Back in the arse-end of 2019 I finally ditched my car, having decided humanity was marginally more important than an easy commute. I started getting the train to and from work and using the office’s electric pool cars to go about my business through the day, massively reducing my carbon emissions. All was well.
But then Covid hit. And hit me right in the face. Almost two years later I’m still having trouble walking, still working fully from home and only just starting full time hours. I’ve managed one four-hour shift in the office since June 2020. Life is trickier now. The buses feel like a pandemic delivery system at a time when I would prefer not to be murdered by a variant. The trains are better but the stations are at the outer limit of how far I can walk before I’m too knackered to do anything once I’ve get wherever I’m going. The simplest things are as tricky now as they were in my wheelchair days: Getting my prescriptions, visiting my brother, running stuff to the recycling place. Little nothing errands that aren’t even slightly interesting to read about are now big stupid deals.
I need a car.
But how? I can’t go back to petrol, obviously. Even if I file my carbon emissions under temporary disability, the planet tends not to look into backstory. The planet tends to warm up, melt icebergs, trigger cascading climate breakdown and tell you to shove your backstory up your arse. That’s what the planet tends to do.
That means an electric car, which means a lot of expense. And given I live in a flat it means using public charging points, which means a lot of inconvenience. But expense and inconvenience are what we do here.
I regret to inform you the next few paragraphs will involve maths.
The first step is picking out a model. Going by the EV database, the cheapest fully electric car in the UK is the Smart EQ fortwo coupé, which has lousy grammar and a range of about 60 miles on a full charge. Next up, the Fiat 500e 24kWh has a range of about 85 miles. I’d average between 36 and 96 miles per week going to and from work, depending on which office I’m working from. And I’d have to factor in driving to and from home visits during the day given the pandemic has somehow killed off the office’s fleet of electric cars. A range of 60 to 85 miles per charge is no good for someone dependent on public charging points, not when you’d need to charge the thing once or twice a week.
The cheapest practical choice I can go for is the Volkswagen e-Up; they’ll have to pay me to use their branded exclamation mark. It has a range of 125 miles, which is doable in terms of faff. Above that, the Vauxhall Corsa-e does 175 miles, the Nissan Leaf does 140 miles and the Renault Zoe 195 miles per charge. Above them you’re looking at cars so big and expensive they make me insecure about the size of my peen.
Unfortunately, although electric cars are all about saving the planet, and although going vegan is about the best thing we can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the Smart EQ fortwo coupé, Volkswagen e-Up, Vauxhall Corsa-e and some models of the Nissan Leaf all have leather upholstery, steering wheels or gearsticks, and can very much suck it.
Buying the bugger outright
That leaves me with two options: The Renault Zoe and customised, veganised models of the Nissan Leaf. Bought new, the Zoe starts at £27,595 after the government’s Plug-in Car Grant is deducted. Now, I’m willing to pay them up to a quarter of their asking price but it seems the manufacturers are hoping for closer to all four quarters. Once I’ve picked myself up from the gutter they threw me into I’ll up my offer by another fiver but it’s not looking good.
Buying in instalments with HP or PCP
I could buy it in instalments with a 0% hire purchase thing, in which I’d pay a deposit of £300 and then £585 a month for 48 months. At the end of four years I’ll have paid £28,395 which, as I explained to the dealer as he stood on my face, is edging into a fifth quarter of the 27 grand they wanted a minute ago.
I could go for a personal contract plan (PCP) in which I’d pay, for example, a deposit of £319 and then £319 a month for the next four years. By the end of that stint I’d have paid £15,631 and have no car to show for it as they’d very much want it back unless I paid the optional final payment of – excuse me while my eyes bleed – £12,019. So that would be £3,907 a year for four years, if I stay below the 6,000 miles a year mileage allowance and don’t get humped on repairs when I hand the thing back. It would be £27,331 over four years if I wanted to keep the thing.
Buying second hand
I could buy second hand, which is the only kind of hand I’ve ever used when buying a car. There are several million five-year-old Zoes knocking about the place for around £9,000 – £12,000, but that means their batteries are already five years old. If I keep it for five years to make it cheaper than leasing a new car the battery will then be ten years old, on account of how time is linear. I emailed a dealership about a five-year-old Zoe, which said its range is down to about 80 miles in decent weather and 65 in cold weather. That puts us back in twice-weekly public charging territory, unless you’re fancy enough to own a house that can have a private charger fitted. Also, older models of the Zoe have leather in them and can very much suck it.
I could give up on owning the thing and do a long-term rental instead. A four-year rental would cost, for example, an initial payment of £848 and 48 monthly payments of £282 with a mileage allowance of 8,000 miles per year. That means a total of £14,384, or £3,595 per year, but again with no car at the end to show for it. That’s about the cheapest, most battery-realistic option I can find.
Nuts to the whole thing
If you’re someone who happily throws money at Arnold Clark and gets a fancy new car every three years on rolling contracts these numbers will put you less in need of a defibrillator than they did me. As a frame of reference, the cheapest car I ever bought was: Free. The next cheapest was £150 and was so old I saw it in a transport museum I’d just driven it to. I can’t bring myself to spend nearly thirty grand on a car, even if it didn’t mean having to choose between buying a car and eventually buying a house.
This is why we need systemic change. We need more charging points in public spaces and workplaces for us na’er-do-wells who live in flats, better batteries that can go further and last longer between charges, and a second hand market that does something about its ratty-ass half-dead batteries.
In the meantime, my stupid Covid-ridden body still needs a car, even if only in the short-term while I eye up a return to public transport. I think, Gore forgive me, that means going back to petrol. And I can’t bring myself to do that either, even temporarily. So what now? Are you allowed to end a blog post on a cliffhanger? I think you should be allowed to. I’m doing it. I’m cliffhangering!
Photo credit (header image): The Zero