Whether you’re thinking about switching to an electric car now or not, with the Government’s target to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2035 we all need to keep an eye on the technology and new car releases.

With brands such as Tesla, Renault, BMW and Volkswagen bringing EV (electric vehicles) to the masses, there’s a growing amount of choice.

To help you get to grips with what all the fuss is about, we’ve put together this in-depth guide on everything you need to know about electric cars.

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How Do Electric Cars Work?

Electric cars may be increasingly common, but we’ve become so used to petrol and diesel engines, that all-electric cars will take some getting used to.

Electric cars use a combination of rechargeable batteries and an electric motor to send power to the wheels. The batteries store power from a charge point and send it to the motor when you press the accelerator.

You might think that electric cars are hugely complicated, but electric cars actually have 90% less moving parts than an equivalent petrol or diesel car so they’re fairly easy to understand.

woman electric car

Here are the basic components that make up an electric car:

  • Electric Motor – Sends power to the drivetrain, turning the wheels when the accelerator is applied. Most electric motors are alternating current (AC) type, but some manufacturers use direct current (DC). The motor is normally placed under the bonnet, just like an engine on a normal car.
  • Inverter – Some EVs feature an inverter, which is used to convert DC into AC. Whether a car has an inverter or not depends on whether the electric motor is AC or DC.
  • Drivetrain – Electric cars have a single-speed transmission and drivetrain system. No gears, no clutch; just press the accelerator and you’re away. The drivetrain can send power to two or all four wheels, depending on the make and model.
  • Rechargeable Batteries – Store power from the national grid when the car is charging. Most EV batteries are lithium-ion, as they hold their charge well and deliver consistent power output. The power of an EV battery is measured in kilowatt-hours (kW), so the higher the kW, the longer the range the car will be capable of.
  • Charging Port – Allows the car to connect to a compatible power outlet, either a standard socket or a designated charging unit. There are a range of different options for charging an EV, including standard three-pin plug, socketed or tethered. Different cars also offer slow, fast and rapid charging, depending on the manufacturer.

As well as the above components, electric cars have other features which are designed to boost their range and performance. For example, most EVs have regenerative braking, when decelerative friction provides power to the battery. Some cars also have a solar strip, which harnesses the power of photovoltaics to give the battery a boost in sunny conditions.

electric car charging

How Long Do Electric Cars Take to Charge?

The time it takes for an electric car to charge depends on the type of charging connection, the power output of the charge point, and the size of the car’s batteries (in kW). Some cars charge faster than others, simply because they have rapid-charging capability.

Here’s a closer look at the different charge options and their estimated charging times.

Charge Type Charge Time Connection Type
Slow 8-10 hours Three-pin plug – typically providing up to 3kW from a 13-amp socket. Suitable for home or workplace charging.
Fast 3-4 hours Socketed connector – compatible with either a type 1 or type 2 cable. These charge points are often found in supermarket car parks and other public areas.
Rapid 30-60 mins Socketed and tethered connector – some premium EVs feature rapid charge, with a rating of 43kW. Most rapid charge points require a type 2 cable, which are compatible with high-end electric cars (Tesla, BMW, etc.)

Are Electric Cars Cost-Effective?

There’s no getting around the fact that electric cars are expensive. Even lower-end and mid-range EVs are considerably pricier than their petrol and diesel equivalents. But that being said, low running costs go some way to offset the initial upfront cost, with the average electric car costing around 3p per mile to run compared to around 14.2p per mile for petrol.

Below, we’ve put together a table comparing the fuel running costs of all-electric cars and their petrol/diesel equivalent, with figures based on an average of 12,000 miles a year over one year of ownership.

Car Type Fuel Cost Per Mile Fuel Cost Per Year (12,000 miles) RRP
Vauxhall Corsa-E SE Nav 136hp Auto (Electric) 4.3p £526 £26,490
Vauxhall Corsa 1.4i SRi Nav 90PS (Petrol) 13.6p £1,635 £17,855
MINI Hatch 32kWh Standard Auto (Electric) 4.3p £522 £24,400
MINI Hatch 1.5i One Classic (Petrol) 13.2p £1,588 £16,195
Hyundai IONIQ Electric Premium (Electric) 3.9p £464 £29,450
Hyundai i40 1.6 CRDi SE Nav 136 PS DCT (Diesel) 11.5p £1,391 £26,700
Jaguar I-Pace EV400 S 90kWh 400PS Auto (Electric) 5.9p £712 £60,995
Jaguar F-Pace 2.0 Diesel Prestige (Diesel) 16p £1,931 £36,820

Source: Zap Map

How Much Does It Cost to Insure an Electric Car?

Because electric cars are expensive, they tend to attract higher insurance premiums than standard petrol and diesels. Insurers assume that motorists may be unfamiliar with the controls of electric cars, making an accident more likely – so there is the possibility that as they grow in popularity the premiums could fall.

According to research carried out by comparethemarket.com, some electric cars cost 45% more to insure than the equivalent petrol or diesel. However, this may not be the case for every type of policy, and will depend on individual circumstances and driving habits.

woman at electric charger

Are Electric Cars as Efficient as Manufacturers Claim?

One of the key benefits of electric cars touted by manufacturers is their efficiency. But just how economical are electric cars compared to petrols and diesels? And should you believe the economy figures quoted by car brands?

In a recent study, US brand Clean Technica explored the efficiency of electric cars compared with their petrol counterparts. It found that electric motors are typically between 85-90% efficient, meaning that most of the electricity sourced from the grid is spent generating power to the wheels.

In contrast, petrol cars only convert around 17-20% of the energy stored in fuel to the wheels, meaning that much is wasted. This demonstrates the huge difference in efficiency between EVs and standard combustion engines.

But what about range? Can electric cars really do as many miles as manufacturers claim? The range an EV is capable of comes down to the kilowatts of power its battery can hold, as well as how it’s been driven and the power output of the engine.

Here are a few examples to demonstrate:

Car Battery Capacity (kW) Range
Volkswagen e-Golf 35.8 125 miles
Hyundai Kona Electric 64 245 miles
Jaguar I-Pace 90 220 miles

Whether you’re happy with petrol or thinking of making the move to electric, Holts are here to help you take care of your car mile after mile. Find out more about our DIY car maintenance products by visiting the homepage today.