Electric Cars – Owning and running one. Your Questions Answered

In this article I will be talking about electric cars, starting with a few questions that have been sent in plus some extra Frequently Asked Questions that I’ve seen come up quite frequently!

Image by markus roider from Pixabay

Are electric cars good for the environment?

Electric cars aren’t good for the environment, and they’re not suitable for everyone – there, I said it.

Let’s be honest about this, no 2-ton metal box is ‘good’ for the environment, regardless of the method of propulsion. And there’s also a bunch of vehicle use-cases which Electric Vehicles (EVs) are not yet catering for. There are also a significant number of people who neither have home charging capability nor access to public or workplace charging, at the moment.

However, there are a lot of very good reasons for transitioning to electric cars.  Firstly, we’re all well aware that getting rid of a car entirely and travelling by foot, bicycle, and public transport where possible are the preferred methods of transportation. But we also know that isn’t a realistic proposition for everyone. So for those who do need (or really really want a car), electrification is currently the way forward.  Let’s go through some of the questions that people have asked, and for those with time on their hands I’ve added some big stuff at the end:

Do electric cars require less maintenance?

Yes, they have significantly fewer moving parts – there’s a few moving parts in an EV in the same place where a traditional petrol or diesel Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) would have hundreds.  Repair costs aren’t necessarily any cheaper, but since they need far less repairing the overall cost (in time and money not to mention blood, sweat, tears, and stress) of maintaining an EV is lower than an ICE – so far. Stats have shown that difference to be about 50%.

They’re quite expensive ‘new’ tech, how soon will they be out of date?

Assuming that the main concern is depreciation, my view is that they won’t go out of date that quickly.  The average UK driver does less than 30 miles per day, and they tend to be shorter journeys. Therefore as  a newer model comes out with an extra 50 miles range on top of the couple of hundred it already had, and if it has a slightly faster top speed when it comes to rapid charging, it’s not going to make a massive difference to the residual price of your EV. This is because it doesn’t become any less effective at its main use of ferrying you and your family about on shorter journeys. 

I know that some people like to change their cars every few years and they worry about residual values, but you can further reduce your environmental impact by keeping your car for longer if you can. Ultimately depreciation is irrelevant if you’re keeping the car until the end (or near the end) of it’s working life and the residual value has all but levelled off.  So far, EVs are holding their values quite well. This varies by make and model of course, but some used EVs have even been known to increase in value despite ageing and increased mileage because they are becoming more desirable.  This trend of EVs depreciating less than traditional internal combustion engines vehicles will likely continue for the foreseeable, too.

Useful resource:

https://inews.co.uk/essentials/lifestyle/cars/car-news/revealed-the-new-cars-that-will-hold-their-value-best-and-those-to-avoid-278201

I worry about charging and connector types, will I be able to plug in if I go anywhere?

Firstly there’s a lot of chargers already available out there for the number of EVs currently on the road. There are more public charging points than petrol stations, over 30,000 in 2020 according to EDF. Most of the time the majority of people will charge at home rather than on public chargers. As more people buy EVs, more public chargers are being installed.  Queues at chargers are rare, and are usually on the cheapest (or free) rapid chargers that people are happy to wait for.

There are a couple of main connectors types and sub-types, plus a couple of rarer types that all add up to what seems like a confusing mixture of choices.  There’s essentially two main camps. Think Betamax versus VHS, except if you have one you’re not necessarily going to get stuck in the future if the other one ‘wins’ the format war.

There’s the ‘Type 1’ connector. This was used on the first generation of Nissan Leaf that appeared in 2011.  The Leafs also have a rapid charger connector called CHAdeMO. 

In the other camp, there’s the Type 2 connector.  On most EVs there’s an extra couple of pins underneath the Type 2 cable, and that’s because for rapid charging you get a plug that looks like a Type 2 connector but with extra pins underneath for the rapid DC charging capability.  Just to muddy the waters a little, Type 2 on its own is also capable of rapid charging, if you visit a public charger and have a car that supports rapid AC charging through the normal Type 2 connector.

If all this sounds confusing don’t worry it’s something you’ll pick up as you go along.  A lot of public rapid chargers have both connector types, and for ‘standard’ fast charging (7kW charging at home, work, public car parks, etc.) you can buy cables that convert from one to the other.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of apps that will help you find where the chargers are that are compatible with your car. I use Zap Map, but Plug Share does near enough the same thing. And lots of people like to use ‘A Better Route Planner’ which has the ability to tell you exactly where to stop on your long journey, how long it should take, and lots more options, but I find that almost takes some of the fun out of it myself!

Here’s an article from Zap Map about connector types. It does look daunting at first and may seem like too many options, but ultimately most people will have one cable that they use almost all of the time to hook up to their main charging solution. Whether that’s a home charge, a charger in the street, at work, or doing away with the cable completely and using a tethered charging point that already has its own cable:

EV Connector Types

I don’t have a driveway, what about me?

It isn’t as easy being an EV driver if you don’t have the ability to charge at home, but it’s still achievable. You’re at the mercy of public or workplace charging infrastructure.  There’s something you can do about getting more public chargers installed near you – petition your local councillors, as local councils should have access to ring-fenced pots of money to install charging infrastructure. Be part of the change!

If you don’t have home charging capability, have a look at the aforementioned apps and websites like Zap Map, Plug Share, and A Better Route Planner.  The various charging networks (think of them as different brands, like the different petrol station brands) often have their own apps showing their charging locations. You’ll likely need to use their app to initiate a charge on one of their chargers, so check before you venture out on your first long journey!

Here’s some resources on the types of public charger that are already available or being rolled out. This will give some idea as to what the future of charging will look like. Remember, there are many options for charging and that is one of the benefits of driving electric. 

Currently everyone has to take their vehicle to a specialist retailer for their fuel (i.e. a petrol station) and stand out in all weather for minutes at a time whilst a lot of disposable income vanishes into the tank.  With electric car charging, there’s a range of options all of which require mere seconds of ‘plugging time’ from the driver, who then walks away and does something else while the car charges, which is a much better experience.  Of all the possible options there are for charging most people will ultimately only need one charging method that works for them and they’ll use that most of the time.

Useful information

On-street chargers being rolled out include lamppost chargers and bollards

“Whole street” charging solutions

County Council guidance for running cables across pavements

A nice summary of lots of charging options for those without home charging

Battery range and life

A lot of people are concerned about the range of electric car batteries, but these have already doubled for the same price point in the last few years.  Despite the wide availability of cars that can do over 200 miles on a full charge, manufacturers are still making and selling cars with lower ranges.  The average Brit does less than 30 miles per day and will need 1 or 2 charges per week.  With two-thirds of car owners able to charge at home* a range of over a hundred miles let alone 200 or 300 is plenty for most people, with just a little bit of forward planning needed if going on a longer trip.

*Source:  UK Housing Stock survey that shows that over 60% of UK properties have some form of private or off-street parking.  Also factored into this figure is the likelihood of a household with a driveway or other off-street parking being a car-owning household compared to those without, and those with off-street parking are also more likely to be multi-car households.

Battery life is most affected by charging cycles rather than age.   High mileage drivers are the ones mostly likely to see battery degradation as the car ages, but even so this won’t affect the viability of the car unless your individual journeys are already close to the maximum range of the car when new. 

Some people look at the lifespan of a mobile phone battery and make comparisons, but there’s some massive differences in the battery technology. In short, a comparatively cheap mobile device might have the equivalent lifespan of 500 charge cycles, but an electric car is easily in excess of 1,000.  If the car has a range of 200 miles, then 1,000 charge cycles gives is a lifespan of 200,000 miles (minus a small amount in age-related degradation), which is more than the average car travels in its lifetime.  However this is a conservative estimate, and most EV drivers will reasonably expect to see over 1,500 charge cycles, which on our 200-mile-range example is over 300,000 miles lifespan (minus a bit of aging).

Tom’s top tips for prolonging the life of an electric car battery:

  • Try not to leave it in a high state of charge for long periods (i.e. don’t charge it to 100% and leave it there)
  • Except on longer journeys where you might need to make use of more of the battery within a single trip, try not to run the battery below 20%.
  • Avoid regular rapid charging – this isn’t as damaging as you might think, but it’s still better to use standard fast* 7kW chargers than always using rapid (50kW+) chargers.  (*The naming conventions tend to be: 3kW or lower = slow, 7kW = fast, 50kW = rapid, more than 50kW tends to be referred to as ‘ultra-rapid’ and usually takes the form of 150/175kW or 350kW chargers, so ‘fast’ isn’t as quick as you might think, but is the normal home or workplace or public car park charging speed).

It’s a bit technical, but this is a great resource on battery lifespan and best charging practice:

https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries

More Information on owning and running an electric vehicle

How electric cars are charged and how far they go: your questions answered

*Please note that the views are that of the author, not necessarily that of en-form.

Author Bio

Tom Welham is a lecturer in Digital Media living in Colchester with his wife and son and spent weeks learning the basics of EVs in his spare time before taking the plunge with a Hyundai Kona Electric in early 2019.  Since then, Tom has spent a little bit too much more spare time (just ask his wife!) talking about electric cars online and finding more and more reasons why they are the foreseeable future of transport.

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