Electric cars are quickly moving from automotive curiosities to true mainstream options. Many drivers only do local routes around cities and, for these people, electric cars represent an environmentally friendly means of personal transport.
Driving an electric car isn’t dissimilar to driving a conventional automatic car but there are a few key differences when it comes to owning one. Obviously, you charge it with electricity not fill it with fuel, there’s no gearbox and it makes no noise – but does this cover every aspect of EV ownership? Here are the questions we found ourselves asking after a week with the Nissan Leaf.
1. What happens if I run out of power?
Most electric cars have big computer screens showing a variety of information including the remaining range, so the nasty surprise of an empty battery is unlikely. Commonly, they also have sat-nav systems optimised to find the nearest charging point should the car think you’re cutting it a bit fine. Read our guide to range anxiety and the Nissan Leaf to find out more about these systems.
However, if you’re feeling especially daring, you can push them to the limits. In the case of the Leaf, once the power has been exhausted it enters ‘Turtle mode’ – a limp mode designed to scrape the last few miles from the battery before it dies. If your EV does run out of charge, all you have to do is plug it in again and wait – comparatively less damage than a regular engine will do to itself if it runs out of fuel.
2. Is it as slow as a milk float?
No! Electric cars have been around almost as long as petrol ones but, given the problems getting enough range, haven’t seen as much research and development as regular engines – this is why milk floats are so slow. Considering the current (ahem) move towards more efficient cars, there’s been a resurgence in electric car development.
This means today’s ones are more than fast enough to keep up with modern traffic. Yes, the Leaf we tested has a mediocre 11-second 0-62mph time, but this is only half the story. Due to the electric motor’s instant torque, the Leaf’s 0-30mph time will be significantly less than some of its equivalent rivals. Away from the lights, it almost feels legitimately fast.
3. Is it totally environmentally friendly?
This is a tricky question. If you look purely at the environmental capabilities of an electric vehicle as it goes down the road then it’s very eco-friendly – there are no emissions to speak of, it regenerates much of the energy it uses and it even causes less noise pollution compared to conventional cars. Look at the environmental impact over the course of the car’s life, however, and it’s a different story.
The electricity in the batteries ultimately has to come from a powerplant so causes some emissions in that process. More worryingly, the chemicals needed to build their batteries (mainly lithium) have to be extracted from the ground, causing a share of the environmental issues. A conventionally powered car will still cause more overall damage but electric cars aren’t necessarily the angels they’re made out to be.
4. Can undesirables pull the power cord out when charging?
This would be a simple “no” but – as certain owners of expensive jewellery and metals in Hatton Gardens have found to their cost – if a thief really, really wants something they’ll figure out a way of getting it. Nevertheless, most electric cars have locks on their cables designed to stop unpleasant types from pulling your cord out and leaving you stranded.
The caveat to this is most of these systems are fairly easy to deactivate. The Leaf’s system will probably put off roadside jokers but any committed trouble-makers with a small implement, such as a screwdriver, will be able to yank your lead with flagrant disregard for your return journey.
5. What does a regular service for an electric car actually involve?
Poring over the Leaf’s service schedule tells you two things – some of the things the manufacturer services are exactly the same as a conventional car but, at the same time, there are a handful of key differences. Many things such as replacing brake fluid, coolant, brake pads and making checks to the car’s running gear are the same as would be carried out for any car.
Nissan’s engineers, however, don’t have to do anywhere near as many checks under the bonnet due to the lack of engine and gearbox. They do perform a battery health check at specific intervals and, on the Leaf, it’s an obligatory condition of ownership. The health check looks at the longevity of the battery and determines if it’s in working order or needs replacing.
Any other questions?
If you have any questions about owning an electric car not answered here, put them in our comments section below and we’ll find the answer for you. If you like the Nissan Leaf, take a look at it in our car configurator or, to see more options check out our list of some of the best electric cars on sale. Don’t forget to check our deals page to see our latest discounts.