Be careful when buying new power tools. I bought a DeWalt 18V Li-ion drill 7 years ago- and so far that drill has mixed all the cement for a house extension, drilled countless holes in hard concrete blocks, screwed countless screws into wood and also drilled joints for a large green-oak porch. Quite impressive on the original battery. It also led to me buying a Nissan Leaf, then a Hyundai Ioniq electric, then another Dewalt drill, then a second Ioniq Electric…

Firstly, let me give you an idea of what we, as a family, expect from our cars.

I commute 50-60 miles a day,  depending on the route. My wife commutes between 5 and 65 miles a day.  Very occasionally we’ll need a car to get to a work meeting further afield, maybe 100 miles away. There’s shopping trips or errands on most days, say up to 10 miles. We have relatives 120 and 240 miles away, often use a car for trips to airports for work or holidays, up to 100 miles away, and have family holidays which use the car as the main form of transport anywhere in the UK and in Europe. If anything, we probably drive more than the average family- certainly over 12,000 miles in each car.

We used to have 2 diesels. I’d use the more economic one for 50-60 mile weekday commuting, the second car might not get used every day but because we work in 2 different places there’s always been a need to have 2 cars available.

In 2016 I was looking for a car to replace a 10 year old diesel Skoda. With no prospect of reducing the commute, and not being able to afford to move any closer to work, I was looking for an automatic car to make the journey easier and hopefully less costly. This gave us an opportunity to move to an affordable EV. Back in 2016 there weren’t many used EVs around. The Peugeot Ion didn’t have the range. I didn’t want to pay a monthly battery rental, so the Renault Zoe was out of the running. At the time a 3 year old Nissan Leaf (including the battery) could be had for £9000. It looked like it would easily manage the 50 mile commute, with enough left for errands in the evening. Near-zero fuel costs, cheap maintenance and a very good reliability record convinced me to make the change- it looked like the Total Cost of Ownership would be a winner.

As I’ve shown in my other blogs, this worked very well and saved money straight away.  We found that at weekends the Leaf was the go-to car because it was just so much easier and more fun to drive than the diesel Citroen. What you read about “2p a mile” can indeed be true, at least for Leaf fuel costs. The only issue has been range in very cold weather or on motorways, since the small battery effectively “shrinks” and is used faster- the result is a safe 60 mile range in these conditions. After 2 years and 28000 miles, my Leaf had a total cost of ownership of 10p per mile. The only significant cost was £1000 depreciation- and some tyres.

I’d call a used Leaf or Zoe a “budget EV”. You’ll need to make some compromises- but they can work very well. Now cars like the BMW i3 and Kia Soul are creeping into the budget category.

Why wouldn’t you be suited to a “budget EV”?

-If you have a tight budget (sub-£5k) and won’t/can’t take out a loan

-If you enjoy spending weekends servicing and tinkering under the bonnet and getting covered in oil, annoying the neighbours and ignore the cost of physiotherapist visits or the risks of getting splashed in carcinogens 🙂

-If you must drive 200+ miles every day -and insist on doing this at 80mph

-If you can’t charge overnight at home (though some people do manage with charging away from home, at work, supermarkets and at rapid chargers for example)

The ideal use case for a typical short(ish)-range, budget, EV is similar to mine:

-Commuting up to 60 miles a day, with a choice of routes to account for the worst cold weather and/or diversions.

-Occasional long trips where you are prepared to stop and charge

-Ideally, EV charging available where (and while) you work- or a reliable rapid charger en-route

In late 2017, replacing the other car, a 5 seat family car which needed to do the longer trips, looked more tricky. The solution wasn’t spending a small fortune on a Tesla as you might expect, but finding a car with a good enough range for most trips, i.e. long commutes and the more frequent family trips, and fast enough charging so that the long-distance journeys can be done with some planning. We looked at cars that can do at least 120 miles before needing charging, at normal motorway speeds, so that most long trips would not be compromised. So we were willing to compromise, but not to the extent that we would be spending more than 30 minutes at rapid-chargers every couple of hours. For the really long trips, we planned to hire a car or take alternative modes of transport.

Theory is one thing, and individual preference and the sheer time and effort of finding an electric car to even test-drive can be a hurdle. We were still in the very-early-adopter stage in 2017.

It’s worth knowing that the advertised and real-world range of cars are two different things, and that the way you drive, and the weather has a large effect on the real range, and is much more marked than for a diesel or petrol car (where most energy is wasted as heat anyway). The EPA range (from the USA) is a good guide to real range.

Nissan Leaf

The Leaf 30 was available used, but the price was too high for a car which I know from experience had shortcomings (no battery thermal management) and couldn’t (quite) meet  the need for the 120 mile nonstop trip. By now, with the ’40 model around, the used ’30 value might drop.

Renault Zoe (40)

The Zoe 40 has a lot of good points; a large battery and battery air-cooling are two of them. A lack of DC fast charging, and the move we are seeing to DC (Chademo and CCS) charging in the UK put me off. AC rapid chargers are in the minority. I felt I’d be backing the wrong horse, for a main family car- bit like buying a Betamax- and time has shown that some charging companies no longer offer AC charging. I have to admit to a dislike of Renaults, because of poor experience with Renault garages. I found them distinctly unhelpful and sometimes completely incompetent! It’s AC charging is limited to 43kW, and not all models offer this. That might not matter at all to you, if you drive within range.

Most Zoes are on a hired-battery scheme, which I could live with if it made sense for me. There are a few battery-owned “i” models out there. It’s worth noting that in late 2019 Renault finally dropped its battery hire scheme for new models.

BMW i3

Not a family car. Too little space, have you seen the back doors? Also rather expensive for what it is. No local BMW dealer who was remotely interested in EVs. I also rather like indicators.

Kia Soul

Far better than it looks! Very small boot however. Couldn’t find one locally to try; this could have been a good second choice. Used prices high as they’re fairly new. Has the excellent Hyundai-Kia battery thermal management system.

Hyundai Ioniq electric (28kWh)

The closer you look at this car, the better it gets. It looks “normal” in a Prius kind of way. The most efficient car on the market. Very rapid (70kW) charging. Battery cooling, and heating. Very capable motorway cruiser. Only a shallow boot lets it down slightly- but below the boot floor lives some clever cable and charger storage, which helps. The Ioniq electric has the fastest “miles per hour plugged in” rapid charging of any reasonably priced EV.

Tesla Model S

Superb – quite expensive but man-maths can almost make a good case, at least for a used car bought at the right time. Values fluctuate with supply, for example used prices are rising in 2021 as supply is short. Free supercharging at Tesla’s own chargers for life, if you buy used. Third-party support for the things that can break is now available via garages like Cleevely EV, and their mobile service.

Tesla Model 3

Very capable saloon (not a hatchback) which can charge very fast indeed. Used values are very high as a result.

We found an Ioniq at the right price at the right time in late 2017 – and it has proved to be very good indeed. So good in fact, that when a used Ioniq came up at the right price, I took the plunge and swapped the Leaf for it.

Charging two EVs at home

We have one 7kW PodPoint charger and another “drive” in front of our garage, but it’s tricky to add a second permanent charger, as this “drive” is a public access. Really it’s only awkward council planning that prevents us, hopefully time will overcome this and one day we can get a grant to fund it. Probably more realistic than ever clearing the garage/workshop 🙂

In practise, with two cars that can do well over 110 miles in all weathers, we rarely need to charge both or even one of them daily. We now have 3 BP Ultrachargers about a mile away- and that gives a helpful quick top-up now and again as a “Plan B”.

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