The cost of driving green

Carlton Boyce / 06 December 2017 ( 27 November 2018 )

Just how much does it cost to switch to an electric car? We break down the costs to see if you could save by going green.

We previously compared the pros and cons of running a petrol or a diesel car, but with the balance shifting in favour of running an electric vehicle (EV) we thought now might be the time to compare the running costs of all four: pure electric cars; range-extender electric cars with a petrol or diesel engine in addition to an electric motor; a diesel-engined car; and the more traditional petrol vehicle.

Purchase price

Electric cars are still the most expensive to buy, even if it’s an all-electric model that qualifies for the full government grant of £4,500. A diesel-engined car will be the next most expensive to buy with a petrol-engined car being the cheapest by some margin.

Having said that, a recent survey by MoneySuperMarket showed that only 38% of drivers are aware of the UK Government’s subsidy to help offset the increased purchase price of an EV, which might explain why 46% of the 1,000 drivers questioned cited the higher purchase price as the main reason for not buying one.

So, while a petrol car is still the cheapest of the four to buy, the initial up-front cost of buying a diesel or electric car might well be closer than you think, especially if you consider the monthly cost of financing your new car via a Personal Contract Plan, or PCP deal. Deals on PCPs are rife as many manufacturers subsidise the monthly payment to try to steer you in the direction of the cars it wants you to be seen driving.

How to test drive a new car


The depreciation on an electric vehicle is likely to be far higher than for a conventionally fuelled car. A Nissan LEAF, for example, loses around 50% of its value in a year and up to 75% in three years[1], a figure that is by no means exceptional. The equivalent petrol or diesel-engined vehicle, on the other hand, should lose less than half its value over three years.

This is unequivocally bad news for drivers wanting to switch to a greener vehicle, but it does mean that there are some spectacular bargains available on nearly new EVs. Of course, if you’re buying via a PCP, then the depreciation will already have been factored in, making it much less of a problem.

Running costs

This is the area in which electric cars really come into their own: with no vehicle excise duty (‘road tax’) to pay, they already have a head-start on their fossil-fuelled rivals. Charging an EV should cost less than half the price of filling your car’s petrol or diesel tank too, slashing running costs even further. It should cost around £3.64 per full charge to charge your EV at home, which works out at around 3p per mile, a figure that compares very favourably to the 15p per mile it’ll cost you to run a petrol or diesel car that returns 40mpg.

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But the real savings come in when you find a way to recharge your car’s batteries using someone else’s power; if your employer lets you plug in at work – and many are starting to do so – then you’ll be quids in, as you will be if you manage to find a deal whereby you can use one of the nation’s charging points either for free or at a subsidised rate. Chargemaster offers its POLAR plus scheme, with free or discounted charging at thousands of places in return for a £7.85 monthly subscription, while discount supermarket Lidl has started to offer free charging at some of its stores.

With their fewer moving parts, a pure electric car also costs much less to service, with typical charges being half that of the competition.

Buying a used electric car

Electric cars summed up...

If your lifestyle can accommodate an electric vehicle then there are huge savings to be made in running costs; recent research shows that an electric-only car is about 10% cheaper to run over four years than a conventionally fuelled car, which means the environmental benefits come free. Hybrid cars still tend to be the most expensive option over the same period, but their range flexibility might mean that they still suit your lifestyle better than a car that is fitted with a battery alone.

As for whether to buy a new or nearly new example, letting someone else take the brunt of the depreciation by buying a one-year-old electric car will realise the biggest up-front savings, but a manufacturer’s PCP deal might be a very close second while simultaneously giving you the reassurance of buying a new example.

Yet, no matter how you finance your electric car, you’ll potentially save a small fortune on running it; with the exception of insurance, all of your running costs will shrink dramatically if you make the switch: a petrol car might cost you less to buy in the first place but if monthly savings are important to you – and they are, let’s face it, the ones we all tend to notice the most – then going electric makes an awful lot of sense.

Obviously, all of the above assumes that you actually plan and/or need to change your car in the first place; the cheapest option is always likely to be sticking with what you’ve got!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.