How can a used electric car save you money, or even pay for itself when compared to a petrol or diesel car?

Headline figure, if you want the big picture, is a £1500 a year saving.  Over 6 years you get £9000 which pays for your electric car. Yes- this is a simplification. Running costs vary, fuel costs vary, where did the capital come from in the first place- you could even call this man-maths! But there it is. These figures are for the UK in late 2016.


So, for some detail.

Firstly – do you know how much your current car costs per mile? Maybe not – after all, there’s little you can do to make it cheaper, right? You might take for granted the fact that it needs a service, an oil change, with a special oil maybe; cambelt changes, and every now and again something major is going to go wrong. We’ve grown up with these assumptions and to suggest that you could own a car tomorrow that rewrites the rulebook is probably too good to be true, right?

A 3 year old electric Nissan Leaf is a similar price to a similar spec diesel car, maybe even cheaper. Around £9000 gets you a car which is (effectively) an auto, with all the toys you’d expect.

So let’s make some assumptions. You’re considering a used electric car so you might be comparing to a fairly efficient diesel model. It does 50mpg. It needs a service every 10,000 miles. You do 12,000 miles a year. You could buy a 3-year old diesel or a 3-year old electric car. Both would get you to work and back and run errands at the weekends. Let’s base the fuel costs on £1.20 a litre. That comes out at £1307 per year for fuel for the diesel.

For the electric car, I’ll assume overnight charging at Economy 7 rates, that’s 7p/kWh. In terms of economy, 4.0 miles per kWh is a good average. For 12,000 miles that’s £210.

Already the electric is £1097 a year ahead. Take road tax (£140) into account and the electric owner is £1237 better off. (Pure electric cars are tax free, let alone considering London congestion charge)

Servicing is next – and can vary a lot, so I’ve used published Skoda prices since that’s what I was considering buying. They quote a £149 minor service at 10,000 miles and £269 for a 20,000 mile major service. Lets say you plan on keeping the car for 6 years. So the average annual cost will be £209 a year. But wait- the Leaf is effectively an automatic, so you’ll need to factor these costs in. A VW group DSG auto box needs a service at £175 every 40,000 miles. A cambelt will set you back £385 or £485, at 4 years, if you include the recommended waterpump change. Then there’s brakes… I’ll be kind and say you only change the auto box oil once, the cambelt only once, the front brake discs twice  -and ignore the aircon and any brake fluid changes, as the Nissan Leaf has aircon and brake fluid changes as well. That’s just under £400 per year. Which sounds OK, doesn’t it?

Well- Nissan also have a fixed servicing charge for electric cars, at £99 or £149. You won’t wear out your brakes, there’s no cambelt, or auto gearbox to service. Annual cost averages £124. Servicing an electric car is really only a check of things like the fluids and charger sockets, and a carwash! Did I mention Nissan give free breakdown cover with every service?

So now the electric has an annual advantage of £276 on servicing, making a total saving of £1513 a year (plus whatever breakdown cover you might choose).

It’s now not much of a leap to see that those £1513’s add up, and over 5 or 6 years your Leaf has now saved so much that it’s paid for itself. Any miles from now on are saving you big-time. Compared to the alternative, you’ve saved £9000 over 6 years.

If you do less than 50mpg, then payback is effectively quicker. If you do far fewer miles then your savings will be smaller. But remember, petrol or diesel cars are quite inefficient over small trips.

In terms of big-ticket items that go wrong, both cars could potentially hit you with a big bill, if for example your cambelt actually breaks, or your battery fails. Nissan give a 5 or 8 year warranty on their battery and powertrain.

There are now third-party experts who can help with repairs to EVs, such as battery pack repairs or sourcing electrical parts if the worst should happen. For example,  It’s still a specialist area so it’s good to see this happening already.

Would you really keep an electric car for 6 years? My thinking is that, so long as it is still reliable and does the commute without drama – then why not? Even if you don’t there will still be residual value in the car, and I predict demand for good used EVs will increase as word gets around.

PS You could always charge from your solar panels for free- but that’s for a later post.

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