FAQ: Owning an electric car

Electric cars are growing in popularity. Cheap to own and increasingly practical, the electric car is an increasingly enticing prospect in the UK.

If you’re searching for the best electric car you can read our guide or watch our video reviews of the best electric cars on the market.

But, if you’re a diesel or petrol car driver and want to know more about owning and buying an electric car, the following FAQ may fill in some of the information around driving this futuristic technology.

[YouTube:vLevmJE61xE]

What is an electric car?

An electric car, often referred to as an EV (electric vehicle) is a name given to any car that uses purely electric power to drive the wheels.

This means it does not use petrol or diesel energy and does not have a conventional engine setup. Instead, most modern electric cars use a lithium ion battery (the most common form) that can be recharged like any other electrical device.

This supplies power to electric motors, which in turn power the wheels and make the car move.

How is an electric car powered?

An electric car is powered using electricity, usually from the national grid as with any other electric product. However, the electricity can come from any source including renewable energy such as wind and solar power as long as there is a charging point there to plug the car into.

However, some electric cars, most notably the Nissan Leaf, will also have some other methods of charging. For example, the Leaf has a small solar panel that supplies a small amount of energy to systems such as the stereo.

How do I charge an electric car?

Like petrol and diesel cars, electric cars need to be ‘refuelled’, or ‘recharged’ when they run out of energy. This means it will need to be plugged in to an electric charging point in order to charge the battery.

This can be done using an electric cables; although there are several different types.

Most electric cars can be recharged using a standard electric socket, which means a car can be charged from home. This is typically the slowest method of recharging an electric car and can take up to nine hours to recharge a battery fully.

Some electric car makers have even teamed up with energy companies (e.g. Renault with British Gas) to offer home charging stations for a cost of around £2,000.

Alternatively there are specialist electric charge points throughout the UK – see this map for a full list – and an electric car can be parked and charged at one of these points.

There are fast charging stations in the UK that can charge an electric car quickly. A fast charger can typically charge an electric car to 80 per cent of its charge in just 30 minutes.

Is that the only way to charge an electric car?

At the moment, yes. However, new technology is being researched all the time and two contenders for future electric cars are wireless charging and battery replacement.

Wireless charging allows the car to be charged on a ‘mat’ which charges the car safely and without the use of wires. Named ‘Halo’ this is already in development with a lofty target of wireless highways that allows the car to be charged while it is being driven – although this will be expensive and a long way away.

Alternatively, Renault has toyed with the idea of introducing battery replacement stations where an empty battery can be quickly exchanged for a full battery almost as quickly as a petrol or diesel car is refuelled.

However, the stations are expensive to build and it would need a standard electric battery design across all manufacturers for this to happen.

How much does it cost to run an electric car?

Running an electric car is incredibly cheap. The car is charged from an electric socket and can be as low as £2 for a full charge.

If the driver is clever, he or she can charge the car at night, when many electric companies will lower the electricity tariff because fewer people are actually using electricity at that point.

On the road, electric cars do no emit any CO2, NOx or other emissions associated with petrol or diesel cars. Not only does that mean cleaner air for cities, it also means electric cars fall into Band A of UK road tax. As Band A does not require drivers to pay any road tax, electric cars can be very cheap to run.

Electric cars are also exempt from the London congestion charge because of their zero emissions.

What is range anxiety?

Electric cars have a range of between 80 and 110 miles between charges. Because charging takes a little more time than refuelling a petrol or diesel, this is often seen as inconvenient for drivers who wish to travel long distances.

While electric cars are ideal for those in city areas and with shorter commutes, they may not be suited to those who regularly clock up 100+ miles a day.

Electric car range can also be reduced if the driver is driving at higher speeds or is not practising ‘eco-driving’, just as normal fuel economy would reduce with more aggressive driving.

However, electric car range is improving and as charging becomes faster this will become less of a problem.