Electric Vehicles – owning an EV

2013. 7 years ago I bought my first electric vehicle. Fully electric, I have never gone for a hybrid.At that time they were rare, maybe a bit trendy, definitely short range but innovative and moving in the right direction for the environment. There were not many new EVs out there. Some were already established but did not have the good reputation that they could work as a day to day car like we have now. Renault were one of the few companies that were developing them and I liked the look of the Renault Zoe. I never liked how the Nissan Leaf looked so it was not an option. The dealers we knew already and with a £4000 or so government money off grant this was standard car price (I am no expert on the cost of cars, but every EV I have looked at seems very fairly comparable to a good spec car by the same company so they are not more expensive to buy). And here was Zoe! She was called The Defiant (Star Trek reference).

The Defiant!

 A big factor that I considered was the saving in fuel. Electric was so cheap compared to the petrol I then used. I first worked out my Zoe would give me a comparable 240 m.p.g. This may be a bit out, but you get the idea of a price comparison. This was my last fill before getting Zoe:

Petrol has since gone up a lot – then come back down!

 On my last petrol station use (at least that was what I hoped), I did not factor in the following:

  • Courtesy cars (they do not give you an EV)
  • ICE car needed for long journeys (500 miles more challenging for young family to manage when your range is 80 miles)
  • Borrowing another car (apparently they need petrol)

When I bought Zoe, there was always a ‘predicted’ range or a ‘this car has gone x miles in the snow’ range which, looking back, were wildly inaccurate and misleading. Thankfully these numbers for ranges have come down slowly and are now tending towards the actual ranges. Helped with the fact that EVs now go further, range is not so much of an issue. But, back in 2013/14, I could never get the 120 miles out of my Zoe, nor 100. In fact the best I could ever do was approach the 80 that it had on its fully charged display. The car never went over that. Ever. But… at the time I had Zoe and it was the best car I had ever owned.

In the summer of 2014, it had a little bump. A deer came out of the side hedge, I slammed on the brakes, but hit it. There was no sign of the deer afterwards so it must have limped off. Damage to Zoe:

Zoe scrunched

She was still drivable but it did mean a repair job which took a week or so.

So the EV journey continued. Zoe managed numerous local trips and a few longer round trips from 120 miles to 250. Planning the journey was key then. I stumbled on a few chargers too on back routes which were invaluable – especially as they were free.

The first real issue with charging was when returning from seeing a friend and I judged the charge near perfectly. The warning for low range and then low battery came on in the last few miles home. I drove carefully (without heaters as it was cold) the last 2 miles and plugged in at home no problem. The only issue was that the car did then not charge. Nothing I did could make it charge so it had to be taken away by the dealer to fix. There was a fault on the internal charging point which was strange. They fixed and returned no problem. There did seem to be a lot of bugs like this early on.

So after bumps and charging issues I was about 2 years in to owning the Zoe and had another long round trip. Everything went perfectly fine until the last 50 miles. I stopped at a charge point on the main road and Zoe wouldn’t charge. The charge point was all fine, Zoe just wouldn’t accept it. Plan B – drive via country to my favorite on the road charger for free. This one, also would not charge Zoe. At this point I had to for the first time call for recovery. And during the following hour decided that I needed an ICE vehicle after all. The experiment worked well, but if I wanted to actually get anywhere then forget it!

During this time Zoe fully powered off. I then thought I would give it one last try, and she charged! No idea why but I was thankful to not wait even longer for recovery, charged and drove home.

Zoe: great car, poor range.

So I switched to an ICE for a couple of years, thinking I would in the future go back to electric, but the ranges had to come up.

Fast forward and that time came. I started by looking at second hand Zoes – but it is such a hassle and there is the ‘rent the battery’ issue that Renault really need to sort out.

I ended up going for a VW eGolf. Reliable brand, great ICE car, range much better! (180 miles but I think you know that is not real). 6 months later it arrived!

VW eGolf – Kenobi

 Now this car is AMAZING!

Lets get the stats out of the way first. It’s claimed range is rubbish as usual. In fact I had to update the salesman after a few months on it range potentials as he didn’t know. The best I have done in this car is 160 miles (summer driving and not in ‘normal’ mode). The worst is about 100 miles (winter, full heat and light, normal mode).

It is just a fantastic car to drive, and now the ‘range’ is not an issue. Can do a full charge overnight at home and have a range of charging options out and about. The car has optional CSS fast charge so can fully charge on the road in about 40 mins. This is home charging:

Charging at home

And out and about, with some other cars. This charge point is at a local car park and is free, but you need your own lead:

Charging at a car park
Car park spaces for EVs
Car park charger – my own cable

Slow charge but free. Great if you go to the cinema for a little top up. The fab thing is that the car also came with the 3 pin plug charger too, so armed with that I can go anywhere and even charge at someones house overnight. This is the new charge point at home:

Home charging unit

And a rapid charger at one of the local supermarkets. I do not use this one anymore as we now have to pay for it and it is cheaper to charge at home. To be fair, if you want a rapid charge then you should have to pay a couple of pounds.

My EV at charging station
These are the charge points to look out for: Number 1 is slow, Number 3 rapid, Number 2 for some other EVs.

I have now been doing those longer journeys more regularly. It is a lot easier now to just take the main road and charge on the way. As I live in Norfolk some country roads to chargers are still needed. I did wonder though what the best way was to optimise time for a journey?

For longer journeys that involve charging it is nice to be able to still complete them in the shortest amount of time. With the Zoe a 2 hour journey could be extended up to 4 hours with going out of the way and the time it took to charge. Those journeys only then happened if I wanted the scenic route or wanted to take in views of various car parks…

Now in the eGolf a journey across the country or from our home in Norfolk to visit London can be completed in 1 charge. At the end of the journey it will have to be plugged in though and as my Grandmother does not have a rapid charge point it is a good idea to top up charge on route. I have however used the three pin trickle charger overnight there which worked perfectly. If you have the option to get one of these charge leads then go for it! Thankfully both charge leads came with my car.

I have found that it is ALWAYS a good idea to top up charge on your way. If stopping at a services, make sure it has a rapid charger and use it. A food stop can give over half a charge and make the rest of the journey nice and easy.

But, what if you want to complete a journey in the quickest time? Over a few months I considered the best way to do this. Is it worth driving as fast as possible on the main roads, using more energy and having to charge a bit longer? Or, is it better to drive economically, saving energy and not having to charge as long but taking more time on the road? (Assuming at least 1 charge is needed on a journey).

So, a bit of maths and estimating:

Journey 1 – as fast as possible
Journey 2 – ‘normal’ speeds
Journey 3 – as economical as possible

These 3 options roughly tie in with my eGolfs modes of normal, eco and eco+ and I will use the following estimates of energy use and speeds that were about right at the time of year that I measured it:

Journey 1 – normal mode, 3.5 miles per kWh, up to maximum road speed limits
Journey 2 – eco mode, 4 miles per kWh, up to maximum road speed limits but with some limited acceleration etc
Journey 3 – eco+ mode, 4.5 kWh, up to 59 m.p.h. with greatly reduced acceleration etc

Note, if you have ever seen the episode of The Grand Tour where Abbi has an old car and Jeremy, Richard and James have sports cars and they can’t catch and overtake her, you will know that the actual speed you can potentially drive at does not actually mean you will get somewhere that much quicker! Especially on the roads I would drive on.

I have ended up always going for the Eco+ option as you can still drive max speed on the motorways and when driving with cruise control you do not use as much energy as expected. In fact I was surprised when doing a recent trip to Alton Towers (see other blog post on this) that my average in the summer heat was 4.9 miles per kWh! It didn’t last the whole day but really helped with that journey.

Some things to be aware of when owning an EV:

  • You need a smartphone – a lot of the charge points out and about have apps or need you to start a charge via your online account
  • Plan for the first charge point you come across to not work – even with sometimes working customer support you may not get charging at that point
  • Assume your car will have worst case range – you do not want to get recovered for the last mile of your journey!
  • Make sure you get a good insurance quote first – some companies do EV discounts
  • Have breakdown cover – a 2 ton car is a lot to tow

So, currently, my eGolf is the best car I have ever had! It can go anywhere with planning and drives brilliantly. Obviously we would always like more range and when I change up my car it will be another electric vehicle from VW, but for now it is fab! I highly recommend.

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