Analysis: The reality of living with an electric vehicle

Everyone is talking about electric vehicles thanks to the Government’s commitment to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars (and vans) by 2040.

While total vehicle sales fell 6.8% during 2018, those of battery electric vehicles (full EVs to you and me) climbed by 13.8%, although they only make up a small part, 0.7%, of the total UK new car market. And because so few people have experienced any kind of plug-in car, let alone a fully electric one, anyone who sees you plug in tends to ask: “What’s it like running an electric car?”

Having spent the past half-year living with a Nissan Leaf, here are the answers to some of the most common, basic and pertinent questions.

HOW FAR WILL IT GO?

This depends on the car. Check the official range figures for the EV you’re interested in. The WLTP figures are now a more accurate guide to real-world range but it’s still worth taking off a further 20% to give a more accurate, every day, range.

HOW MUCH DO COLD TEMPERATURES IMPACT THE RANGE?

If the EV you’re buying doesn’t have a temperature regulation system for the battery (some do, some don’t) then when it gets frosty the range can shrink dramatically. If it gets close to, or below, freezing then you can see the range fall 40% below the official figure.

CAN YOU CHARGE IT ANYWHERE?

EV evangelists will tell you there are plenty of charge points and you can always use a three-pin socket as a back-up. In reality this is the most complex area of living with a full EV.

For most journeys, most EV owners will charge at home and/or at work.

However, if you need to go further than half your realistic range before returning to your home or work charge point then you’ll need to find a public charging point.

HOW DO I CHARGE UP AT A PUBLIC CHARGE POINT?

Leaf - cold weather charge - image 3There are a multitude of different recharging networks. Unlike petrol and diesel filling stations where you simply drive up, fill up and then pay, most charge networks insist you sign up for membership. This means two things: a lot more apps on your phone (and cards in your wallet), and that you have to link a specific credit or debit card to a service. Which can be a pain if you use different payment types for work or home.

Some networks also charge a joining or annual fee.

HOW CAN I FIND A PUBLIC CHARGING POINT?

The main source of information is ZapMap. It’s available as an app or as a website and allows you to filter charge points by type of charger, speed of charge, network type and more.

ZapMap also has information on the status of a charge point and allows users to comment on charge points. It’s free and easy to use.

HOW MUCH DOES ELECTRICITY COST AT PUBLIC CHARGING POINTS?

Electricity is, usually, more expensive away from home than it is at your house or work. But even with some networks charging 30p a kWh (the UK home average cost is 14.4p) the cost per mile is likely to be much less than diesel or petrol.

HOW IS ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION MEASURED?

Where petrol and diesel cars have miles per gallon, EVs have miles per kWh. As an example, the Company Car Today Nissan Leaf averaged 3.4 miles per kWh, but if you drove gently you could get this up to 4.2.

ARE THERE ENOUGH PUBLIC CHARGE POINTS?

ZapMap list of networks - imageWhile we’ve covered off how to find public charging points using ZapMap, that doesn’t answer the question about there being enough of them.

If you’re doing longer journeys then almost all motorway service areas have charging points. However, they can be occupied or be inoperative. Our experience was generally positive, though we did once have trouble recharging on a motorway.

However, the difficulty comes if you need to charge your EV at or near a meeting – after all, who wants to stop for 45mins to recharge on a motorway during a 90-minute trip? In that case you need a suitable charge point within walking distance of your meeting. In our experience this was extremely difficult to find. If your EV has a much larger range, this wouldn’t be an issue.

DO I NEED A SPECIAL CHARGING CABLE?

Some charge points (motorway service areas) come with their own cable, others are simply a socket on a post or wall and you’ll need to bring your own cable. Often car makers supply their cars with both a cable that connects to these public points and one with a three-pin plug.

Living with an EV - Home Charge Point imageIS IT EASY TO GET A HOME CHARGE POINT INSTALLED?

Assuming you have a driveway and a portion of external wall at ground level, then yes, it’s simple. If you’re buying an EV for the first time your supplying dealer will help with this and there’s a Government grant worth £500. However, if you’re conscious of how they look, then there aren’t many colours or styles to choose from.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?

Charge points aren’t usually under covered areas like petrol or diesel pumps which means you’ll get wet if it’s raining while you sort out the connection.

Secondly, there’s little in the way of etiquette for charge points. This means that if you go out for a day’s shopping and want to charge your car, you’ll be blocking that charge point all day, even though you may only need an hour’s charge.

So, after this experience, would I drive a plug-in again? Turn take a look HERE for answer…

Tristan Young