Max driving
678 miles
RRP: £21,850
Road tax:
£0 per year
Petrol/Diesel Avg
Image of a dark grey Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta

CO2 emissions: 158g/km
Max driving range: 657.5 miles
RRP: £16,140 - £26,500
Road tax:
£150 per year


The Need-to-knows

But what about the nitty-gritty stuff? We’ve looked at the overall package, but what goes into owning an EV? From road tax to the different types of government grants available to you, this section tackles everything you need to keep in mind when it comes to the specifics of your vehicle.

Road Tax on Electric Cars

Thanks to the lower CO2 emissions and the fact there’s very little overall pollution, electric vehicles are largely exempt from tax. There are several different types of tax which car owners may have to pay.

  • Fuel Duty – This is the price applied to the combustible fuel which is found in petrol and diesel cars. This price will vary, dependent on the type of fuel used to power a vehicle. Electric cars will not incur a fee in this regard, as electricity is not charged in the same way.
  • Value Added Tax (VAT) – Everyone has to pay VAT, regardless of what kind of car they drive. As a flat rate, this sees a driver charged an additional 20% on top of the overall price of their purchase.

Government Plug-in Grant

Originally launched in 2011, the plug-in car grant scheme has provided over £800 million to support the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles. Over £450 million was spent on zero-emission vehicles.

Reviewed in March 2020, the government announced an additional £532 million for consumer incentives for ultra-low emission vehicles; £403 million for the plug-in car grant, extending it until 2022/23. The rest of the funding will be used to extend grants for vans, taxis and motorcycles.

Zero-emission cars priced below £50,000 will be eligible for a grant of up to £3,000.

Vans could be eligible for up to £8,000, large vans and trucks up to £20,000, taxis up to £7,500 and motorbikes up to £1,500.

For more information, visit the website -

Image of an BMW i3 plugged in and charging.

How charging your car works

The greatest difference between driving an electric car and a fuelled car is the manner in which you keep your power source operational. Petrol and diesel options require you to stop at a fuelling station and refill your tanks, but you’ll need to charge an EV in a similar manner to how you would a mobile phone.

Charging from your home

When charging from home, you have the choice of using either a standard UK three-pin socket or a specially designed charging point. While using a regular socket is simple, it will take roughly twice as much time to achieve the same results as a charging point.

As Pod-Point highlight, a 3.7kw charger (similar in strength to a three-pin socket) takes an hour to charge 15 miles’ worth of journey. A 7kw charger will produce 30 miles’ worth of charge in that exact same time.

While 7kw chargers aren’t cheap, you’ll be able to take advantage of government support to subsidise the potential cost. You’ll be able to get a 75% discount (up to £500) on installation.

When it comes to costs, you’ll find charging an EV is considerably cheaper than refuelling in a more traditional manner. Pod-Point report that you can expect to pay just 2p for every mile travelled with an electric car, as opposed to 15p per mile on average with a petrol or diesel car.

Charging in public

If you need to charge your car on the go, you’ll be able to find charging points throughout the UK. There are around 12,000 individual charging points currently available, all of which can be located with the use of ZapMap. This handy app will allow you to instantly locate the nearest point to you and even save it for future reference.

Dependent on the provider, you may also be asked to produce a specialist card or use a specific app to unlock the port. This will vary between different operators, so always make sure to look for information when you’re at the station itself.

Usually, you’ll have to be a member of a company who provide these services to be able to use their port. This means having to pay a flat fee every month. As such, you may want to restrict yourself to using a specific provider’s charging units, as opposed to spreading your costs across all of them.

If you’re on a long journey, you’ll also be able to find a limited supply of chargers on the motorway. This will largely be provided by Ecotricity, and will cost you up to £3 to connect for 45 minutes of use. If you’re a regular user of this provider, you’ll be able to enjoy a discount.

Image of a Tesla charging point.

Battery Life

It’s impossible to provide a definitive figure when it comes to understanding the exact lifespan of an electric vehicle’s engine. There are a number of key factors which will go into deciding how long a battery lasts.

These include the likes of:

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Temperatures (both external and internal)

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Overcharging or excessively high levels of voltage

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Deep discharges or low voltage

Stylised image of a power plug.

High discharges or high currents

Effectively, much as you might discover with your smartphone, overcharging a battery will cause its lifespan to shorten. This happens as a result of Lithium batteries exceeding their terminal voltage capacity.

This capacity usually sits around the 3.9 to 4.2V mark. Exceeding this number will not only cause long term damage to a battery, but may even result in fires breaking out if it starts to overheat.

Individual manufacturers will offer different rates when it comes to battery life. The Nissan Leaf, for example, is guaranteed to go at least 100,000 miles or last for a total of 8 years.

Deciding if an Electric Car is Right for You

But what about the nitty-gritty stuff? We’ve looked at the overall package, but what goes into owning an EV? From road tax to the different types of government grants available to you, this section tackles everything you need to keep in mind when it comes to the specifics of your vehicle.

What will you need the car for?

The kinds of journeys you make will decide whether or not having an electric car would be appropriate for you. EVs have a limited charge when it comes to how far they can travel.

As such, if you’re someone who has to travel on long distances with reasonable regularity, they may not be a good option for you. While recharging theoretically won’t cost a huge amount, it’s going to be a long and arduous process if you have to stop every 80-100 miles on a journey from the south of England to the north.

What are the downsides of using an electric car?

As great as EVs are when it comes to the environment, there are nevertheless still a series of negatives which have to  taken into account. These include:

  • Long refuelling time – While the overall cost might be considerably cheaper, the amount of time you have to dedicate to charging your car will be a lot longer. If you’re going to run out during your journey, you’ll need to factor this into your plans.
  • Range – On that note, the range of a car will play an important role when it comes to your choice. This inability to travel long distances without the constant need to recharge can be infuriating, and even lead to the aforementioned range anxiety which some EV drivers experience.
  • Price – Despite grants from the government, the overall cost of an electric car can be considerably greater than that of a petrol or diesel car of the same size and power but may save you money in the long run.
  • Consumer variance – Unlike a regular car, you have fewer options to choose between when it comes to the EV you want. But with more and more manufacturers releasing new hybrid and full electric models, the choice increases every year.

Keep these primary concerns in mind when weighing up whether or not to purchase an EV. Are you willing to put up with these faults to experience the benefits they offer?

The needs of your family:

Is an electric car good for your family?

This will really depend on the size of your family. If there’s only three or four of you, there’s a good chance an electric vehicle will be big enough to match your needs. However, in the case of larger clans, it might be necessary to upgrade to a more robust car to find the required space.

Boot options will also vary, dependent on the model you opt for. With the likes of prams and buggies needing to be taken into account (as well as luggage for holidays), having a decent enough boot space is a large factor for family travel.

Taking stats from Nimblefins, some of the most popular EVs have the following amount of boot room:

BMW i3260
Renault Zoe338
Nissan Leaf370
Tesla model S894


Other considerations to make

With all of that in mind, there are still a host of other details which need to be taken into account. These won’t be day-to-day concerns, but still provide some food for thought heading forwards.

  • Space for a charger port – While you may have taken costs into account, you’ll also need to consider if you have room for a charger port on your property. If you don’t own the land, you’ll also have to make sure you’ve got permission to build. It could be the case that the landowner doesn’t want a charging point added.
  • Public chargers near you – If you live in an area where there are little to no charging units readily available, it might be difficult to maintain your car’s battery on a regular basis. While certain pockets of the country (such as London and Newcastle) are densely populated with chargers, there are plenty of areas where which aren’t. This map highlights how someone in an area like northern Wales might struggle.
  • Resale value – If you’re purchasing a used EV, it might be worth considering how old the car is and how long you’re expecting to use it. Does it seem like there’s going to be any resale value when it comes to passing the car on in a few years?
  • The feel of the car – Make sure to test drive the car before you buy (especially if you haven’t driven an electric car in the past). There’s a marginal difference between these and petrol or diesel models when it comes to handle, so try to get accustomed to it before making a purchase.

Keep these primary concerns in mind when weighing up whether or not to purchase an EV. Are you willing to put up with these faults to experience the benefits they offer?

Secondary sources and FAQs

We’ve covered a lot in this guide, but you may still have further queries. Read through some frequently asked questions to discover even more about electric vehicles.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know if the battery is running low?

Just like a petrol car and its fuel gage, you’ll have a dashboard which tells you exactly how much power is left on  vehicle. This means the chances of you suddenly being left with an empty battery are unlikely – although not impossible if you aren’t diligent.

What will happen if the battery runs out while I’m driving?

Some cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, will have a “turtle mode”, which allows you to crawl along at a slower pace for a few miles once your natural refuge of power has gone.

Are EVs slower than a petrol or diesel car?

Contrary to some beliefs, EVs are not naturally slower than a normal car. Most will be able to reach 80+mph as a top speed, while others can reach 0-60mph within a matter of seconds. For standard, everyday use they’ll prove just as efficient as any other kind of vehicle.

Could someone pull out the power cord while charging overnight?

Theoretically, yes – which is why these chargers are often designed with a locking system on their cables. This  prevent people from getting access to your unit.

Do electric cars get serviced?

Yes, and it should be much cheaper and quicker than with a regular car, owing to the fact they have far fewer parts. They should be checked out with the same regularity as a normal car (about once a year). You may not be able to get it out at your local garage, however – not all mechanics are trained to fix EVs.

Secondary sources

Read through some of our secondary sources to discover more about electric vehicles.

The BBC look further at the growing concern of range anxiety:

Carbuyer look at some of the best electric vehicles currently on the market:

Difference Between analyse the variation between a hybrid and purely electrical car:

Ergon look at the benefits of travelling with an electric vehicle: electric-vehicles

The government offer a series of grants dedicated to helping electric car drivers:

Mandatory analyse some of the negatives of driving an EV:

Virgin take a look at how an electric car helps the world as a whole:

Zap-Map provide their own guide to charging your vehicle:

Ban on new petrol and diesel cars planned for 2030:

Ford to sell only electric cars in UK and Europe by 2030: