The Drivers Guide To Electric Cars

With news the UK Government has brought forward the ban on the sales of Petrol and Diesel vehicles to 2035 and has also added Hybrids to the ban, it makes sense more than ever to familiarise yourself with the use and maintenance of electric cars.

Close up of electric car being chargedLooking to buy a new car but not ready for a full electric car yet? You could consider a plug-in hybrid as your next vehicle and a steppingstone towards going full electric in the future.

Some key questions you may have about driving and owning an electric vehicle are:

The 2035 deadline is a ban on sales only of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and as such you won’t be forced to throw away your existing car if it does not meet the requirements. However, with more big cities planning stricter rules and tariffs on higher emissions vehicles like London’s ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) it makes sense to do your homework and start planning for the future.

Why Should I Switch To Electric?

Close up of London ULEZ signFrom an ethical, ecological and environmental perspective, it’s a no brainer. CO2 emissions are a biproduct of conventional petrol and diesel cars and a major contributor to climate change and global warming. We are seeing the effects around the globe with hotter temperatures and more frequent ‘extreme’ weather conditions worldwide.

Emissions from petrol and especially diesels are a health hazard and pollution issue, especially in busy cities where huge volumes of traffic are on the move each day.

Diesels which emit dangerous particulates and nitrous oxide have been in the spotlight in recent years, sales of such vehicles have dropped significantly while electric and hybrid car sales have been improving significantly year on year.

Manufacturers have been producing significantly cleaner diesels in recent years with advanced technology and particulate filters, but the writing is on the wall.

Many more major cities plan to ‘clamp down’ on higher emissions vehicles, implementing low emissions zones, especially in busy city centres. This will mean that you may have to pay a tariff or may not be allowed to enter the zone at all if your vehicle does not meet the low emissions threshold.  

Eventually there will be zero emissions zones which will mean either a complete ban on any vehicle that is not full electric or at the very least you will have to pay a tariff. In fact, Oxford town centre already has a plan in motion to introduce a ZEZ (Zero Emissions Zone) later in 2020 and other city centres are already banning older diesels which are extremely polluting to the environment and planning even stricter emissions zones in the near future.

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Electric Cars Are Expensive Though?

Yes, electric cars are more expensive compared to conventional petrol and diesel ones. To soften the blow there is a government grant for full electric cars (this may change in the future). The grant is up to £3500 towards the cost of a qualifying new vehicle, and there is also a grant of up to £500 towards installation of an EV wallbox at your home called the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme.

Running and maintenance costs of an electric car are significantly cheaper than petrol and diesel cars, so good in fact that you could be looking at a car that is up to 70% cheaper to run.

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Electric Car Maintenance

With far fewer moving parts and less fluids to be replenished maintenance of an electric car is much more straightforward than its petrol or diesel counterparts.   You won’t need to worry about oil and coolant changes, spark plugs, belt changes, air filters and transmission oil changes. Even maintenance of brakes should be more cost-effective because electric vehicles deploy brake regeneration technology which eases the wear and tear on brake pads.

car maintenence close upSome of the key areas you’ll need to monitor and be aware for maintenance of an electric car are tyre wear/damage, brake pads wear, lights, wipers, tracking, suspension and heating/air con filtration systems.

You will need regular scheduled services, but its estimated that the overall maintenance costs can be as little as 30% of that of a diesel or petrol vehicle.

If component failure were to occur, the battery would be biggest concern, however most manufacturers offer a 5 to 8-year warranty on the battery and experts say an EV battery’s life expectancy could be anything from 10-20 years.

A battery will however lose some of its charge over time, so an electric car that’s clocked up 100,000 miles may lose 5-20% of its charge. Having said this, the technology is improving rapidly, batteries and EV technology will only get better as manufacturer’s are heavily invested in making rapid improvements.

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Electric Car Range Between Charges

One of the biggest concerns people have is getting caught short when their full electric runs out of charge. It’s something of a misconception based on earlier full electric cars that you won’t be able to travel very far.

electric car charging at homeYes, older electric cars were only useful for short journeys before they needed a charge but some of the latest electric have a range of easily over 200 miles, and some can even surpass 250 miles if you drive them sensibly.

One of the most popular full electric cars, the Nissan Leaf can for example cover up to 230 miles on a full charge, the Renault Zoe has a official range of 250 miles and a BMW i3 can do up to 200 miles in Range Extender mode.

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Electric Car Charging At Home

The vast majority of mass produced new full electric cars can be charged from a standard home 240v socket using EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment). This is significantly slower than a wallbox charger though, but an overnight charge should suffice to give you some juice albeit probably not a full charge.  A wallbox charger is a better solution and has some additional safety features built in.

You can get a slow 3.6kW box fitted which is approximately 1.6 times faster than a standard 3 pin 240v plug and it should for example charge a Nissan Leaf in approximately 7-8 hours which is perfect for overnight.

Our recommendation is to get a 7kW wallbox fitted for a cost around £800-£900 and it should be around 3 times faster than charging from a standard 3 pin plug socket and be able to charge a Nissan Leaf in 3-4 hours, there are also 22kW home chargers available for around £1500 fitted but not all electric cars will be compatible.

At the time of writing this article there is a government grant of £500 towards the cost of fitting an EV wallbox which makes the purchase more attractive.

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Electric Car Charging at The Workplace

At the time of writing this article businesses, charities and non-profit organisations are eligible for the Government Workplace Charging Scheme and they can claim up to £500 per charging point.

car charging at workplaceThe grant is available for the installation of up to 20 charging points (a double charging point counts as two). For a business or organisation to be eligible they must demonstrate that they have sufficient and suitable off road space to accommodate the charging points/vehicles. Companies also need to be  in the process of, or committed to switching their vehicles/fleet to full electric.

Typically, businesses will want one of the faster chargers at 22kW or higher. Cost is in the region of £1000 - £1500 per charging point, the grant could save them up to 50% of the installation costs, saving up to a total £10,000.

The grant may not be available forever, so our advice, especially for small businesses who may find the costs a strain is to accelerate your full electric plans while you can still take advantage of the grant.

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What Can I do If I’m Worried About Running Out Of Charge?

First thing is planning, check your route and make sure you know where charging points/stations are on your route, Zap Map is a good resource for finding charging stations. Obviously make sure the car has a full charge before you set off.

Stop/start routes are bad for your battery charge, blackspots and stop/start traffic will drain your battery faster, sat nav with live traffic to avoid jams and good journey planning will help extend your range.

Inflate your tyres to the correct pressure, improper tyre pressures will cost you range.

close up of eco mode buttonDon’t carry unnecessary weight and luggage, many people travel permanently with a boot full of items they don’t need most of the time; bags, baby trollies and golf clubs are amongst the popular items. Extra weight will cost you a few miles, especially on longer journeys.

Switch to Eco mode, it will do a lot of work for you reducing power output and increase braking regeneration. Eco mode can have different names for example ‘range extender’.

Drive the car smoothly to reduce power used, accelerate gently and on motorways keep your top speed sensible.

Get the most out of brake regeneration technology by reading the road ahead, reading the road ahead of you, coasting and gentler braking helps get the most out of braking regeneration, sending some energy back to your battery and extended your range.

Heating and air con drains power so only use when necessary, open the window instead of using air con or put a jumper or coat on if instead of using the heater or heated seats. These all drain power and if you find yourself in a situation where its touch and go to reach your next charging station. these all need to be switched off.

Gadgets and infotainment systems use power, unless essential unplug any devices from USB sockets and switch off your infotainment system to save a bit more power.

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Public Charging Stations and How To Pay

As of early 2020 not all charging stations accept credit or debit car payments, this is something you need to be aware of. However, the government is keen that all EV stations do offer payment by card by the end of 2020.public ev charging station

Travelling on motorways shouldn’t be a problem as just about every motorway service station is now equipped with EV charging points.

There are several networks of charging stations around the UK and you can locate them by using a service like Zap Map. You’ll also find sat nav apps like Google Maps or the one your car is equipped with will probably do a great job of helping you locate the nearest EV Charging Stations on the move.

RFID card being used at charging stationThe largest network is Polar (owned by BP who have invested heavily in EV charging points), they have over 2000 stations. Polar offer pay as you go or a subscription-based service (Polar Plus) which involves a fixed monthly fee of under £8 and you get access to free charging at over half of their charging stations and a reduced rate at paid charging points.

Payment is made via a smartphone app or RFID card and they are also in the process of rolling out contactless debit/credit card payment facilities.

The basic rule is the faster the charging station the higher the rate you pay. Currently for Polar Plus subscribers the paid rates are 12p per kWh for fast charging points (up to 22kW), 15p per kW for rapid points (up to 50kW) and 20p per kW for ultra-rapid points (up to 100kw).

The ultra-rapid chargers are perfect for a midway pit stop on very long journeys, typically you can get a full charge in 25-50 minutes. If you need a short charge to finish your journey home, save your money and go for a lower rated public charger.

Other notable networks are Charge Your Car, GeniePoint and Ecotricity, the latter has charging points at virtually every motorway service station in the UK.

Some networks will allow one-off payments with contactless debit/credit cards while others will need you to set up an account/acquire an RFID card or install the smartphone app and sign up for an account.

Things are moving fast and are only going to get more convenient for electric car drivers, with rapidly improving technology and a massive commitment to expand the network of charging stations around the UK.

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