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Try before you buy? Electric car subscriptions

For those intrigued by all-electric driving but not ready to commit to buying an electric vehicle, a car subscription could be ideal

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If you’d like to try life with an electric car without committing to buying one, an electric car subscription could fit the bill.

There are even firms which offer electric-only subscriptions and interest is growing with other providers, who are expanding their electric offering.

What is a car subscription?

A car subscription is halfway between a lease and long-term car rental. You can have a car from 28 days to 36 months, with the ability to get exactly the car you want, change it when you like – subject to conditions – and can have insurance included. Unlike a lease there is no major charge (such as nine months’ advance payment) to start but the monthly charges are higher than a fixed-term lease. There are short-term leases offered – between three and 12 months – but the choice of car may be limited.

Some rental companies offer long-term hires but if you choose a subscription for a specific car, that’s the one you’ll get, not one of the same size which happens to be available on the day. Subscriptions promise freedom of choice, no commitment, and no unexpected bills at less than the overall cost of a PCP payment as there’s usually only a small deposit (one month or less).

There are some companies which provide electric-only (EV) subscriptions, and others a mix of all types of fuel and drives. As well as the standard considerations on car subscriptions, there are a few extra things to think about before signing up for an electric one, by browsing the websites and the FAQ sections. Those providers who specialise only in electric car subscriptions tend to provide more advice on their websites about living with an electric car.

How to choose your electric subscription car

As well as the monthly price you’re prepared to pay, the first question should be what kind of range do you want the car to be able to cover before it needs a recharge – will it cover most of your journeys? A shorter range car will be cheaper, and probably smaller. How big do you need it to be?

The subscription costs are broadly comparable to a petrol/diesel/hybrid car and relate to size, age, value and the length of the subscription in the same way. For a comparison, in March 2022 we chose similar-sized electric cars with the same range which sell for around the same price.

From the electric-only provider OnTo, a 2021 Hyundai Ioniq Premium 38kWh with a claimed real-world range of 155 miles was £499 a month with a 750-mile allowance, a one month commitment and free public charging.

Again electric-only, Elmo offered a 2021 Nissan Leaf N-Connecta 40kWh with a range of 140 miles for £489 on a one month contract and 800 miles a month allowed. Home charging and public charging were optional add-ons.

With our partner Cazoo – which offers subscriptions in all types of car and sells used cars – a new 2022 Hyundai Kona SE Connect 39.2 kWh with a 189-mile range, a six-month contract (the shortest) 1,000 miles a month and no charging included was £599.

Can you charge at home?

The easiest way to charge an electric car is at home. Some people, especially outside of city centres, will have a driveway. You can run a power cable from a domestic socket outside to your car, but this makes for very slow charging and the use of extension cables and multi-sockets is not recommended, as they can overheat or even give you a shock.

Buyers of new electric cars often have a dedicated external home charging point matched to the car, which is wired into the house power supply (by an accredited home charge point installer) and consists of a box on an external or garage wall where you can plug the charging cable in directly, offering faster and safer charging. Depending on the speed a box can charge, costs can vary from £250 to £800. But if you are subscribing should you invest in one only to hand the car back?

Electric-only subscription providers Elmo and OnTo offer different choices for home and public charging. OnTo provides all its vehicles with two chargers: a standard three-pin domestic charger for home usage, and a seven-pin Type-2 charger for wall boxes and the slower public chargers. If you want to charge at home this is at your expense, but OnTo has partnered with charge point installer Pod Point and customers get £50 or £40 off two types of charger for £899 or £859 installed.

Elmosays that if you choose a contract length of six months or more, you can choose to include an Ohme smart home charger and installation in your subscription. At the end of the subscription it says that ‘we may gift you the charge point’, so you get to keep it.

The UK government does provide a grant to install a charge point, and while from April 2022 it is no longer open to single-dwelling homes, it can include people who are running electric cars on rolling subscriptions.

Do you want access to public charging?

If you live in a flat or have to park on a street outside your house, you’ll need to use a public charging point – at motorway services or supermarkets for example, or lamp post chargers. These charging posts are often run by different companies. You can pay contactless with a on some public chargers or set up an account with specific networks and use a RFID (chip) card or smartphone app to use their charge points.

OnTo subscriptions include membership cards for the Shell Recharge Network, BP Pulse, and Instavolt. If you are driving a Tesla with OnTo, you also get free access to the Tesla Supercharger Network.

Elmo doesn’t include public charging, assuming most users will charge at home and then use contactless if they need to top up at public chargers. However, you can add public charging to your subscription which sets you up with the BP Pulse network – the UK’s biggest charging network.

Both our partners Cazoo and Mycardirect provide electric car subscriptions alongside petrol, diesel and hybrid choices. Cazoo will provide a charging cable but currently users need to make their own arrangements about home or public charging. Mycardirect has a link with EV charging app Bonnet, which claims to cover 70% of the UKs charging points. You get one month’s free charging and then pay in advance with un-used credit rolled over.

What’s the notice period?

It’s big leap into an electric car. What if after a month you feel it’s really not for you? Once an agreed subscription period ends, the contract rolls on monthly until you cancel. Some providers apply an early cancellation charge if you leave before the minimum term is up. There may be a collection fee, and as with all providers, charges for damages beyond fair wear and tear.

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Russell Hayes
Russell Hayeshttps://amzn.to/3dga7y8
Russell Hayes’ early career was 14 years of motoring journalism in print, television and online. He worked for What Car? and Complete Car magazines, the BBC's original Top Gear programme and Channel 4's Driven. Since 2007 he has written motoring history books on subjects including Lotus, TVR, the Earls Court Motor Show, the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Beetle and Bus and the original Aston Martin V8. Now a full-time author, two more books are in the pipeline for 2023 and 2024.