How electric cars are charged and how far they go: your questions answered

BBC Technology 18 Nov 2020 12:04

By Justin Rowlatt
Chief environment correspondent

Electric cars being charged

The announcement that the UK is to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, a full decade earlier than planned, has prompted hundreds of questions from anxious drivers. I’m going to try to answer some of the main ones we’ve had sent in to the BBC.

How do you charge an electric car at home?

The obvious answer is that you plug it into the mains but, unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

If you have a driveway and can park your car beside your house, then you can just plug it straight into your domestic mains electricity supply.

The problem is this is slow. It will take many hours to fully charge an empty battery, depending of course on how big the battery is. Expect it to take a minimum of eight to 14 hours, but if you’ve got a big car you could be waiting more than 24 hours.

A faster option is to get a home fast-charging point installed. The government will pay up to 75% of the cost of installation (to a maximum of £500), though installation often costs around £1,000.

This is where electric vehicles really show cost advantages over petrol and diesel. It is significantly cheaper to charge an electric car than fill up a fuel tank.

How much it will cost will also depend on what electricity tariff you are on. Most manufacturers recommend you switch to an Economy 7 tariff, which means you pay much less for electricity during the night – when most of us would want to charge our cars.

If you can find a parking space on the street outside your home you can run a cable out to it but you should make sure you cover the wires so people don’t trip over them.

What about public charging points?

Lots of new electric cars now have apps installed that will direct you to the nearest charging point. If not, there are a host of websites and downloadable apps that will do the job.

And you should expect that number to increase rapidly. Today, the government announced a £1.3bn investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, including charging points across the country.

Some charge a flat fee each month for access; some offer pay-as-you-go charging.

A few manufacturers, most notably Tesla, offer access to “superchargers”. These allow very rapid charging indeed, you might get an 80% charge in just 30 minutes – about the time it takes to go to the loo and buy and drink a cup of coffee.

New charging points are going in all the time
image copyrightReuters

As you might expect, this depends on which car you choose. The rule of thumb is the more you spend, the further you’ll go.

These are some approximate ranges for different electric cars.

Source: SMMT

How long does the battery last?

Most electric car batteries are lithium-based, just like the battery in your mobile phone. Like your phone battery, the one in your car will degrade over time. What that means is it won’t hold the charge for so long and the range will reduce.

Check out whether the manufacturer offers a warranty on the battery – many do. They typically last eight to 10 years.

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