Lightening strikes, jump-starting and the potential for supercar engine sounds have been revealed as three of the top puzzles in the minds of motorists considering an electric vehicle.
As interest soars in electric cars, inspired by their reputation for economy and zero emissions, so too does the list of often surprising questions asked by motorists before taking the plunge and going all-electric.
Experts at the independent electric vehicle advice site DrivingElectric.com have revealed 10 of the most common questions motorists ask – ranging from the practical to bizarre.
Vicky Parrott, Associate Editor of DrivingElectric.com, said: “Sales of plug-in electric and hybrid cars have shot up this year by nearly 22% even while the general car market has suffered a seven per cent drop in registrations. But as sales are booming, so are questions from motorists trying to catch up with the trend towards electrified cars.
“As well as predictably practical questions, our consumer research also reveals some occasionally bizarre worries that people have, including what happens if your electric car is struck by lightning, or whether you risk a shock if you charge it in the rain.”
To help scotch some of the fears underpinning curious consumers’ questions, DrivingElectric.com has answered 10 of the most common questions they’re asked.
- What happens if my electric car is struck by lightning?
Vicky Parrott says: “There are protective fuses which will prevent damage to the car or its battery in the unlikely event of a lightning strike. Just as with any type of car, lightning will flow around the ‘cage’ of the external bodywork and safely into the ground. If you are in the process of charging your car it is possible that a current surge could cause some damage, both to the charging point and your car’s internal circuits. One Tesla owner reported error messages appearing when their car was struck while charging, but no serious damage was caused.”
- Can I take an electric car through a car wash?
“This is a surprisingly common worry. One government survey found that 42% of people thought taking an electric vehicle through the car wash might be dangerous. Of course it is perfectly safe, thanks to the ‘soak test’ which manufacturers put every type of car they make through. This replicates the heaviest rain and flooding conditions, to ensure the car is fully watertight. You can wash an electric car in all the same ways as you can with any car.”
- Do electric cars need special tyres?
“Some people worry whether they need special eco tyres, and of course electric cars do generally come with low-rolling resistance tyres. But you don’t have to go back to the supplying dealer for new tyres, you can shop around for a good deal on replacements, just as you would with any other car.
- Can you plug an electric car in when it’s raining?
“The answer is yes. Just take the same common sense precautions you would with any item of electrical equipment. That means avoiding rain dropping straight into the end of the connecting cable or the charging port. Dedicated domestic and public car charging points are designed to be weather-proof, as is the plug connection in the car, so it’s perfectly safe to leave your car charging in the rain.”
- What’s the typical distance between charging points?
“The average distance between charging points in England is surprisingly low, at under four miles. But of course charging points are not evenly distributed across the whole of Britain, which means much longer distances in some areas. While you should still plan your route to include charging stops if you’re concerned about driving range, the charging network on major routes is now established enough that topping up your batteries should be easy. According to the charging point database Zap-Map, there are now nearly 19,000 connection points at more than 6,500 locations across the country.”
- Can you make an electric car sound like a different car – like a Lamborghini?
“Because electric cars are so quiet, especially at low speeds, new rules are coming in next year to ensure pedestrians and sight-impaired people can hear them. A standard has been agreed which means that one of a variety of unintrusive sounds will be emitted at lower speeds when the sound of the car rolling along is too quiet to notice. But the only permissible sounds are limited to a mix of ‘tonal sounds and white noise’ similar to an ordinary engine. So, no. Sadly, you won’t be able to give your electric car a supercar soundtrack.”
- How does the speed you drive affect the range?
“Electric cars are legendary for their acceleration and this summer Audi showcased a model that will go from 0 to 60 in two seconds. And yes, accelerating hard uses more power than if you drive more steadily. This is partly why there is a difference between the maximum claimed range you see in manufacturers’ brochures and the ‘real world’ normal use figures we prefer to talk about on DrivingElectric.com. But it’s not just because the engine naturally uses more power to maintain, say, 70 mph compared with 30 mph. Some tests have revealed that frequent hard acceleration does significantly waste power, compared with approaching your desired speed more gently. If you insist on flooring it every time you pull away, expect about 20% less range on a journey – just like any other car running on one tank of fuel.”
- Will the battery wear out?
“We’re all used to the rechargeable batteries in things like phones ‘wearing out’ over time. This is because all batteries lose capacity the more times they are charged and discharged, which is known as a ‘cycle’, including those you find in electric and hybrid vehicles. The evidence so far is that deterioration is very slow, so even after 100,000 miles and more you’ll likely still have at least 75% or more of your car’s original battery performance, if not a lot more. Some manufacturers also offer guarantees to replace the batteries if they drop below a certain level of performance within a stated period, and there are also guidelines for best practice on how to maintain your battery pack’s performance, including not letting it run down completely. Of course, if you’re buying a used electric car, it’s worth asking to view the car with a full charge so that you can easily see what its estimated maximum range is. Even so, electric cars are already proving to be more reliable – batteries and all – than far more complex combustion-engined cars.
- Can you tow a caravan with an electric car?
“You can – but you’ll be limited to choosing certain models, if this is important to you. This is not because electric cars aren’t well suited to towing, it’s because their manufacturers don’t usually certify them for towing. It’s all to do with the combined weight of the vehicle and whatever is being towed. Electric cars tend to be heavier than conventional models, because of their large batteries, so the combined weight of the car and a caravan would affect braking efficiency. But it’s a different story for plug-in hybrid cars and there is a good choice of models from manufacturers like Mitsubishi, Volvo and Audi that will easily lug a caravan.”
- Can you jump start an electric car?
“You can jump start a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or a standard hybrid vehicle but a pure-electric car can’t be jump started and must be properly charged. You may be able to connect jump leads to an electric vehicle’s 12V battery, to power some of the electrical systems, like screens and computers. But that isn’t going to get you back on the road if you’re out of charge. It’s also worth noting that many manufacturers recommend you don’t jump start another vehicle from a hybrid or electric car, so check your owner’s manual before trying to connect any jump leads.”