Frequently Asked Questions

Find the answer to some of the most frequently asked questions about electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids. If there is anything else you would like to know, please send your questions directly to us at [email protected]

A Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV), sometimes called a self-charging hybrid, combines both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. It will use the electric motor to power the vehicle at lower speeds and then switch to the combustion engine when faster speeds are required. It may make use of both when more effort is required such as climbing a steep hill.

While the main power source of a HEV is still petrol, the amount of fuel required is far less than a purely Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle as batteries are charged from capturing energy when the driver brakes (otherwise known as regenerative braking which converts kinetic energy into electricity).

A mild hybrid sits between a conventional vehicle and a HEV. It uses a smaller battery, and a motor-generator that can both create electricity and help boost the engine output. It is not capable of all-electric propulsion, but the motor-generator uses stored electricity when extra power is needed, and the engine can be turned off, while coasting down hills or stopped at traffic lights.

Unlike a hybrid, a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) can be charged by plugging it into an outlet and it can substitute electricity from the grid for fuel. It uses two different powertrains, both of which can drive the wheels. There is an electric motor that lets drivers go a limited distance, at which point it will enter into a charge-sustaining mode and an internal combustion engine will kick in.

An Electric Vehicle (EV), or Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), does not use any petrol, but because it uses electric power alone, there is no backup engine to help when the batteries run out. EVs offer a longer electric-only range than plug-in hybrids, and they are better for the environment.

A Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV), or Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle (HFCV), uses an electric-only motor like an EV, but stores energy differently. Instead of recharging a battery, FCVs store hydrogen gas in a tank. The fuel cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity to power an electric motor.

Unlike EVs or PHEVs, there is no need to plug-in FCVs, since its fuel cells are recharged by refilling with hydrogen, which can take as little as five minutes. Hydrogen made from natural gas produces about the same emissions per mile as charging a PHEV, but when made from renewable sources like biomass or solar power, hydrogen can be almost emission free.

FCVs could become a large part of our future transportation, and big industrial players like Shell, the Linde Group and Trillium are investing in hydrogen refuelling infrastructures.

Range-extended Electric Vehicles (REX) are plug-in hybrids with a particular configuration. In their purest form, REXs are series hybrids with only electric motors used to drive the wheels. It behaves like an EV, with the battery charged by an external supply, but a small internal combustion engine is available as an on-board generator to recharge the battery if required.

Rechargeable batteries are used in all types of EV, the most common types being lithium-ion or Li-Ion (LIB) and lithium-polymer (Li-Poly).

Many PHEVs and EVs are priced very similarly to their petrol and diesel counterparts. With lower running costs (up to 70 per cent less according to Go Ultra Low’s research, a joint industry and government campaign) due to the fact there is fewer components, plus government grants of up to £3500 off the list price (vehicles with CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km) there are real savings to be made.

Furthermore, the Institute of the Motor Industry is working towards increasing the number of electric vehicle and hybrid technicians in the UK, so more EV owners can use independent garages.

Initially, electric and hybrid vehicles saw big falls in residual values, but with more models entering the market, as well as better public understanding of the benefits, they will begin to hold their value better.

QUICK TIP: To find out more about which low-emission vehicles are eligible for a plug-in grant head to GOV.UK.

The time it takes to charge an electric vehicle depends on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point. It can take as little as 30 minutes or up to 12 hours.

Slow electric vehicle charger – this wall plug charger is the most common type of home charging point and typically has a power rating of 3.7kW or 7kW, providing about 15 miles per hour of charge and 30 miles per hour of charge respectively. You can trickle charge a vehicle from a standard 3-pin plug, which provides 3kW of power and takes 12 to 15 hours to charge.

Fast electric vehicle charger – with a three-phase power supply (normally found in public places), you can have 22kW charge, which will boost your vehicle’s range by approximately 80 miles for every hour of charging. However, not all electric vehicles can charge at 22kW.

Rapid DC charger – this is the fastest way to charge your electric vehicle and they use one of two special connector types known as a Combined Charging System (CCS) and a direct current charging system (CHAdeMO) that are found on most full electric vehicles. Usually rated at 50kW they are normally found at motorway service stations and can charge your vehicle to full in about 30 minutes.

Other factors to consider include how empty the battery is and the temperature of the battery before charging.

QUICK TIP: Sibelga has developed a simulator that can calculate the recharge time for your batteries according to their capacity and the features of your charging point.

A Tesla Supercharger is a rapid charger, working at a much faster rate than a home charging unit does or low-speed public charger. It charges at around 120kW speeds through Direct Current (DC) quick charging and is only compatible with Tesla vehicles at this time. Tesla vehicles have a different plug and socket specification to other EVs, but they can plug into other types of charger with an adapter.

Currently this is the fastest charging speed for any EV in the UK, although companies like IONITY have proposed the possibility of 350kW charging units at a future date.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously spoken about increasing its Supercharger capacity to between 200 and 250kW in the future, and indicated he would allow other EV manufacturers to configure their vehicles to be able to use them, but that they would have to pay for it.

Compared to a petrol or diesel vehicle, EVs can be cheaper to run, cost less to service and maintain, and benefit from tax savings (zero emission cars worth less than £40,000 sold and registered on or after 1 April, 2018, don't incur any VED in the first year) and other incentives. Go Ultra Low, the industry and government campaign to promote plug-in electric vehicles in the UK, says EV motoring can cost up to 70 per cent less over the life of a vehicle.

To find out how much it costs to charge an electric vehicle you need to multiply your cost per kWh (a measure of how much energy you are using) by the battery capacity in kW. The cost for one kilowatt hour (kWh) is usually around 10 to 14 pence at home, so for example it could cost as little as £3 to fully charge a 30kW Nissan Leaf from empty (0.10p x 30).

The cost for your at-home charger can vary depending on what you choose, with some models going into the thousands. However, if you bought your electric vehicle after 2015, have off-street parking, and use an Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) approved manufacturer you could get a grant of up to £500 from the government to put in a charger.

To charge at most public points is free. Rapid charging points at service stations tend to cost around £6.50 for half an hour.

QUICK TIP: To find out how much you could save by driving an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid, Go Ultra Low has created a car tax calculator and Zap Map has a home charging calculator so you can find out how long and how much it costs to charge your vehicle at home.

Running out of electricity produces the same results as running out of petrol: your vehicle will stop. Like a petrol vehicle, your electric vehicle can be taken to the nearest charging station.

It is worth noting hybrid or electrical vehicles should not be towed away but placed on a flatbed trailer to avoid harming the on-board electronics, such as the traction motor that generates electricity when coasting. However, in some instances, an electric vehicle can be towed with the front-wheels lifted, but this is often limited to a small distance. Consult your owner’s manual to find out what your manufacturer recommends.

As from November 2018, Zap Map cited that there were 6563 public charging points in the UK, with 18,764 connectors. With new charge points being added daily, the UK’s charging point infrastructure is only going to get better, especially given the government pledge to ensure drivers are never more than 20 miles from a public charger. That aside, according to research 90 per cent of all charging is performed at home, leaving you with a full charge each morning.

QUICK TIP: Zap-Map enables drivers to locate and update EV charge points in the UK and Ireland.

Electric vehicles and hybrids come with two batteries. One that stores the electricity required by the electric motors, and is quite often a lithium-ion battery (LIB), the other is the same 12-volt lead-acid battery that can be found in any conventional car and powers the electronics when the main power supply is deactivated.

The location of the 12-volt battery differs between models but once you have found it, the process to jump-start is no different to any other vehicle. Use either a battery starter or another vehicle to boost it – just ensure it is not plugged in to charge when you jump-start it.

If the high-voltage battery is dead, then on most cars there is no way to recharge it from another car. Your options are to phone for roadside recovery services or push the car to a regular electrical outlet.

If you want to cut your costs and environmental footprint even further with your electric vehicle, then why not consider charging via renewable energy made at home, such as solar or wind power.

The easiest way is to install solar panels on the roof of your house. A small 1kW system can generate 850kWh of electricity a year. Increase the size or quantity of your solar panels, and you will generate more power.

Solar panels cannot store energy, so to store energy from the panels you will have to invest in a home battery system. However, the power you generate is not wasted, as it goes back into the national grid and you are paid for it. Bear in mind, even with government tariffs and a subsidy, a whole system is expensive.

An electric vehicle’s battery capacity is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh), and occasionally batteries are quoted in ampere hours (Ah).

Electric current comes in two forms: Alternating Current (AC) where electric charge changes direction periodically, and Direct Current (DC) where the electric charge only flows in one direction. Most electric cars utilise an onboard charger that uses AC (available from the grid), which it then transforms via a convertor inside the car into DC for the battery back.

In the case of DC chargers (for rapid charging) this convertor is found in the charger itself which transforms AC to DC before sending it direct to the battery pack. Charging is not limited by the performance of the onboard charger as bypasses it and you can charge at significantly faster rates.

QUICK TIP: Match the charging capacity of your car with that of the charge point.

A battery will lose capacity over time, but vehicle manufacturers of EVs sell their models with a warranty. Some are so confident in the technology they provide battery warranties of up to eight years.

Batteries in older EVs are aging much better than engineers had ever predicted, so owners are finding that battery durability is more than expected.

Even so, eventually owners of EVs may need to either buy a new battery – by which time their cost should have fallen – or sell the car on.

All vehicles that emit 75g/km CO2 or less, provided they meet Euro 6 emissions limits, can enter the zone free of charge. Fully electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell cars are exempt from this charge, together with a number of hybrids. CO2 emissions can be found in your vehicle’s V5C logbook.

Transport for London (TfL) is proposing to tighten Congestion Charge exemption criteria from April 2019 however, and if the proposals come into force, the current Ultra-Low Emission discount will be replaced with a phased Cleaner Vehicle Discount.

This will retain the 75g/km cap, but with a requirement that vehicles should offer a 20-mile electric range. TfL estimates 90 per cent of vehicles that are currently eligible for exemption will still qualify after next April.

From October 2021, the proposals suggest only pure electric vehicles will qualify, as part of steps towards a Zero Emission Zone in central London. Discounts will be abolished from 2026.It is also proposing to remove the exemption to the Congestion Charge for Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs), with the exception of wheelchair-accessible PHVs, or which meet the Cleaner Vehicle Discount criteria.

Consultation on proposed changes to the Congestion Charge closed on 28 September 2018, and TfL are now collating the issues raised for the Mayor to consider. It will publicly announce the Mayor’s decision when he has made it.

QUICK TIP: To see the current discounts and exemptions to the Congestion Charge go to TfL.

Unlike vehicles with internal combustion engines, EVs do not carry any petrol, a substance that is highly flammable. Most of them however do use lithium-ion batteries – and while they are not inherently explosive, a violent crash can still result in an electric vehicle catching fire.

Electric vehicle manufacturers and battery makers have made big strides in improving vehicle safety, installing an array of precautionary devices such as fuses and circuit breakers that disconnect the batteries when its voltage increases beyond a safe range.

Great lengths are also made to keep the batteries cool while the car is running, and separate them from one another to prevent fire from spreading through the entire pack, or locate them as far as possible from the car's crumple zones.

Realistically the industry is still at early stages of understanding how to make lithium ion batteries safe, and research is constantly taking place for new materials that might not only make batteries lighter and more efficient, but could possibly make them safer

It is possible to tow a caravan with an electric vehicle or hybrid but you need to go for the right model.

In most instances, electric vehicles are not certified for towing for several reasons. Firstly, the battery pack fitted in an EV is very heavy and added weight from a caravan or trailer would affect the brakes. Moreover, most EVs come with regenerative braking that is calibrated to the braking force of the vehicle only. The extra weight could also put stress on the electric motors and related components.

Another reason why many manufacturers do not put electric models through the homologation process for towing, is because the extra effort of towing a trailer would drastically decrease their efficiency and reduce their range, and that’s not ideal for caravanners who often do long trips.

Currently the only pure electric vehicle certified for towing is the Tesla Model X, which when in Trailer Mode disables many of its semi-autonomous features to preserve battery life. It also features Trailer Sway Mitigation, which automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels when it detects a swaying trailer.

Plug-in vehicles combine electric and engine power, so they do not have the same issues as pure electric vehicles. As such there are several plug-in hybrid vehicles that have been certified for towing including the Range Rover PHEV, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Volvo XC90 T8, Volvo XC60 T8, Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, Audi Q7 e-tron, BMW X5 40e, Kia Optima PHEV Sportswagon and Mercedes GLE 500e. Smaller models such as the Mercedes C350e, Volkswagen Passat GTE, Audi A3 Sportback e-tron and VW Golf GTE are also suitable for towing.

According to research published in July 2018 by Go Ultra Low, 42 per cent of Brits don’t know if you can put an electric vehicle through a car wash. However, you can expose an electric vehicle to water in any way you would a conventional vehicle, so you most certainly can take an EV through a car wash.

Formula E is a single-seater racing series for electric-powered cars. It was conceived in 2014 and its seasons run from late autumn to early summer. The entire grid shares the same car chassis and battery, but teams can develop their own electric motor.

For its fifth season, Formula E has launched a new second generation car with larger battery capacity which means they'll now be able to race for a full 45 minutes on a single charge (negating the need for drivers to swap cars mid-race) and rather than using traditional motor-racing tracks, the races will take place on street circuits.

Car manufacturers have been using the series as a testbed and development environment for electric motors.

QUICK TIP: The BBC will screen every race of the 2018/19 season via its website and TV red button platforms for viewers in the UK.

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