Electric car range explained for the real world

THE biggest single barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is their range.

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If you opt for a PHEV (plug in electric vehicle), you can plug in your vehicle at home

We are used to being able to fill up with fuel after every few hundred miles of driving – it takes a few minutes and there is always a fuel station somewhere on my route.

If you opt for a PHEV (plug in electric vehicle), you can plug in your vehicle at home, work or at a publicly available charge point, but you will also continue to be able to drive your car as you always have, by filling up with fuel at the pump.

But if you go for a pure EV, your first consideration is going to be the vehicle’s range.

Currently, there is a standard called the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle), which car manufacturers use to publish the range of their electric cars, which are not achievable in real-world driving conditions.

Electric car GETTY

Batteries perform best in the heat, so if its cold outside, you get less energy

To avoid running out of electricity, it’s best to cut the published NEDC range in half and rely on that figure as the number of miles you can realistically drive on a full battery.

The range of your vehicle is significantly affected by a combination of the following factors:

Outside temperature: batteries perform best in the heat, so if its cold outside, you get less energy out of the battery plus you’ll want to heat the car too which uses up electricity

Speed and acceleration: the heavier you are on the accelerator pedal and the faster you go, the more quickly your battery will deplete.

Soft acceleration and lower speeds conserve energy. Driving at 55mph compared to 70mph can increase your range by up to 25%.

Inside the car: ancillary power use such as air-conditioning will affect the range a little but radio, lights and windscreen wipers have no noticeable affect on the range

Topography: driving up inclines, even slight ones, will affect the range. You can use the regenerative braking (energy recovered when slowing down) to counter this, but overall, hilly journeys use more battery power than driving on a flat road

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Driving at 55mph compared to 70mph can increase your range by up to 25%.

Weight: the heavier your car – from passengers or freight - the more energy it needs to move; your range will be affected by the load you are carrying although unless you have an exceptionally heavy payload, the range reduction is not too noticeable.

Battery age: energy storage in a battery does decrease over time and after many charge cycles; however the good news is that older vehicles that have covered many miles still provide a similar range to when they were new with just a few percent fewer miles range as they get older

Driving style: if you accelerate slowly and allow the car to decelerate using the regenerative braking (which will save you on the cost of brake pads) rather than using the brakes, you can increase the range significantly compared to accelerating and braking hard

When choosing and driving a pure electric car, the trick is to err on the side of caution and expect the lowest possible range to avoid getting caught out.

Typically, this means halving the official range of the vehicle, which will account for all of the above factors. However, the range of the vehicle is within your control, so a change of driving habits might help whilst also making your driving safer!

In winter, you can also save range by pre-heating or pre-cooling the car whilst it is plugged in to your charger.

This means heating/cooling the car using electricity from the charger rather than from the batteries so you can start your journey at the optimal cabin temperature with full batteries.

Charging car GETTY

In winter, you can save range by pre-heating or pre-cooling the car whilst it is plugged in

This is also one of the most pleasurable features of an EV – getting to warn pre-heated car on a cold winter’s day, or a pre-cooled car on a hot summer’s day.

Electric car drivers also tend to plan their longer journeys, ensuring that they have suitable charging facilities along the way and at their destination.

There are a number of online maps and mobile apps available to check availability, accessibility and costs of the UK’s EV charging network such as Zap-Map.com.

Electric cars will tend to provide the driver with a battery level indicator and often present an estimated remaining number of miles’ range on the dashboard.

The number displayed should be used as a rough guide rather than an accurate estimate and it will change as you drive, influenced by all the factors listed above.

A good habit to develop is to set the odometer to zero every time you set off with a full battery and to keep an eye on the number of miles travelled along with the remaining miles showing on the dashboard.

As you get used to your specific car’s range and your driving style, these two pieces of information will give you what you need to know the mot likely maximum range.

If you do run out of electricity, just call roadside assistance. Many EV manufacturers provide this service for free with the car, so check this out.

A recovery vehicle will usually pick up your car and take it to your home (if that’s were you normally recharge) or to the nearest rapid charge point.

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