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Everything You Need to Know About Electric Cars

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 7 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Electric Car Vehicle Driver Motorist

To date, motorists have been less than enthusiastic about replacing their diesel or petrol vehicles with one of the new breeds of electric cars. Many have been deterred by high vehicle prices and running costs, although this could be set to change next year.

From January onwards, the Government will be offering up to £5,000 in subsidies to help towards the costs of owning the new breed of low-emission electric cars. This subsidy is expected to remain in place for up to two years, and could prompt a sharp increase in the number of electric cars on the road.

But how do electric cars work and what should potential buyers need to know first?

How do Electric Cars Work?

Just like a petrol or diesel vehicles, an electric car has a motor that once engaged sets the vehicle into motion. The difference with an electric car is how this motor is operated. Electrically run vehicles use an on-board rechargeable battery cell to store up a supply of electrical energy. When energy is needed the cell converts the power through the use of an electric motor.

Of course, all battery cells find themselves drained of power at some point. The battery of an electric vehicle can be recharged by connecting it to any ‘mains’ electricity supply.

Driving an electric car is an altogether difference experience when compared with driving a traditional vehicle. The driving style is more like that of driving an automatic rather than a manual car in that there is no clutch pedal used to change gears. Once the driver presses down on the accelerator, however, the car moves in almost total silence – quite a departure from the growl you get from putting your foot down in a petrol vehicle!

When the vehicle has picked up speed what little engine noise there is will usually drowned out by wind and tyre noise.

Electric cars have reasonably good acceleration, especially at low speeds, which makes them particularly adept when driving in urban conditions. The downside of this however, is that most of the new style vehicles have a top speed of between 40 – 50 miles per hour, although the new Tesla roadster is capable of reaching an impressive 130 miles per hour!

How do you Recharge an Electric Car?

The battery cells on electric cars take quite some time to recharge fully and this means that the most common method of recharging is to leave them attached to a standard 13 amp mains socket overnight. A charging cycle usually takes between six and eight hours.

Now, however, fast-charge units are available. These use an alternating current and can complete a full recharge cycle in as little as 30 minutes.

The location of charging points is still a concern for many motorists without access to a charging point in their garage or close to their house. That said, the number of ‘on-street’ charging points is increasing all the time and there are several websites available where motorists can search for their nearest location.

How Economical Are They?

The costs of owning and maintaining an electric car are quite high in comparison to the costs of running a standard petrol car, which is partly why the government is so keen to introduce subsidies to assist with the costs of buying the vehicle.

For example, most electric cars are purchased with the battery as an additional cost, and usually need to be replaced every three years or so. As a result, most batteries are usually leased on a monthly basis.

Another important cost to consider is the installation costs for charging equipment if you wish to charge the vehicle at your home. This can cost around £500 to £1,000, which is why many vehicle owners prefer to just use the equipment at their nearest garage with a mains point.

On the plus side, electric vehicles are exempt from paying road tax, and do are not required to pay any fuel duty on the electricity they use. As they only have to pay for the electricity itself, this means that users can end up paying as little as 2.5 pence per mile in fuel costs.

Finally, an additional benefit for London-based motorists is the waiver on paying the congestion charge. With a daily charge of £8 per day, it is expected that a large number of delivery van users working in and around the capital will be looking to convert to electric vehicles in the near future and saving themselves as much as £2,000 a year on congestion charges alone.

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