Guide to electric cars

If you’re thinking of buying an electric vehicle, here’s our guide to help you understand the different types available and everything else you need to know.

charging point

Electric vehicles (EVs)

These are 100% battery powered. The battery needs to be charged regularly, which can be done at home with a charging point, which need to be installed by a specialist. These are an additional cost, but it might be possible to get some funding towards the fitting.

You can also use your mains electricity with a special adaptor. You can also find charging points to plug into at places like motorway service stations, supermarkets and some workplaces. EVs are a greener option with no exhaust emissions whatsoever, and many can now travel more than 200 miles when fully-charged.

Hybrid cars

These cars have a petrol or diesel engine and an electric battery. As the name suggests, plug-in hybrids need to be plugged in to charge, like an EV. Self-charging hybrids are also available. These use their engines and energy normally lost in braking to charge their batteries while you’re driving.

With both types of hybrid, the car uses the battery for short journeys or at low speed, and will switch to the engine automatically when travelling further afield. Sometimes a combination of both is used, such as when you need a bit more acceleration. Hybrids aren’t as environmentally-friendly as EVs, but can be cleaner than cars that run solely on petrol or diesel, as long as they’re regularly plugged in.

How much do electric cars cost?

While electric and hybrid cars are often more expensive than normal cars to buy, government grants might be available at point of sale. It’s also usually far cheaper in the long-term to charge a battery with electricity than it is to fill up a car with fuel.

EVs can be cheaper to maintain as there’s not as many moving parts to go wrong. They’re also road tax exempt. Hybrids won’t give you any savings when it comes to maintenance, but there’s usually a road tax discount of around £10 per year, and you’ll get much better fuel economy than a petrol or diesel car. Driving an EV or Hybrid means you won’t have to fork out for city congestion charges either, so further savings can be made there.

How do I charge an electric car?

The process is really easy - just plug the charger into your car and leave it. You can use a charging station at home, which will usually take about 8-12 hours with a 3kW unit or 4-8 hours with a 7kW unit. Charging stations are now popping up in all sorts of places too, including supermarkets and public car parks. Rapid charging points, like those found at motorway service stations, for example, can give you enough power for 100 miles in about 20 minutes.

You could have to pay to use a public charger, either by regular subscription or a fee as you use it. Some places offer free charging, so you may want to look out for these in your neighbourhood or where you might park your electric car regularly. Apps like Zap-Map and PlugShare are available and can tell you where public chargers are, how to pay for their use, and help with route planning.

How far will I get in an electric car?

This depends on the make and model of your car and the size of your battery. In most cases, you won’t get as many miles as with you do with a full tank of fuel, but EV ranges are increasing as technology improves with many now doing more than 200 miles on a single charge.

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