Electric cars: How they work, their pros and cons
Everything you wanted to know about electric cars and more
So you’ve heard all about the electric car revolution, and you may even know someone with one. But you also have an awful lot of questions about what is, in no small way, a complete motoring revolution.
Charging, running costs, battery life and resale value are all hot topics. So here is our complete guide to electric cars to help you understand what it’s all about.
What is an electric car?
The first thing to understand is what actually defines an electric car or “EV”, meaning electric vehicle, for short.
It’s also important to refer to the “engine” of the car as a motor, as there’s no such thing as an electric engine as such.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and hybrids are not true electric vehicles as, alongside electric motors and batteries, they both use normal petrol and diesel engines too. A true EV has no other power source.
How do electric cars work?
The electric motor generates turning force just like a normal engine.
The big difference is that they do not use gears. They just use more or less electric current and the motor turns faster or slower. No gear, no clutch; just acceleration and braking.
The other important thing to understand is regenerative braking. When you push the brake the momentum of the car puts charge back into the battery. This means you get free power when you slow down.
What is it like to drive an electric car?
Obviously this can depend on which model of electric vehicle you choose.
But, generally speaking, electric cars are a pleasure to drive and most people will be surprised at the power even small cars, such as the Renault Twingo, offer when pulling away. Because there is no clutch and power is instant, pulling away is a dream.
At first it can be a little odd not hearing any engine noise, and this does tend to magnify road noise, but ultimately they are very easy to drive, very capable and rather peaceful.
What are the running costs of an electric car?
This question is a very broad one and depends a lot on the type of car. Basically, using electricity over normal fuel is cheaper.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car? Well, 100 miles will cost roughly £4, depending on energy prices, whereas the same distance in a normal car would be around £15.
There is no congestion charge for electric vehicles so London drivers save money right away. But the big saving is when it comes to road tax…there isn’t any.
You do still need to register the car as though you were going to pay tax, but the amount is just zero.
How much do electric cars cost?
It may be cheap to run an EV, but at present they typically cost more to buy than a comparable petrol or diesel vehicle. However, as they become more popular, purchase prices should go down.
Companies like Nissan and Renault are offering battery lease plans where you buy the car but lease the battery which saves around £4,000 in some cases.
Electric car battery life
The elephant in the room here is deprecation: all electric vehicles lose a lot of money when they are bought new. This is partly because the battery life gets shorter over time and so a three-year-old car may offer a significantly shorter range than when it was brand new.
However, as battery leasing and replacement options develop, this issue should become much less of a problem.
It’s clear that wear and tear is far less than a normal car due to less moving parts, so the irony of this situation is that a used electric car on the same miles as a used petrol car is likely to be in better condition.
Range anxiety and charging
This is the big two when it comes to discussion about electric vehicles. The term range anxiety describes a very real fear of running out of battery and knowing where to charge it up.
However, range is something that is improving very rapidly, so fast, in fact, it’s hard to discuss in detail lest it be out of date in a few months’ time.
Initially electric cars would struggle to do 30-40 miles. Now there are models on the market that will do 300 on a single charge.
Each model and make offers different ranges. And some offer range booster options like bigger batteries and more.
High-end manufacturers like Tesla and BMW offer some impressive range stats, but cars like the new Nissan Leaf are offering ever growing ranges of around 150 miles.
The actual act of charging is very simple; you just plug it in. But how long you have to wait varies a lot with the car and how much charge you need to put in.
Small top-up charges can be very useful and installing a wall charging point at home is essential. Thankfully the charging infrastructure is growing every month and in a few years it shouldn’t be a problem.
Who are electric cars for?
EVs are not for everyone, yet. The fact of the matter is, if you do a lot of long runs, or unpredictable journeys then a plug-in hybrid might be more suitable.
However, for people who commute shorter distances, and/or use their cars as a run-around, they can be perfect.
The higher end models are becoming better at longer runs so they could still be an option for all but the most high mile drivers. The best electric car for you is not perhaps the one for your next door neighbour, so look into your car use and find one that suits.
There is no doubt the EV is the future, being part of the answer to many of our environmental worries. And they offer a smooth, powerful and easy mode of transport.
There are still some teething issues but most will be minor irritations in a short time and nothing at all in a few years.
Electric car insurance
Getting insurance for an electric car is as easy as any other kind of car. Because electric cars require specialist parts that could be expensive to repair, you may see higher premiums than a non-electric equivalent.
If this is the case, it’s worth shopping around for the best price. Check out our guide for more info on being an eco-minded driver.