Living with an electric vehicle – what’s it like?
So, whether you’re looking to buy an EV yourself or you’re interested to know whether they made their first trip to Yorkshire and back in one piece, read on.
8 minutes to read
Test drive time!
Helene persuaded Lars to look into some of the electric cars on the market with her, just to see what was out there. After quite a bit of searching and comparing the three most popular options at the time (the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Tesla), they settled on booking a test drive of the Zoe.
Test drive day arrived, and Lars and Helene were excited about putting their potential new purchase through its paces.
You might think electric vehicles are pretty futuristic, or at least different in some way to their petrol-powered counterparts. I always like to imagine something between the hover cars we were all promised in the year 2000 (never happened, disappointingly) and the dashboard of the “new” Beetle (now 27 years old!) – complete with a flower in a pot. Just some kind of quirkiness or something that shouts “I’m electric, don’t you know!”.
So when I was told that the interior and instrumentation looked surprisingly similar to conventional cars, I was a bit disappointed. But we want these things to be mainstream eventually, don’t we? So my dreams of a futuristic dashboard will have to wait.
Like a soft, flying carpet
The most striking thing Lars and Helene encountered was that when starting it, other than a beep, it was totally quiet! It pulled out without any sound at all. It does have a sound that is emitted to warn pedestrians and cyclists when driving at slower speeds or in city traffic. Lars said “This is quite annoying, but can be switched off if it’s really getting to you.” Switching it off is a particularly handy function when Helene wants to sneak up on him when he’s out cycling to get him to come back and help dig a hole in their garden.
What impressed them the most was how comfortable it was to drive. Lars describes it as “Very relaxing, like being transported on a soft, flying carpet.”
Ordering the car
They were so impressed by what they saw on the test drive, that they decided to order one then and there!
Helene and Lars told me that the colour options were a little underwhelming “They were quite traditional and somewhat boring – white, black, grey, blue and red” they said. “There was also a metallic purple which we thought was probably a little too bold. We ordered one in black with lots of extras and accessories. This included a Bose stereo, vegan leather and 17 inch alloy wheels. But then, later we changed our minds, and went for purple instead!”
After 4 months’ wait – during which time they also had a wall charger installed at home – the car was ready for collection! They were a bit concerned about their colour choice – but it looked stunning in purple. Driving back from the dealer in Basingstoke, they took a detour through the Chilterns around Marlow and Henley-on-Thames. They were surprised that they were actually able to drive about 30 miles for free. When going downhill they could charge as much as they would consume going uphill.
If you’re wondering how the car charges whilst going downhill, it’s using a function called regenerative braking. Ready to get your thermodynamics hats on?
In conventional (friction) braking, the kinetic energy that was propelling your car forwards is “lost” into the air through the friction it relies on to slow the vehicle down. This is usually dispersed as heat.
Thermodynamics tells us that energy is never truly lost, it’s just transferred into a different kind of energy. However, when the heat energy from braking dissipates into the air, it becomes useless.
In regenerative braking, the kinetic energy is captured and turned into electrical energy. This is used to charge the car’s battery. Clever eh?
Living with an electric vehicle – the good
Whilst the Zoe can’t be described as fast, Lars tells me it is still quick off the mark, and few cars can keep up when the lights turn to green! There is no delay in power delivery and it has no gears to work through, which makes it a very easy-to-drive car.
It’s an excellent hill-climber and Helene and Lars had lots of fun going up hairpin turns on Hardknott and Wrynose Pass in Cumbria, the steepest roads in the UK. Their favourite game is to see how much they can recharge using regenerative braking, so hilly areas are ideal.
Economical and surprisingly spacious
Because it’s fully electric, the London congestion charge is not applicable, so they can pop into the capital to visit their son without having to worry about the cost.
One thing that really surprised Helene and Lars is how spacious the car is. They tell me there is enough room for a bike or 4 Land Cruiser tyres!
Even though the car itself feels surprisingly normal, there are some nice technological touches, including charging and pre-heating controls in a mobile app.
More coffee breaks!
Long drives become more relaxing due to having to stop for charging breaks (generally 30-45 minutes per break) and travelling in eco mode at 60 mph. As a society, we are so used to rushing around. So having a car that makes you stop for coffee breaks is a huge plus point. This also means you reach your destination much less tired than if you did it all in one hit. Just don’t forget to be extra eco-friendly and remember your reusable coffee cup!
Lars and Helene find living with their electric car to be very practical and easy to drive pretty much anywhere. It fits a roof rack for bikes or other equipment. But watch out for wind resistance impacting your range or you might be cycling home.
Another hugely positive point is that it’s very simple to run and not much to service because it doesn’t have a big, intricate motor like a standard car. The only thing Helene and Lars have changed since they bought it has been windscreen wash! Considering they’ve had it since October 2018 and have covered 13,000 miles in it, that’s pretty good going! Helene says “We absolutely love it, it’s incredibly easy to live with.”
Living with an electric vehicle – an adventure to Yorkshire
I’m going to switch here to allow Lars and Helene to tell their story of their first trip from Berkshire to Yorkshire in their own words.
“Our first trip to Yorkshire was an adventure, to put it mildly. We had set off without knowing anything about charge points, connector types, or anything else about doing such a long journey in an electric car. However, we had remembered to download ZapMap. So we at least knew where we could find charging stations en-route.
We thought it would be a simple matter of driving up to a charge point and paying with a credit card. No such luck or joy!
The charging network in the UK is totally fragmented. There are too many suppliers and no consistency of process between them. Every network has its own app, charge points can be out of order or just plain difficult to find.
We drove in normal mode, which meant that our expected range of 150+ miles was reduced to less than 100 at normal motorway speed. Whoops. So, late in the evening on the way to Yorkshire, we drove around a hotel car park, in pouring rain, looking for the charge point. We eventually found it, but it wasn’t what we’d call fun.
Another charging point, this time in a Park & Ride car park looked promising. Until we realised, in pouring rain, that we needed to download yet another app. The station we had parked at was out of order so we had to call the company who told us we should go to the other one. That one worked, but they were 7 kwh chargers which would have meant that a full charge would have taken 7 hours!”. It’s worth also mentioning here that you can only use park & ride chargers if you’re actually using the park & ride facility. So good for city centre shopping or other places where parking at your actual destination might be difficult.
But did they make it?
“We did arrive in Yorkshire safe and sound, and stayed at a B&B in Driffield where the nearest charge point was a few miles away. So we did have to plan a bit with charging but it was just about manageable.
This trip to Yorkshire definitely wasn’t the most plain-sailing but we still love our car and wouldn’t change it. It’s more the charging infrastructure that is the issue.”
18 months of living with an electric vehicle – observations and advice
“We try to always use Ecotricity at Welcome Break service stations at the motorways. It generally always works and we have only had one experience where it was out of order. But we had made plans to have enough range to find another charge point nearby, via ZapMap. Also, we have only once had to wait for a charge station to be free, due to another car using it when we arrived.
At home, we left FirstUtility (which was acquired by Shell) for Ecotricity, which is much greener and offers reduced rates when charging the EV during the night. Ecotricity also give us a discount when we charge using their “Ecotricity Electric Highway” charge points.
We make sure we use ZapMap when going to new places and take some time to plan our trips in advance. Our decision to buy a “granny charger” (so-called because you can plug it in at your Granny’s house) was definitely worthwhile. It means we can always charge the car wherever we end up. We have charged our car in Wasdale and Yorkshire via normal 3-pin sockets. It’s not a fast option (16 hours) but if you are staying in a place for a day or two, it’s great.”
No more petrol stations!
“One piece of advice would be to charge whenever you can. If you park at a city centre car park, charge the car there, while you do your shopping, regardless of the battery’s level.
In the beginning, we were a bit nervous about running out of battery, but living with an EV very quickly becomes very easy. One of the biggest eye-openers of living with an electric vehicle is not having to go to a petrol station to refuel. One aspect we definitely prefer, despite the slightly difficult to access charging stations.
We have never run out of battery, but we have cut it VERY close a couple of times. To within only a couple of miles left “in the tank”, returning home from a long journey. We have learned that the Zoe’s remaining range projection is very accurate. Luckily for us!
It’s worth noting that the last 20% of the battery takes much longer to charge, so plan based on 80% capacity most of the time.”
Living with an electric car – other points
Here are a few other points and observations from Lars and Helene. These might be useful if you’re looking into whether buying and living with an electric vehicle might be for you:
- The Zoe has funky rear door handles which are camouflaged in the corner of the windows. Not a bad point, just an interesting feature.
- There is no split rear seat option. This could be an issue if you need to have a passenger in the back seat as well as some extra cargo.
- The Zoe has limited rear seat ceiling height. Very tall people will find it cramped and uncomfortable for long journeys.
- When driving, there is a bit of body roll. It’s on the soft side, so isn’t a firm sports car. Yet it drives very well, reacts quickly and is fun to drive.
- Its range is less than Renault claims. This is especially true when it’s cold
- It’s not a cheap car to buy, but it’s a cheap car to run. Yorkshire (Sonning to Driffield, and back, 460 miles round trip), cost £15 in total! £5 charge at home, 2x £2.52 Ecotricity charges on the road and £5 in Driffield.
- Driving in eco mode helps preserve battery life.
- It’s a good idea to plan to recharge when you have 20% battery remaining. This gives you plenty of “contingency range”, in case your planned charge point is out of order. Also, when planning longer journeys, make sure you’re fully-charged before setting off. This might sound complicated, but it’s no different to filling up with petrol the night before a long journey, and soon becomes second nature.
- A trip to Yorkshire that would normally take 4 1/2 hours takes about 6 1/2 hours in the Zoe due to 2 charging stops on the way combined with travelling in eco mode.
- It’s not possible to fit a towbar, so you can’t tow a trailer.
- With planning it could easily be your one and only car, although Lars and Helene have not taken it on very long journeys, like driving through Europe.
Living with an electric vehicle – what next?
This is surely the ultimate test. After living with their Renault Zoe for over 18 months, what is their plan for future cars?
Drumroll please. Their next car will be…
….the new Renault Zoe, 2020 model, which they’ll take delivery of in a couple of months! They decided to stick with the Zoe for a number of reasons:
- An upgraded interior including the option for split rear seats.
- Larger range.
- Faster charge times – see updated specifications and charge times here.
- Faster acceleration.
- You own the battery rather than leasing it.
Even though the Zoe is their 2nd car, Lars and Helene use it more than 95% of the time. It immediately became their main car as it’s so much cheaper to run, and more fun to drive. Plus it’s small and easy to park, and better for the environment, of course!
Lars and Helene also test drove the new Kia but they didn’t feel they needed the additional space it offers. It was also at least £10k more expensive than the Zoe. Oh, and it’s not available in purple.
Your thoughts on living with an EV
Are you already an electric vehicle owner? If so, what have been your highs and lows so far of EV ownership?
Or are you just starting to look into buying one? What are you most excited or concerned about when it comes to living with an electric car?
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