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Living with an Electric Car

Maybe you’ve already read the blog Should I Buy an Electric Car?. This uses lifetime CO2 emissions to show why the answer, if you are going to buy a car at all, is “yes”, preferably a small second hand one. That sets out the rational case, but doesn’t answer the questions: Will I love my electric car? What will it be like to live with? Will it end in divorce?

A few years ago we decided to dip our toe in the water and bought a plug-in hybrid VW Golf GTE. We could reduce our carbon footprint by charging overnight on relatively low carbon (and low cost) electricity, via a standard 3 pin plug with a high current extension lead (from Wickes I think). The 30-mile electric range was almost enough to get me to work, where I was lucky enough to have free charging that got me home again. And being hybrid there was no range anxiety, as the petrol engine took over when electricity ran out.

This was a lovely car until a lorry drove into it on the M25.

Reassured by our experience to date, we next bought a fully electric Nissan leaf (second hand), which had a range of about 100 miles. We also had a charge point installed, which was easily arranged by the dealership (EV Cars on the A3 near Guildford). Now I could drive all the way to work (and back) and charge up for free; on the days I dropped my partner and a folding bike at her job in Guildford, she managed to travel carbon-free too. At this point we gave up having “his and hers” cars, and began to think of the cars as “close and far away destination” cars. We did keep the petrol estate for long journeys, or short journeys moving a lot of stuff (yes, going to the tip) but for the vast majority of our trips, the Nissan leaf was just fine. We could take four adults and a dog to the seaside and back. For us the Nissan was a modern car, so we were quite excited about the on-board cameras which meant that even I could park it with ease.

A red Nissan Leaf electric car
Nissan Leaf was a great car for most of our journeys

This nice arrangement would have lasted a long time, and already we had moss growing on the window seals of the petrol estate, when the big petrol car was written off (M1 and a van this time). Lockdowns had just ended, and cars were expensive and hard to get quickly. After a lot of soul-searching, we took the insurance money and some savings and swapped the Nissan for a Kia E-Nero (second hand, just). The Corsa that the children were learning to drive in, endlessly delayed by COVID, was still with us in case we needed two cars. After all, we haven’t shared one car between us since university days.

For us the E-Nero was a big step up as an EV. The range can stretch up to 300 miles. We’ve driven this to the Vendee in France (and back, just in case you were wondering), and up to the North East of England.

A white Kia e-Nero electric car
e-Nero has around a 300 mile range

The biggest learning is that this is a developing area, with things (mostly) getting better all the time. Ranges are improving, charging point availability and speed are improving. Utility companies are offering more special tariffs for electric vehicle owners. There are more apps to help you find charging points and pay for electricity when you use them away from home.

Electric cars are a joy to drive. They are quiet, smooth (no gear changes) and can have terrific acceleration (if that’s your thing). Being modern cars, they can come with all sorts of electronics and accessories (as you’d expect from any fairly new car).

Range anxiety isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

It’s true. EVs (mostly) can’t be driven for 500 miles and then be filled up in 10 minutes ready to go for another 500 miles. And the press gleefully reported EV owners being held up for hours in the Christmas holidays. But how much of a problem is this really? Not much, for us anyway.

A Pod Point home electric car charger
Home charge point for convenience

We have a home charging point (7.5kW), which we can run overnight on cheap electricity, delivering about 35kW hours of energy, which for us is more than half a battery’s worth or about 120-150 miles. Most days that’s way more than enough for the driving we will be doing, so no range anxiety and no wondering where we will be charging. If we know we are going to go on a long journey, we can charge two nights in a row if necessary to get maximum range. Or, with a mixture of cheap and full price electricity we can fully charge in a single night.

For longer trips (like France), a bit of preparation is required. Most importantly, setting up with apps that find chargers and allow you to pay for electricity. This is important because not all chargers allow you to pay simply with a credit card, although this situation is changing. We have a variety of apps: BP Pulse, Chargemap, Shell Recharge, Zapmap, and Electric Universe. There are others. Apps will tell you where chargers are (all over Europe), what sort they are, how many of them are working, whether they are currently free and what means of payment are acceptable. Electric Universe even charges you via your electricity bill at home. They are great for planning your route in advance, with as much contingency as makes you comfortable. I like to keep the battery reasonably topped up, just in case a stop to charge doesn’t go quite to plan. We have learned that charging stations at UK motorway service stations are unreliable. The good news is that other charging points are popping up very close to motorways. Our current favourite is at Milton Keynes Coach station, about 1 minute off the M1 and with a number of high power chargers.

A electric car charging station in Milton Keynes. There are 8 rapid chargers.
Charging stations are getting bigger and better

The level of phone support for chargers varies greatly, depending on who runs them. In some cases it is superb. In others, well, “Your call is important to us, an operator will be with you as soon as possible.”

Charging up at your point of destination is worth consideration. Are you at friends with off road parking and access to a standard 13 amp socket so that you can charge the car slowly but surely? We have trickle charged our car in France at very low power through a Europe to UK adapter. Not ideal or fast but since we could charge it for over 12 hours we had enough to drive to a fast charger.

Charging is not the same as buying petrol. Well obviously, because it takes longer, but it does change your mindset somewhat. Although it takes longer to charge a battery compared to filling up a petrol tank, you don’t have to be with the car all that time. Which is why charge points at supermarkets are very handy. If you are going to spend an hour in the supermarket anyway, you might as well charge the car at the same time. Similarly with chargers conveniently situated close to pubs and restaurants. There’s also another difference, at least on our car, which is that the charge rate decreases the closer we get to 100%. For us, charging beyond 80% is much slower than up to 80%. The result is that while we are happy to charge to 100% overnight, we tend not to bother en-route – we’d rather stop charging around 80% even if that means making a second stop later.

Charging at home is cheap

With a home charger and a suitable tariff, you can pay as little as 7.5p a kWh. (Or even less if you have solar and a battery). So for us that’s around £5 for 300 miles (in warm weather). Petrol costs would be more like £40. However, playing away from home is nowhere near as cheap. Fast charging can cost upwards of 70p a kWh, making the cost comparable with fossil fuel – I suggest that’s the problem with leaving everything to market forces. Levelling the VAT rate at 5% for public chargers would also help. The good news is that at the moment, some (by no means all) supermarkets are providing free or low-priced charging, although it may only be 7kW chargers.

Things that put a smile on my face

Having an EV gives me a number of little pleasures, some obvious, some unexpected.

Knowing that I’m reducing carbon impact. Especially because we are using the Intelligent Octopus electricity tariff. This allows us to automatically charge the car when demand for electricity is low, which usually means that the % generated by renewables/nuclear is high. And it’s cheaper.

Checking petrol prices as I drive past garages and then realising that it doesn’t matter to me any more. Old habits die hard!

Paying zero rate car tax, though this is changing slowly over time. An annual reminder that the government thinks you have done the right thing by buying an EV! Also a reminder that the government is doing at least something to mitigate climate change.

Not having to worry about ULEZ arrangements in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford and Glasgow More are planned to come into force in 2024. There are similar restrictions on car traffic in a number of French cities from which an EV can get an exemption (or risk possible fines).

In conclusion

Do I like having an EV? Definitely yes.

I like doing nearly all charging at home, at my convenience, on cheap, low carbon electricity.

I like the warm feeling of reducing my carbon footprint.

I like that it’s getting easier to travel long distances, with more chargers becoming available.

I like not worrying about emissions zones.

Is it ok for long journeys?

Works for me, since it has quite a large range, and we’ve learned how to plan journeys to minimise time spent recharging.

Any niggles?

You can’t get an estate car, apart from the MG. The KIA is a SUV, so there’s relatively little boot space, but happily the dog curls up small.

Cost to buy! Not helped by the sellers’ market for second hand cars. Or the car companies cartel that only markets bigger and bigger cars. We need some small EVs and especially small EVs with carrying capacity.

Are we keeping it?

For sure – and looking forward to see many more EVs on the road.


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