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Hybrid, electric or bi-fuel? How to go low emissions without breaking the bank.

So you want a low emissions car yet have a relatively small budget. Is it possible for under £10,000?

The answer is yes, if you are willing to look hard and take your time. A good low emissions car today could give you a road tax bill of £0 every year and significantly reduce your fuel bills. Insurance companies can be kind to you too! In this article we will look at three types of low budget, low emissions cars and make suggestions as to what models to look for. The three are electric, hybrid and LPG.

All electric

Electric vehicles have had a really bad time in the media over the past few years. Range is always cited as a problem, as is overall battery life.

Something to take into consideration is, what kind of mileage do you really do every week? In 2018, a study of 500 UK drivers found that the average distance someone is likely to drive is 265 miles a week. Motor1 reported, “The average weekly commute accounts for 70 miles per week, while the school run makes up 24 miles a week. Add in social or pleasure journeys (at a combined total of 89 miles a week) and the total comes to 265 miles.”

Here’s a question: do you have a driveway at home? That is the biggest problem for EV drivers as without one you can’t plug the car in every night. If you do and travel the average 37.5 miles a day then EVs are no problem at all, even with an older, lower capacity battery like the current Leaf or Zoe that sell for under £10k. EVs cost less than 5p per mile in ‘fuel’ to drive if plugged in at home. Compare that to 15p a mile on a standard run around city car, it seems like a pretty good advantage.

Another thing about range: how far do you really drive on a longer trip without a pit stop? If you do about 90 minutes per leg and are willing to take around half an hour per stop then range again is no problem thanks to the ever improving Electric Highway network with charging stations at most motorway services.

A final thing is total cost of ownership (TCO). Electric powertrains have far fewer components than internal combustion engines and therefore have a lot less to go wrong. In short, with a zero rated road tax, low servicing costs and minuscule fuel prices it is almost bonkers not to go EV even on an older car!

Lower cost second hand EVs

The Nissan Leaf arrived in the UK in 2011 and the earlier 24kWh ones have a range of around 100 miles per charge – 2.65 charges a week on average driving. The ones with these batteries cost as little as £6,000, but you will pay more for extra battery capacity on newer models. Try to choose the Accenta model if possible as it has touchscreen inside and is well fitted out. Avoid the ‘Flex’ series as you need to lease the battery from Nissan every year. The battery is modular so as cells fail you can replace them and keep the car at a good range for relatively low maintenance costs.

The Renault Zoe is another EV to look out for on a budget. These are quite small city nippers but cost £6495 for an older vehicle. You will have to lease the battery at around £45 a month on a 4,500 mile a year plan. Range isn’t as good as the Leaf either, with around 60 miles per charge in winter (batteries hate cold weather) and 90 in summer. Don’t consider a run from Bristol to Edinburgh unless you really enjoy an adventure!

Sadly for this price range that is about your limit. We explain how to look for a car at the end so in your own research you could be surprised what you could find second hand.

Hybrid

In most urban areas you will see Toyota Prius taxis – they really do good miles to the gallon in urban areas, and taxi drivers love them for their fuel efficiency! You can also do a big run to France or Germany without really worrying about charging.

If you want to go for zero road tax you want a hybrid registered before 1 April 2017. That will mean an older car but is an immediate saving on your car costs.

There are two versions of hybrid – the Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) and ‘mild’ / ‘self-charging’ hybrid. The PHEV is an EV with little range anxiety. You plug it in at night and it will sip fuel like a princess does champagne as you drive – daintily! On a mixed urban/open road drive you can expect 70 – 90 mpg and start getting down to the 7p a mile range on fuel. Older ones don’t do fast charging so you are looking to plug them in overnight every night or will have to spend a good hour at a charging station mid-run. Most also have regenerative braking systems that recharge the car as you coast downhill (this is legal in hybrids) so with clever driving you might not even need to plug in for a day’s driving.

The mild hybrid is also known as a ‘self-charging hybrid’ as the engine charges it and you don’t plug it in. The Toyota Prius, Auris, newer Yaris and Honda CR-Z never have to be plugged in, which is great should you live in the centre of town and can’t afford a driveway as part of your residence! Realistically you can get upwards of 50 miles to the gallon on petrol on these machines – almost 10p per mile. Their batteries are relatively small with a range of 1-2 miles on a full charge, but you’re not always pure electric as the combustion engine works as a generator and will automatically switch between the three modes of electric, charging electric and pure combustion drive. As indicated above, taxi drivers fight for these cars so you need to look carefully at signs of use as a taxi before you buy one. Car dealerships can push you hard too as they know a taxi driver is going to buy a low mileage one soon enough.

Lower cost hybrids

If you can stretch your £10k budget to the max, look for a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. They are big cars but have a battery only range of around 30 miles per charge. Taxi drivers aren’t a problem but company car drivers are in a vehicle’s history. Do look for a lower mileage one if you can! Again, pre-2017 models have a zero rated road tax. Another to look for is the Prius PHEV, though at £10k there will be a lot of ex-taxis.

The Toyota range of mild / self-charging hybrids are really worth a look. Look for the Toyota Prius, Auris or newer Yaris. The Prius and Auris are favoured taxis so check the mileage and how it looks inside. The Yaris is a city nipper – not really for your family or on a longer run. Other vehicles to consider are the Honda CR-Z and Peugeot 508.

Finally – LPG?

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) was the original green car before electric variants started to come on the market. They didn’t catch on in the UK as the idea of putting a flammable gas into your car frankly scared people. Fuelling it is with a pressurised hose that lets out a puff of gas when you disconnect it, with a newbie to these vehicles tensing up when they see the cloud! The fact is it just makes a noise and smell you get used to.

LPG is a byproduct of petrol production and and used to be burned off at oil refineries but is now sold as fuel. It is pumped into your tank under pressure and is very cold, but goes into the combustion chamber as a gas. It has around 30% less calorific value than petrol but the fuel tax is far lower.

Here’s a calculation for you. Petrol costs around 125p per litre. LPG is 72p a litre at an expensive fuel station. That’s a 53p per litre saving. Accounting for the calorific value, two thirds of 53p is 35p per litre cheaper. Assume you get seven miles to the litre, that’s a 5p per mile saving. Over 265 miles that’s £13.25 a week, or £689 a year.

In a purchase you would go for a petrol car for around £8800 and then convert it for £1200. Within the second year of conversion you’ve paid for the conversion in fuel savings. It is worth a look but honestly, how hard you look when there are better deals in electric and hybrid cars that have zero emissions is down to you.

Overall?

As of 2019 there are only a limited number of vehicles on the market falling below £10k that haven’t been driven into the ground. For example, widely held as the best PHEV ever made is the Vauxhall Ampera where you won’t pay less than £12,000 for a car with 120,000 miles on the clock. EVs with a decent range of 150 miles of realistic driving are really only coming on the market in 2018-19, so you will have to find £300 a month+ on a lease/contract purchase agreement for one of these.

Always look hard for your chosen car. What do you want? A city nipper or something that will take long journeys in its stride? A family car or something nice and small? Get a handle on the mileage you can buy a chosen model of car for a given budget from online adverts. Look at the pictures – is it well kept inside? If there’s whiff of a taxi in its old life, move on. Ask about service history. Give it a good test and try and get a good feel of the drive. Finally, don’t just dive in and grab the first machine you’ve tested – look around and get a feel for the world you’re entering. And lastly, push hard when it comes to a deal these cars are built to last.

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