Beginner's guide to using an electric car

17th Jul 2020 Danny Morgan

Are you new to electric cars? Have you ordered an electric car but you want some reassurance about how to use it? Then this beginner's guide to living with an electric car will give you a brief explanation of what you need to know.

So, you're thinking of going electric? Or maybe you've been a bit wild and taken the plunge already, but you'd like some extra information before your car arrives? You know, to make sure you're doing "it" right.

Here are five things you should know to help get you started. You can either watch the short video or scroll past to read on.

1. Charging an electric car at home is really easy

Charging your car at home might seem like a daunting or strange thing to do, but we promise you'll be a natural in no time. Here are some pointers:

  • Plugging in is simple - find the charge port on your car, take the charging cable (often supplied with the car) and plug it into the car socket and then a power source. We have a short video on how to "plug in" in our guide to home charging.
  • It doesn't take very long - charging a car battery from empty to full can take a long time, but it's very unlikely you'll do this. Most of the time you'll just "top up" the battery. Learn more about charging times here.
  • Most people charge their car overnight - this way the car has plenty of charge for your driving needs the next day. 
  • It's like a mobile phone - in many ways, charging your car is very similar to charging your phone. You usually plug it in overnight or when you don't need it, so your car is always ready for you. Read about our editor's "charging routine" here.

If all this sounds complicated, we promise it isn't. You could take delivery of your car, plug it in when you need to and that's it. But it's always nice to be prepared.

2. Get a home charger installed

Most electric vehicles can simply be charged using a conventional 3-pin plug and domestic socket. But it's not as convenient or as fast as getting a dedicated home charge point installed, like the ones Smart Home Charge offers. 

These home EV chargers, sometimes known as wallboxes, are more powerful and typically add around 30 miles an hour to your car compared to 10 miles an hour from a 3-pin.

Why get a charger installed at home?

  1. It's faster than a domestic socket
  2. It's safer than a domestic socket
  3. There's a £350 Grant available to buy a home charge point
  4. "Smart charging" functionality allows you to take advantage of cheaper off-peak rates on your electricity tariff. More on that below.

You can compare charge points and request a free quote for your own home installation. If you're eligible, you can even get an extra £350 from the Government towards the installation cost. 

If you want an electric car charger installed at home, we suggest you read this quick guide:

3. Charging on the road

Most electric car drivers charge at home most of the time. In fact, it's quite rare to need to use a public charge point. These are some scenarios where you might need to use a public charge point:

  • You're going on a long journey/family trip which is beyond the range of your electric car
  • You're away from home and need to top up the battery for some away-from-home driving
  • You're at a hotel, leisure centre, supermarket etc and you want to top-up the car battery while you're shopping for example

For longer journeys, most people have a "bladder range" that runs out before your car's range would. Simply plan a comfort break on your route and plug your car into a public charge point while you're there. By the time you've relieved yourself, grabbed a coffee or something to eat, then your car has likely been charging for at least 20 minutes. 

That may be enough already to see you through to your destination. Most electric cars are equipped with "rapid charging" and will get an 80% recharge in around 30-45 minutes from empty. But remember, your battery probably isn't empty anyway and you might not need 80% to reach your destination. 

Learn more about rapid chargers, how to use them, the costs and more in our Guide on How to Use a Public Charger.

4. Driving an EV is different... but good

If you've already test driven your electric car, then you have a pretty good idea of what it feels like. But here's a reminder just in case:

  • Silence - the first thing you will probably notice about an EV is just how quiet they are. With no engine or pistons moving at great speeds, you are left with the soothing peace of the interior. On motorways you will notice more wind and tyre noise, but this is no louder than a conventional car - there's just no noisy engine to mask the sound. You'll soon get used to it and learn to enjoy the quietness of an EV... or you can stick the radio on.
  • No gears - electric cars don't have gears. Not in the traditional sense anyway. They have "Drive" (or forwards) and "Reverse". Simple.
  • Regenerative braking - once you get over the quietness of an EV, then "regen braking" is probably the biggest change compared to a conventional car. Simply put, when you lift your foot off the accelerator the car will begin to slow down. Regen braking is different to coasting though. The car will slow down quite a lot without using the friction brakes, all the while recovering this kinetic energy into the battery. In practice, it means you don't need to use the brakes as often and you get some energy back into the car's battery. Most cars let you adjust the severity of the regen braking or turn it off completely if you don't like it.
  • Instant power - because there are no gears to change into and electric cars are extremely efficient at delivering power to the motors and wheels, they are able to accelerate almost instantly. It's helpful in certain driving situations and it's also quite fun! Be careful, though, as the instant acceleration may be quite surprising the first few times.
5. Low running costs

An electric car is cheaper to "fuel" than a petrol or diesel, that's for sure. Electricity is cheaper than fuel, plus electric cars have far fewer parts than a petrol/diesel which means fewer things to go wrong and lower repair costs.

But did you know you can save even more money by choosing the right energy tariff? That's right.

You see, some energy suppliers offer cheaper overnight rates specifically aimed at electric car drivers. That means you can plan your car charging around those cheaper rates and charge your car up for just a few quid.

This is entirely optional, of course, but you can learn more in our guide to energy tariffs and car charging.

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