Electric cars: your questions answered

Last year, sales of electric cars (EVs) hit record numbers in the UK, with one in every 12 new cars purchased being a plug-in vehicle.

The surge in sales is the result of the rising cost of petrol and diesel, with the average price of fuel at the highest level since 2014. Not to mention, consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and are more aware of the pollutants produced by conventional vehicles.

If you're thinking about changing from petrol or diesel to an energy-efficient car, we've answered some burning questions you may have before making the switch.

What are the different types of electric cars?

• Pure electric

Pure electric cars, also known as 'battery electric vehicles', have only one power source, in the form of an electric motor which is powered by a battery pack. As these vehicles rely entirely on electricity for fuel, they produce zero tailpipe emissions.

Most of the pure electric vehicles on the market offer a range of 100 miles, though more expensive models offer more.

• Plug-in Hybrid

The plug-in hybrid is the most common type of electric car in the market. Unlike pure electric, these cars feature a combustion engine as well as a battery and electric motor.

The car will first be powered off the battery and electric motor, then by the usual diesel or petrol engine once the battery has depleted.

The key advantage of a plug-in hybrid is the ability to cover much longer journeys than a pure electric vehicle, without the need to charge it up. The downside to this type of electric vehicle, is that they still produce tailpipe emissions and when these are not running on electricity, some are less efficient than petrol counterparts due to the weight of the electric motor and battery.

• Extended Range Electric Vehicle

Like plug-ins, the extended range electric vehicle also feature a battery pack, electric motor, as well as an internal combustion engine. The difference is that the electric motor always drives the wheels, with the petrol or diesel engine acting as a generator to recharge the battery once depleted.

Range extenders can have pure electric range of up to 125 miles.

• Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

This type of electric car uses a fuel cell stack that uses hydrogen to create electricity. The fuel cell, unlike a battery does not need recharging and will continue to generate electricity whilst it is being supplied with hydrogen.

These vehicles can be refuelled at a filling station in a similar way to petrol and diesel cars. The current models on the market have a range of around 300 miles. The downside to this type of electric car is there is a lack of hydrogen filling stations in the UK to support their roll out.

Where can I charge the battery and how long does it take?

If you were to choose a battery-powered electric car, you will find there are different ways to charge. Not all EVs have the same on-board charger, which means they can't all plug into the same connector or at the same station.

The length of time it takes to charge an electric car will depend on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point. It can take from 30 minutes to 12 hours to fully charge.

The quickest way to charge a car is at a recharge station, as they have powerful outlets that range from 40 to 135 kilowatts. Smaller EVs can be charged at an ordinary home outlet, but this will take much longer – typically 6 to 10 miles every hour.

Is the range of miles enough?

Whilst the number of miles most electric cars do may seem low compared to petrol and diesel cars, figures from the Department for Transport suggest that EVs are suitable for most car journeys in the UK, 50% of journeys are one to five miles, 38% are 25 miles and only 2% are 50 miles and over.

Does an electric car drive differently?

If you're concerned about how an electric car handles, you'll be pleased to know it isn't much different to a conventional car. They have the same pedals and gears as an automatic – Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive.

You'll find that changing gears or accelerating in a purely electric car is smoother than other vehicles. Braking is gentler too, which reduces damage to the brakes.

What is the UK plug-in car grant?

When buying an electric car, you could be entitled to a discount on the price.
In 2011, the government introduced the plug-in car grant to encourage drivers to buy EVs, and at the same time, improve air quality in the UK.

Although the discount has gradually decreased, as the number of EVs purchased has risen, today you can get a grant of up to £3,500. The Government has confirmed that the scheme will stay in place until at least 2020.

If you're looking to buy a plug-in vehicle, you can find out if your car is eligible for the grant at https://www.gov.uk/plug-in-car-van-grants.

You won't need to do anything if you're eligible, the car dealer will handle all the paperwork and apply the grant to your car.

What happens when the tax breaks finish?

The subsidy for buying an electric car will eventually go as car companies find ways to build and sell them more cheaply. The running costs however, are a different matter. If you take duty and VAT into account, the tax on petrol and diesel is roughly 170%. Electric on the other hand carries no duty and VAT is just 5%, giving you another reason to consider electric.

Published 17th December 2018