So you’re thinking of switching to an electric car? Here’s everything you need to know
If you're thinking of switching to an electric car, you're not alone. Although combustion engines still make up the majority of the market, electric vehicles have been growing in sales and availability over the past year.
There's a lot to consider, but it's perhaps not as much of a challenge as you might think.
Electric cars aren't weird
Let's start here. Just because an electric car doesn't have an engine, doesn't mean it's weird. In fact, even if you've enjoyed driving in the past, there's no reason why you won't enjoy driving an electric car - they aren't weird in any way.
Quite the opposite in fact. Electric cars are actually very nice to drive. Some are decidedly futuristic in their approach, but some are entirely conventional. Slip into the Mini Electric or the Audi e-tron and there's very little difference to the combustion version in terms of quality, features, or spec.
Some electric cars are futuristic, like the Tesla Model X, but there's now a wide range of electric cars to suit all needs and they all drive live any other automatic - but with no turbo lag and a lot less noise.
But isn't range a huge problem?
Perceived range is the most commonly cited drawback of electric cars. There's no avoiding that even the most basic petrol car will have a greater range than most electric cars. When it comes to range, however, you shouldn't let that hold you back.
Think about the last 6 months of usage of your car. How many times did you make journeys over 200 miles in a day? Unless you're doing a lot of motorway miles, your daily or even weekly driving is probably within the range of most electric cars.
That's the important thing to figure out: how much range do you need for your regular driving, rather than how much range would you need to cover that one trip you make each year to go on holiday?
There's no avoiding that driving for 4 hours, stopping to refill for 5 minutes and repeating the process can't be matched in an electric car. But how often do you actually do that?
For those wanting longer range and faster charging, then Tesla is probably the answer - and the Tesla Model 3 is proving popular for this very reason. The performance is very good and the price isn't too expensive, although recent models like the VW ID.4 present an alternative.
It's all about charging
So to the crux: charging is to an electric car as refuelling is to a combustion car. For a lot of electric car owners, charging is done at home. All electric cars will charge off a standard wall socket, but depending on the size of the battery, that might take an awfully long time. Smaller cars, like the Mini Electric or Honda e, will charge overnight from a standard socket.
The domestic wallbox
The most common solution to home charging is to have a wallbox installed. This might cost you around £500 depending on what you choose, but there are often grants available to reduce the costs, or offers from car manufacturers to help sweeten the deal when you buy the car. For most people, a 7kW charger can be installed charging your car 3x faster than a normal socket.
Yes, there's an initial outlay to have a wallbox fitted, but you'll then be able to charge from your drive, without having to go anywhere. It happens overnight, and the costs are minimal compared to conventional petrol or diesel. That might mean you're spending pounds to recharge your car, rather than ten times that amount at a fuel station.
The best thing is that once you have a wallbox, it will work with any electric car, so if friends come for the weekend, they can charge up too. It also means that you're often leaving home with a full charge, rather than a half-empty tank.
If you can't charge at home because you don't have anywhere off the road to park the car, then public charging is the way to go. Again, this isn't a barrier to electric car ownership, it's just something to be considered.
Yes, if you park on the street and can't charge at home, then you have to think a little more carefully about when and how you'll charge your car. Some locations are investing in on-street charging solutions, although these are rather rare right now. If you drive to work then an increasing number of employers are installing electric charging points - and that might solve your problem.
Alternatively, there are lots of public charging options - but they will start to cost you more than a wallbox. You might find supermarkets offering free charging, although these are often slower chargers and only useful if you're shopping for some time.
The best public chargers are the fast chargers. These come in various forms with increasing speeds. There are 50kW chargers appearing in car parks, restaurants, hotels and while they will charge you a little more for the electricity, they'll likely charge your car in about 90 minutes.
There are also chargers over 100kW that will charge your car in perhaps 45 minutesv or less. These are on most motorways and include the Tesla Supercharger network. While Tesla owners can use any of the public chargers, only Tesla owners can use the Superchargers - and the Supercharger network is currently one of the best charging networks. For those with a Tesla, driving to the local Supercharger for a full rapid charge is a viable alternative to charging at home.
Aren't electric cars just really expensive?
There have been some expensive electric cars. The Tesla Model S and X, Audi e-tron and Jaguar i-Pace are examples of electric cars that are more expensive than many can afford. But they are in the premium segment and undeniably plush.
But that's slowly changing with a lot more variety appearing. Yes, the initial cost is more than a petrol or diesel equivalent, but the running costs are then a lot lower. Hitting the sweet spot between range and price you'll find models like the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro or Kia Soul EV - all of which will do nearly 300 miles.
The Nissan Leaf e+ sits in this space too, while the Honda e, Mini Electric, Renault Zoe and others are more affordable, with lower range. For those buying on a lease, you might pay a little more for your car, but you'll be paying less to power it.
Electric cars aren't that green though, are they?
This is probably one of the most-discussed points around electric cars - the fact that there's a huge chemical battery sitting in it and that's using rare earth elements. Indeed, most of the carbon footprint of an electric car happens before it's even delivered to your door.
That's true, but it's not the only side of the argument, because air pollution from tailpipe emissions and brake dust is a huge problem in city centres and on busy roads - and electric cars have no tailpipe emissions and use the brakes much less frequently thanks to regenerative braking.
Manufacturers are ensuring that they use green energy in the production of cars and the batteries, meaning that many electric cars are produced in a much more sustainable way than combustion cars have been in the past. This is something that VW is being quite open about with the launch of its ID.3 electric car - and many others are creating greener supplier chains than other models in the past.
There's also the argument that electricity comes from coal power stations, so you're just shifting the emissions to somewhere else. Yes, in some parts of the world most electricity is from coal power stations, but in the UK, a large proportion now comes from renewables - and many public charging networks are using green sources. Home owners, equally, can opt for sustainable domestic suppliers too.
Of course, there's also the option to not only have an electric car, but have solar panels and a domestic energy solution (usually made from repurposed electric car batteries), meaning you can capture and store your own electricity, so you're totally off grid, although there are substantial costs involved in this.
There's no doubt that electric cars are the biggest change the motoring world has seen in a century. For many it's a change in the way you look at your car and - to some degree - use your car. The important thing, however, is not to focus on what you're not getting and focus on what you are getting.
For some of us, in the UK, there's a deadline of 2030 coming for the end of new combustion car sales, but that's nothing to worry about: electric cars are fun to drive, they are connected and modern and filled with lots of clever technology. If you can charge at home that's a lot easier than having to go to a petrol station - especially for those who might live remotely, not just those who live in cities.
So rather than getting hung up on something like range, electric cars give us an opportunity to embrace the change that's coming.