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Is now the right time to buy an electric car? We can help you decide

If you’re thinking of replacing a petrol or diesel with a pure electric car, we have all the information you need to decide whether to make the leap now or wait for more new model launches...

Hyundai Ioniq 5 2021 front right tracking

Electric vehicles (EVs) are rapidly becoming mainstream. There are already around 50 fully electric models on sale, and more than 20 new ones are due to arrive in the next six months, along with a host of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) versions of popular cars.

Sales of fully electric vehicles hit an all-time high of 190,727 in 2021, as sales of petrol and diesel cars fell. If you add in the number of PHEVs sold last year, one in five new cars was a battery electric.

So, is now the time to trade your internal combustion-engined car for an electrified one?

Well, there are plenty of tempting EVs to choose from, whether you’re in the market for a city runabout like the Fiat 500 or a large SUV like the BMW iX3. And even the less performance-oriented models generally have zippy performance, so they’re fun to drive.

LT Audi E-tron Sportback charging

The first thing to consider is whether you can charge a car at an affordable location, such as your home or workplace, so you can avoid the sometimes pricey public charging options and reap the potential savings of driving an EV rather than a petrol or diesel. Don't forget to take into account the cost of having a home charger installed if you plan to get one of those.

EVs are generally more expensive to buy and insure than their petrol and diesel-engined counterparts. The all-new electric Fiat 500 will set you back £24,435 with What Car?’s Target Price (TP) discount. That's almost £10,000 more than the cost of a comparable petrol-engined 500. Meanwhile, the BMW iX3 is priced from £62,245 with TP discount, whereas the conventional BMW X3 starts at just over £44,000.

Sales of EVs are predicted to increase exponentially over the next few years, and as battery technology improves, prices should start to come down.

BMW iX3 2021 front

Insurance groups are based partly on a car’s cost, so high purchase prices, and the potentially higher cost of replacement parts, mean premiums are likely to be higher.

Servicing an EV should be cheaper than a petrol or diesel car because there are fewer mechanical parts. EVs can wear out brakes more quickly, though, and some sit on specially designed tyres that can be pricier to replace, so you’ll need to ensure you can afford these additional expenses.

Kia e-Niro 2021 front

We’ve had a small number of reports from owners about serious electrical issues with EVs. One reader told us his Kia e-Niro has a problem with its heater that means he can’t use the car until a replacement part is sourced from abroad. Another said his Volkswagen ID 3 had suffered multiple software glitches. With all the new technology on EVs, there is a school of thought that it’s best to wait until a new model has been on sale for a couple of years so all the teething troubles have been sorted out by the time you buy.

So, while electric cars can make sense now, you might also want to consider a PHEV or a hybrid car next, then go electric in a couple of years. Our Plug-in Hybrid of the Year for 2022 is the Lexus NX, which has an electric range of more than 40 miles and is good value for money at £40,707 if bought via the What Car? New Car Deals pages.

Plug-in Hybrid of the Year 2021 Skoda Octavia iV Estate

There are hybrid versions of many other family hatchbacks, giving lower emissions and better fuel economy than pure petrol or diesel versions. That could be a good option if you want a car with some form of electrification but are not yet ready for one that needs to be charged up to get the lowest running costs.

Finally, there are plenty of mild-hybrid models on offer. They use electrical assistance to boost the performance and economy of a conventional engine. These include our Small SUV of the Year – the Ford Puma – which has a What Car? Target Price of £21,831. It uses a small electric motor to boost the performance and economy of its 1.0-litre petrol engine.

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Read more: The best and worst electric cars >>