Buying an electric car or vehicle

 An electric vehicle can reduce your environmental impact and save you money in the long run.

Before purchasing, understand your options so you can make an informed decision. Weighing up emissions, charging requirements and running costs will help you select the electric car that is the best fit for you and your lifestyle.

Fortunately, the number of models available in Australia is increasing. Many car manufacturers now offer electric cars for sale in their dealerships.

Cost benefits

Electric vehicles can be more expensive to purchase than their petrol and diesel equivalents, especially brand new. This may balance out through lower operating costs over time. Servicing an electric vehicle can cost less than a petrol vehicle, as there are fewer moving parts to maintain or replace.

The Electric Vehicle Council is the national body representing the electric vehicle industry in Australia. They have a tool you can use to calculate the cost benefits of owning an electric vehicle.

The Council’s September 2019 report, The state of electric vehicles in Australia, estimates the following costs for an annual travel distance of 12,600km:

Metric Electric vehicle Petrol vehicle
Average annual cost $623.70 $1,923.26
Energy use per km 0.150kWh 0.106kWh
Electricity/fuel cost $0.33/kWh $1.44/L
Cost per km $0.05 $0.15
Fuel savings $1299.56 per year  
Five-year savings $6,497.82  

Environmental benefits

The environmental impact of your electric vehicle varies depends on how it is powered. Typically, reduced fuel consumption results in reduced greenhouse emissions.

New vehicles sold in Australia are required to display a fuel consumption label on the windscreen. This indicates the vehicle’s fuel consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide. These numbers are standardised, so you can reliably compare the performance of different models.

The Electric Vehicle Council estimates the following emissions for petrol and electric vehicles, based on a mid-sized SUV:

Vehicle type Petrol usage Average annual tailpipe emissions (tonnes CO2)
Petrol 7.5L/100km 2.62
Hybrid 4.8L/100km 1.55
Plug-in hybrid 1.9L/100km 0.6
Electric vehicle NA 0

Types of electric cars and vehicles

Hybrid

Hybrids use a combination of a petrol or diesel engine and a battery or on-board electric motor.

Hybrids don’t plug into an electricity supply to recharge. Their only source of energy is the fuel used by the engine. The battery is charged by the combustion engine, and energy is captured when the vehicle brakes.

The running costs and environmental impact of hybrids varies significantly depending on fuel consumption. The most fuel-efficient hybrids can use up to 50% less fuel, compared to standard internal combustion engines.

While hybrids are more fuel efficient than a comparable petrol car, they are not technically considered to be electric vehicles.

Use the Green Vehicle Guide advanced search to view hybrid models available in Australia.

Plug-in hybrid

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid, usually with a bigger battery, that you can charge using an external electricity supply.

If you only use your car for short trips, you can run it entirely on electricity. You have the flexibility of running on petrol if you don’t have access to a battery charger.

Considering that plug-in hybrids have a petrol or diesel engine, maintenance costs are about the same as conventional vehicles.

Use the Green Vehicle Guide advanced search to view plug-in hybrid models available in Australia.

Electric (battery)

Battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) are powered only by electrical energy stored in the battery. They are also known as ‘pure electric’ vehicles.

Electric vehicles are significantly cheaper to run than petrol or diesel. Maintenance costs are also low because electric motors have fewer moving parts.

You charge an electric car by plugging it into an external electricity source. This could be a regular electrical socket, a dedicated charging unit, or one of the many public charging stations around the country.

Find your nearest charging station on the My Electric Car website..

Use the Green Vehicle Guide advanced search to view hybrid electric models available in Australia.

Hydrogen fuel cell  

Fuel cell vehicles feature new technology not currently available in Australia, where hydrogen gas is used to power an electric motor. Unlike conventional vehicles which run on petrol or diesel, fuel cell cars and trucks combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which runs a motor.

Fuel cell vehicles don’t emit tailpipe pollution. Producing the hydrogen itself can generate greenhouse gas emissions, but this significantly less than emissions from petrol-powered vehicles.  

Use the Green Vehicle Guide advanced search to view hydrogen fuel cell models available in Australia.

Living with an electric vehicle  

Planning ahead

Owning an electric car or vehicle is a new experience that may require you to form new habits, like planning ahead.

You’re probably used to filling up your car with fuel when you need it. But you can’t apply the same regime to an electric vehicle. You need to charge your vehicle ahead of time to avoid having to stop and wait for it to recharge on your journey.

You may be worried that you won't get to your destination without having to charge your car up, or that you won't be able to charge your car when you get there. But by keeping your electric vehicle plugged in when you're parked, especially overnight, you should have enough battery life to get you to your destination.

Increased comfort

Electric vehicles are often more spacious than a similarly-sized petrol vehicle. This is because batteries in electric vehicles are normally mounted low in the car and the electric motor takes up less space than an engine.

Charging an electric vehicle

Home charging  

Electric vehicles can be charged at home through standard power points.

Portable three-pin charging cables that plug into a standard household power point are typically supplied when you buy your electric vehicle.

It’s a good idea to always keep your vehicle plugged in, so you don’t run out of power the next time you use it. Your battery will only use the power it needs to fully charge.

Wall-mounted charging unit

A wall-mounted charging unit may be helpful to have at home or work. Some have timers or allow you to control charging with a smartphone.

Public charging  

There are two types of public charging stations – fast (DC direct current) and slow (AC alternating current).

Find a charging station near you with the Electric Vehicle Council public charging map.

Fast chargers

Fast chargers rapidly charge your battery. For a cost, they can add 100km of range to the battery in 20 to 30 minutes.

The last 20% of the battery takes longer to charge. That’s why fast chargers have an option to charge to 80%.

It’s better for your battery to fast charge occasionally rather than frequently.

Slow chargers

Slow chargers let you top up your electric car while you do something else. You often find them at shops, hotels and tourist attractions.

Charging is usually free and can take several hours.

You usually need to bring your own supply lead to use this type of charger.

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