Electric car sales are surging. And I am one of the drivers to take the plug-in plunge. Out went a petrol-powered Mini Clubman Cooper and in came a BMW i3 as the family’s daily runaround. My wife almost shed a tear at the loss of her beloved Clubman, but the moment she stepped from the i3 after her first drive, she was an electric car convert.
You’ll hear similar stories wherever you go, from the school gates to family get-togethers, drinks with friends to small talk at work. The ‘carbon configuration’ of the market is changing. In Britain, one in four new cars sold in October was plug-in – hybrid or electric – while sales of diesels fell by 60 per cent to a little over 10 per cent of the market. Petrol car sales, which still account for more than half the market, fell 26 per cent.
Month by month, the product choice in the electrified part of the car market is improving greatly. The charging infrastructure is expanding. And word is spreading that, guess what, barely anyone that’s made the switch misses their old petrol or diesel burner.
We still own an old, Euro 5 diesel estate car. It steps in as the family bus when all five of us are aboard and we need to travel further afield, and with a lot more luggage, than the BMW i3 can accommodate. And my modern-classic toys are safely tucked away in the garage. But the i3 is here to stay, with four years of monthly payments ahead of me.
From a technical perspective, not to mention from an efficiency and environmental standpoint, it’s an interesting car that satisfied the selection criteria floating around in my head – criteria many car enthusiasts will share, namely ‘It must not be boring’. But the journey I have been on highlighted some frustrations that nobody seems to tell you about before you make the switch.
So here’s what I wished I’d known before taking the plunge. If you’ve got experiences to add to this lot, drop them into the comments below, so others can gain a better understanding of switching to an electric car.
You won’t save any money, unless…
Think you’ll save money? Think again, friend. There are costs lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring out at you like Cato coming at Clouseau from the wardrobe, with an iron.
The biggest one of these is the cost of installing a charging point for your car at home. I ended up with a bill for nearly £950. That’s the same as a year’s worth of petrol costs for our old Mini Clubman Cooper.
Then there’s the cost of the car itself. The i3 is a more expensive car than the more practical Clubman Cooper we used to run – hey, that’s the price you pay for a carbonfibre concept car turned production reality – so the monthly finance sum is more. At the time of writing, Mini was offering a new Clubman Cooper for £320 a month and a £2000 deposit, over 48 months and 8000 miles a year, through a Personal Contract Purchase. An i3, on the other hand, needs a £4559 deposit and costs £349 per month.
So, by going electric like me you could be out of pocket to the tune of almost £5000, assuming you pay for the car in the same way – using finance, the way most people now buy cars. I’m not alone in drawing such conclusions; Auto Trader recently sounded a warning to the government about the situation.
Unless… unless you’re a company car driver looking to pay as little Benefit-in-Kind tax as possible, in which case the one per cent rate currently in place (two per cent from April 2022) makes it most attractive.
The moral? You’ve really got to be emotionally invested to justify such a switch.
You missed the best grants
Sorry chum, the grants were withdrawn from the market years ago, doubtless after one too many headlines in the press about how they were being handed out to buyers of expensive, luxury and sports-type cars. And to add insult to injury, without notice to consumers or the car industry, on 14 June the government announced it was ending grants altogether.
There used to be a government grant of £4500 (up to 20 per cent of the purchase price) but in early 2019 it was reduced, falling to £3500, then £3000 and then £2500. Now the government has withdrawn it entirely, saying is ‘refocusing funding towards the main barriers to the EV transition, including public charging and supporting the purchase of other road vehicles [vans and HGVs] where the switch to electric requires further development.’
Meanwhile, the grant that contributes to the cost of installing an electric car charger at home has been slashed. It was £500, a significant sum that could almost cover all the costs. It’s now £350, which won’t go all that far when ordering a 7kW or 22kW fast charger for home use – in my case leaving me with a chunky £943 (including VAT) to settle for a Zappi 7kW smart charger. Ouch.
You can’t have the options you want
Ah, the thrill of speccing a new car. Comparing paint colours; being bold with the interior theme; switching the alloy wheels; upgrading the audio system; adding a bunch of driver aids to keep all aboard safe. As if!
You’ll do all this using the fancy online configurator, send the link to the sales person, await their reaction and compliments about the tasteful spec you’ve chosen, only to be told you can’t have any of that stuff if you want the government grant.
That’s because the grant threshold of £35,000 is applied to the price of the car including options. And let’s face it, when the government offers to hand you £2500 after a lifetime of taking your money away, you bite its hand off.
The only options I could have, then, were a ‘parking pack’, blue seat belts and tinted rear windows. The blue belts and tints don’t do it for me, so I was able to have just a single option I’d originally wanted.
Choosing a wallbox supplier is a minefield
There are myriad manufacturers and installers of electric charging stations for your home. Picking one is a minefield. The big-name providers get mixed reviews on platforms such as Trustpilot and Google Reviews. The smaller-name providers – well, that’s the thing, you’ve never heard of them and they’re indistinguishable in amongst the sea of Google ads and search results.
In the end I went with word of mouth, after an uncle also living in the same county had a good experience, and the company’s Trustpilot reviews were impressive. When searching, make sure any installer is certified and registered to handle the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) wallbox grant process.
You can’t just put a wallbox where you please
If your fuse board is at one end of the house and your parking area or garage is at the extreme opposite, you could face the situation where you’d have to lift the floor throughout the property to route the power supply cable, which isn’t economical. I encountered that exact problem at our last house. That’s why you’d be well advised to begin by having a free site survey conducted, by a reputable and approved wallbox installer. And remember to think about the position of any EV’s charging port – and how this may have a bearing on the position of the wallbox.
Read the handbook or charge at glacial speeds
Because I am vaguely in tune with the i3, having reviewed several in the past, at the end of the first charging session I spotted that it was only juicing at half the speed it was supposed to when using our 7kW wallbox. Can you imagine how many other motorists wouldn’t notice? That’s because the car’s default setting is 3.6kW, when first charged. This, presumably, is BMW’s way of preventing homeowners from overloading the home’s wiring and burning their home to the ground. You have to dive into the vehicle menus, using the car’s iDrive system, to change the default setting so that the onboard, 11kW charger accepts 7kW.
Off-peak electricity is off-limits
Have you heard about ‘time of use tariffs’? These are the Holy Grail of living with an electric car, because they offer a regular peak rate charge during the day, and a discounted rate overnight when demand is typically low (‘For how much longer with all these EVs?’ I hear you say…). In the case of my supplier, it’s 20.27 p/kWh at peak, and 4.67p/kWh off-peak.
I wish I’d known about the intricacies of this before taking the plunge, because my energy provider says I’m not eligible for its EV Tariff, either because I don’t have the latest generation smart meter at the property, or they won’t install one for me. Other suppliers say the same. So I’m stuck at peak prices.
There are free charging points. FREE!
Yes, it’s true. Some of my local villages, in Kent, have Tesla ‘destination’ chargers at public car parks. I plugged in the i3 and it started charging, free of, er, charge. Some supermarkets also offer free charging locations. Seek them out and suck every last drop of juice out of them.
There’s an app, or ten, for that
Apps will be your new best friend should you need to plan a journey or charge on the hoof. However, these will consume space on the smartphone that is far more basic than your children’s because you paid it off ages ago and don’t want a cost-upgrade thank you very much. Before you know it you’ll be sorting through years of stored videos, photos, music, voice memos, apps and more to free up space, only to fill it with apps that fill up the memory again. All in the name of driving an electric car.
You will be swamped with jargon
You already knew this, right? If you read any brochure for an electric car you will have been flattened by the jargon juggernaut. So I’ll do you a favour and steer clear here – just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Got advice for fellow drivers contemplating switching to an electric car? Share it in the comments, below.