Purpose-built electric VW coming to a dealer near you this summer
At Parkers, we live and breathe electric cars, and as well as reviewing the latest models, we also keep them for longer-term reviews and work out the real-world cost of running electric cars, when using public chargepoints, or topping them up at home. If you have any questions about electric cars, you will find all the answers here, including advice about the latest and upcoming models, and which are the best cars to buy now.
What is an electric car (EV)?
An Electric Vehicle, also known as an EV, or sometimes BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle), uses at least one electric motor as its only source of propulsion. An EV is powered by electricity contained in a battery pack, which is stored in the car, generally under the boot or interior. As EVs are reliant purely on their battery pack for 'fuel', they need to be efficient, and capable of supplying a decent range. Car companies are developing increasingly efficient motors as well as battery packs capable of storing more energy.
Electric cars can be topped up by a regular three-pin socket, but for the most part this is done by using a dedicated chargepoint. These can be installed at your home assuming your domestic wiring is up to it. An increasing number of public and workplace charging stations are being rolled out across the country, and this is set to continue as EVs become more popular.
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How much money do you save now with your EV?
In terms of buying a new Electric Vehicle, the cash and PCP prices are above what you’d expect to pay for an equivalent petrol- or diesel-powered car. Having said that, currently, there aren’t too many models out there (Volkswagen Golf/e-Golf, Hyundai Kona, Kia Niro) that are available in Internal Combustion Engined (ICE) and EV forms. But taking the Golf as a typical example, the EV version is 50% more expensive than a 1.0-litre TSI SE per month on PCP. The gap is much closer on Personal Leasing (PCH), but it’s still stacked in favour of the ICE car (although the gap is closing).
In terms of running costs, electric vehicles are far cheaper per mile than even the most efficient petrol and diesel cars. Charging up in the most cost-efficient manner (at home, usually overnight on an Economy 7 or similar tariff) could more than half your fuel costs. Charging when out and about is significantly pricier, especially for the top-tier rapid chargers - but even these are cheaper than refuelling a petrol or diesel car.
Electric cars attract no road tax at present, qualify for free entry into London's congestion charge zone and owners don't typically pay much more in insurance, either.
Do EVs drive differently to conventional vehicles?
Yes, but not as differently as you might think. And most importantly, most people find that once they’ve travelled a few miles in an EV, they no longer notice anything’s changed. If you compare an EV with a typical automatic petrol, and the differences are quite subtle. The most obvious contrast between the two is when you fire them up – the EV is completely silent. Although this sounds obvious, this takes some getting used to in the first instance.
The next thing you’ll notice is how responsive the EV feels. Other than that – and depending on the car, there are few other differences. What you will notice, though, is when you jump back into a petrol or diesel car, they will feel slow, unrefined and dead on their feet. This is completely normal.
Can electric car batteries be recycled?
Yes. All new EVs sold since the 1990s have been powered by Lithium Ion (LiOn) batteries, which have been recyclable for years. The old days when electric vehicles such as milk floats and some ancient electric cars were powere by Lead Acid batteries have long gone. These are recycled just like your mobile phone or laptop batteries, just on a larger scale.
Most homes in the UK use about 2kWh of energy in a day – this varies, of course, but electric car batteries are being recycled by firms like Tesla to store energy from local renewable/environmentally sources to be used when grid demand is higher, or sources like solar or wind power might not be able to power the development.
At this stage, that's about the most environmentally friendly option for the battery - a prolonged life as a low-demand storage unit for homes, after the intense life as a car battery. The Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe - the longest-established EVs offered in the UK - are approaching ten and seven years old now, and most users are reporting acceptable battery health and overall, much better reliability and lower service costs than a conventional car. The compromises - and impact of producing a new battery - are still worthwhile while EVs are the minority. When every British motorist needs a 30-70kWh power cell for their car, then we may have a problem!
How far can a typical EV travel on a single charge?
This really depends on the car that you’re considering looking at, and what type of journeys you’re using it for. For instance, the Volkswagen e-Golf can vary in its range between 80 miles on the motorway in deep winter to 140 miles of gentle summer driving around the city. In terms of what you might expect from a variety of popular cars, we’ve found this in real-world driving: Smart ForTwo EQ (80 miles), Volkswagen e-Up (85 miles), Volkswagen e-Golf (120 miles), Nissan Leaf 40kWh (160 miles), Jaguar I-Pace (240 miles), Hyundai Kona Electric (250 miles), Tesla Model S Long Range (320 miles).
How do I know an electric car is right for me?
How long is a piece of string? First question to ask is how many miles you’re doing. If you find yourself on the motorway most days, and time is of the essence, then EVs probably aren’t for you. Equally, if you live the middle of a city or don’t have access to a driveway for your own charger, a workplace charger, or a local chargepoint, then you might struggle. However, just because you can't charge at home doesn't mean you shouldn't have an EV - city-dwelling Tesla owners are getting into the habit of parking up at home and using nearby Superchargers to top up either at the end or beginning of their previous journeys.
How do I charge my EV?
There are several ways of getting juice into your EV. If you're at home, you can plug in via a traditional three-pin socket and use the lead that came with the car. However, that takes ages (more than 20 hours for something like a Tesla) and should be considered a last resort. If you get a home chargepoint fitted, you'll need decent electrics, and a recommended chargepoint installer, such as Pod Point. There are government grants to help you cover the cost.
If you're charging elsewhere, you'll be looking at one of the public chargepoints across the country. Currently, the UK infrastructure is growing, but it still has someway to go, if it wants to become as convenient as petrol or diesel. The good news is that these chargepoints are contained in convenient parking bays for EVs only. You can find your nearest public charger using an app or website such as Zap Map.
What happens if I run out of power?
It will go slowly, and then stop.
You'll be going some to run an EV out of juice, such are the number of warnings you get. But it's worth knowing what to do should the worst happen. First things first, if you're down to your last 20% you should start looking for somewhere to top up - Zap Map is an excellent tool for this if your in-built system isn't up to scratch. This will reliably lead you to your nearest public charger and advise if they are in use or not.
The best advice is not to run out if you can help it. It's not safe and in the worst instances, you can damage the car's battery pack, as deep discharging will drastically shorten its life. If the worst happens, let your breakdown recovery service know and that if they don't have a mobile recharge unit in place, then advise them that it will need transporting to a chargepoint on the back of a flatbed truck - and to avoid towing. Again, if you do this, it may damage the traction motors. You have been warned.
So, the advice is simple: just like a petrol or diesel car, it's best not to run out of power.