Thinking of making the switch to electric? If you're in the market to buy, then your timing couldn't be better. With more choice than ever and sales rising across the UK in recent years, the surge in electric cars is great news for the environmentally-minded motorist.
Nevertheless, buying an electric car is a big commitment. With new factors to consider, as well as a whole heap of jargon to get to grips with, deciding on an electric vehicle that's right for you is entirely different to buying a new petrol or diesel car.
If you've never driven an electric car before, then we're sure you'll have your fair share of questions. That's why we've put together this in-depth guide to get your electric journey on the go. From the benefits of driving electric to buying advice, this extensive resource is here to help out with all your electric car queries.
Why should you choose an electric or hybrid car over a regular petrol or diesel? If you're still a little on the fence about electric cars, then what are the plus points that'll make you want to take the plunge? Before we get into anything else, consider the below an electric car elevator pitch, a summary of their advantages over other cars on the road:
Cheaper to maintain
Broadly speaking, the price of an electric vehicle (EV) is slightly higher than most petrol and diesel cars. However, the cost of running one is much cheaper.
And with tax incentives, special government grants and enhanced fuel efficiency all sweetening the deal – not to mention the lower cost of electricity and reduced maintenance requirements – you'll be spending much less in the long term by going for an EV.
Better for the environment
The environmental benefits of EVs make them hugely attractive to those looking to minimise the impact driving can have on the planet. Fewer emissions mean a reduction in greenhouse gases, providing the whole country with more sustainable, renewable sources of electricity.
Charging an EV at home is simple, fast and cost-efficient – it's no different from charging your phone! Even the installation of a compact, all-weather home charging unit is hassle-free, and you'll be eligible for a £350 government grant to cover the installation.
With a 7kW home charging port, the majority of EVs can charge to full capacity in around 5-10 hours. Rapid chargers can shave off even more time, getting them up to 80% in under an hour.
Quieter, smoother performance
When you get behind the wheel of an electric car for the first time, one of the most striking things is how much quieter they are. This makes the whole experience more comfortable and relaxed compared to what you may be used to.
Silence aside, the torque of EVs means instant response and speed as soon as you put your foot to the accelerator, without the need to shift gears on the go. And since their batteries are mostly found in the floor of the car, they provide peak balance and weight distribution, which makes handling around corners a breeze.
Also known as Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), all-electrics use electricity stored in a battery pack to power an electric motor, which turns the wheels. Once depleted, they're recharged using grid electricity, either from a wall socket or a dedicated charging unit.
As the name implies, hybrid cars combine an internal combustion engine that can be fuelled like regular petrol or diesel cars with an electric motor and battery. By using the two, they can achieve better fuel efficiency than diesels or petrols, creating less pollution and letting drivers increase their fuel savings.
Plug-in hybrids differ from regular hybrids since they can be recharged from an outlet, powering them through extended distances using only electricity. Once this battery is empty, petrol or diesel comes into play, operating the vehicle like a conventional, non-plug-in hybrid. The distance this battery pack last differs from model to model.
Note: All electric vehicles minimise wasted energy by turning off the car when not in use, e.g. when sat in traffic, a feature known as "idle-off". Through doing this, it provides energy for things such as air conditioning.
Likewise, they all also employ "regenerative braking". With most conventional cars, their kinetic energy is wasted when they slow down. Not so with electrics and hybrids: regenerative braking harnesses this energy, turning it into electricity and storing it in the battery.
For more information on how hybrid vehicles work, check out our primer on the topic here.
If you're thinking of going electric, there's more to it than opting for whatever's in the nearest showroom. Factoring in your own habits helps to inform whether driving an electric car is for you; take the following into consideration beforehand:
How often you drive
If you're the kind of driver who's frequently zipping around town, then an electric car is ideal. Just be sure to find out where nearest public chargers are, and what charging speeds they offer, ahead of your purchase.
If your daily commute is a little on the long side (a few dozen miles, say) then charging only when you're in work might be sufficient. More and more businesses are installing chargers in their parking bays, making it easier to top up through the day. If you'll solely be using your EV for commuting, then this might be all the charge that's needed.
How long your journeys are
While electric cars flag up charging stations on their navigation systems, a degree of forward planning will still be required. Even fully charged, the performance of an EV can be affected by cold weather, along with traffic, changes in elevation and your own driving style.
If you are planning on covering long distances, it’s always worth noting that it’s advisable to take regular breaks (regardless of your car’s fuel type), so you’ll have chances to recharge your car as you recharge your own batteries. However, if a smaller capacity EV is going to be your only means of driving, you may want to opt for a hybrid if you have long distances to cover.
How you'll charge the car
For the majority of electric car drivers, the cheapest way to charge is at home overnight. To do this, you'll obviously need a home parking space with room for a charge point to be installed. Additionally, you should aim for the best electricity tariff too – it could even save you money on your home electricity use too.
With that said, even if you don't have home charging capabilities, you can still go green. With more than 30,000 public charge points (and counting) across the UK, driving electric is still possible, it's just a matter of knowing where these charge points are.
How you drive
Don't forget about your own driving style either. Like any car, how you drive will affect the performance. If you're a pedal-to-the-metal kind of motorist, then wave goodbye to the range; the slow and steady type wins out here, with smoother driving lending itself to greater ranges. Just take it easy with the air con and heating though!
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