Electric car ownership guide
How to make the switch to an electric car.
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This detailed guide will help you jump from a fossil fuel-powered vehicle to an electric car.
What's in this guide?
Before buying: Range calculations
The first thing you're going to want to do before buying an EV is to take a note of all the journeys you do over a period of time. Write down the distance (you can use your smartphone to track trips using Google Maps) or you could just use the trip computer in your current car. Doing some simple maths with these figures will give you a number of kilometres that you need to be able to consistently travel on a typical day in your electric car.
Example: Charlotte in Queensland
Charlotte wants to buy an electric car. She lives in the suburbs of Brisbane. In a month, she travelled an average of 33km per day (about the average commuting distance for residents of Queensland). At the weekend, she noticed her car use dropped drastically to only 15km, so per week, she clocked up about 180km. According to our electric vehicle guide, all mass-produced electric cars in Australia have factory-supplied range figures that exceed this.
Potentially, depending on the model, she may only have to recharge the car once a week. She could choose to have a home wall charger installed (which makes overnight charging possible, depending on the battery and system output), or drive to one of the several public charging points located within 30km of her home.
If you often drive distances of over 400km in one trip, there are several models that will fit the bill. According to each manufacturer, the following models should achieve this range:
- Hyundai Kona
- Audi e-Tron and e-Tron Sportback
- Jaguar i-Pace
- Mercedes-Benz EQC
- Porsche Taycan 4S
- Tesla Model S
- Tesla Model 3
- Tesla Model X
Over 500km, you'll need to look to models like the Tesla Model S Long Range & Performance, the Model 3 Long Range/Performance or the Model X Long Range. If you rack up big odometer readings, perhaps as a sales rep, then you might prefer to think about a Plug-In Hybrid. These models boast an EV-only mode for driving around town, but the convenience of a fuel tank for quicker fill-ups.
Of course, with some pre-planning to find chargers on the route, it is possible to take on long-distance trips with any EV. You will have to stop and wait while you top up your battery though (more on that below).
Types of chargers
With electricity now your "fuel" source, chargers replace the petrol pumps.
When it comes to charging, you have lots of options. Before you buy an EV, you're going to want to check the charging network in your local area. View the Tesla Supercharger map.
Each car has an onboard battery management system, which has a maximum kW (kiloWatt) rating. The larger the on-board charger, the more kilowatts it can accept.
Here are the different charging methods:
At home or your place of business: AC Wall socket or dedicated charger
If you are fortunate to have off-street parking, like a driveway, carport or garage, then you can opt to top up your EV's battery at home. Though it is possible to plug it directly into a standard Australian wall socket, charge times are going to be sluggish. Often, manufacturers label these as emergency or back-up chargers. They are also classed as "Level 1 chargers" or trickle chargers. Still, if you left your car plugged in like a giant smartphone overnight, you could gain up to 130 kilometres of range.
These chargers can restore up to 12km of range for every hour of charging (though this depends on the output of the specific charger you use and the load rating for the car's internal battery management system, among other things). They are ideal for times when you're perhaps on a weekend trip and want to hook the car up at your hotel or when visiting friends.
Many electric car owners with off-street parking will choose to have an electrician fit an optional dedicated wall charger. These remove the bottleneck that a standard plug socket has. These chargers are Level 2. Most EV car manufacturers will have one of these listed in their optional genuine accessories, with starting prices from $700 upwards. Tesla's dock is called the Wall Connector. Aftermarket companies sell dedicated universal wall chargers from $1,100 with a cable. These boxes have higher outputs, resulting in faster charging times. One model can output the equivalent of 40km in range, every hour. With these boxes, you should easily be able to recharge most models overnight.
There are even higher output, "fast" (or commercial grade) chargers available for residential installation, which can pump out 22kW, or around 120km of range per hour. A lot of the wall units are also designed to withstand the elements, meaning you can fit them outside a property without worrying about rain. However, you'll need three-phase power for these more demanding wall units.
It is possible to run either single or three-phase chargers from solar if desired, though you'd need to speak with a solar panel installer.
Out and about: Public charging
Public chargers are going to offer the lowest charging times. That's because they're able to tap directly into the mains and access industrial levels of power. Here are the different types of public electric car chargers.
Some offices and hotels might install the 7-22kW dedicated wall charging units we mentioned above. Also, some of the public charging points may offer AC charging, but this is going to be slower than the DC chargers that exist.
AC chargers output Alternating Current (AC), which the car has to conform to DC (Direct Current) for storage in the battery. There's a level of inefficiency in this process. When you can supply the car with DC power, it's able to go straight to the battery, making for a more optimised process. There's no rectifying (converting AC to DC) required. The upshot is quicker charging times.
DC chargers make up the Level 3 charging category. Public DC charging points (also called fast or rapid chargers) currently go up to 150kW. At these ratings, you should be able to juice your battery back up to 100% in one to two hours.
Then, there's the ultra-rapid charger class, which ranges from 150-350kW. With the right car and charger, you should be able to charge your EV in 20 minutes to an hour. Or to put that another way, Chargefox, Australia's largest vehicle charging provider, says you can restore 200km of charge in 8 minutes, or 400km in 15 minutes.
Tesla operates Superchargers in Australia, capable of up to 120kW output. They use a different naming convention, where chargers below 60kW are billed as Tier 1, while those above are Tier 2. There are also Destination Chargers, typically lower power outlets hosted by businesses like hotels.
Those of you who have travelled will know most countries use different plug shapes, and electric cars are no different. However, certain connector variants are becoming the industry standard.
Type 2 is looking like the most likely plug choice for manufacturers, as is Type 2 with CCS (or Combined Charging System). CCS means the same connector can support either AC or DC charging.
Some cars may also have a CHAdeMO plug. This DC connector is designed for ultra-fast charging and can support high voltages and current flow. It's short for "CHArge de MOve", a translation from Japanese which means "move using charge" or "charge 'n' go". It's also a reference to a phrase in Japan that translates to "Let's have a cup of tea while charging our EV".
Type 1 AC Plug (single phase)
Type 2 AC "Mennekes" Plug AC (three-phase)
Type 2 AC/DC "Mennekes" Plug CCS (three-phase)
CHAdeMO DC plug
Worried about security?
Electric car manufacturers have engineered locking mechanisms to help protect your car, its cable and people located around the car. When charging, the plug should lock into place.
How do I find electric vehicle chargers?
You're going to use a combination of your car's satnav, which should have charge points loaded into it, as well as standalone apps on your smartphone. Teslas, for example, have a navigate to nearest charger function.
Australia's largest charging network, Chargefox, has an iOS and Android app. The app helps you find Chargefox sites and navigate to them, as well as current availability. You can also access help and support through the app.
There's also the Evie app which helps you find chargers on its network.
Plugshare is another popular app. It shows recent check-ins from other members, local amenities (to keep you occupied while waiting) and can forward the location to Google or Apple Maps.
Another app you might want to look at is Chargepoint.
Some of the motoring clubs like NRMA and RACV are partnering with charge point providers to create EV highways.
How much does electric car charging cost?
The price you pay to charge your EV is going to vary, depending on:
- The state or territory you're in
- Your household electricity plan
- The public charging service you use
According to our average cost of electricity page, costs per kWh are:
Using these average figures, we can estimate how much popular EVs would cost to charge to 100% capacity, at home (not including daily supply charges).
|Tesla Model 3 Standard (50kWh)||Tesla Model S Long Range (100kWh)||Hyundai IONIQ Electric (38.3kWh)||BMW i3s (42.2kWh)||Hyundai Kona Electric (64kWh)||Nissan Leaf 2 (40kWh)|
Off-peak tariffs and controlled loads
You may want to consider an off-peak or time of use tariff if you're charging your EV at home overnight. This depends on the state you live in and the percentage of your energy use during the peak and off-peak periods. You need to check with your supplier about its time of use hours and what it calls "shoulder" periods, which are transitionary periods between peak and off-peak times.
Likewise, you might save money if you move your home charger onto a controlled load tariff. Your electricity provider will then install a dedicated meter just for the charging unit, which means it can be billed separately.
Installing solar panels on your roof may help you save more on your electric car charging. It also contributes to lowering your emissions (as Aussie powerplants heavily rely on black and brown coal for electricity generation).
Prices vary depending on the charge provider. For example, Chargefox states it offers introductory ultra-rapid charging for $0.40 per kWh. Some plug points are free, thanks to deals for Audi e-Tron, Jaguar i-Pace and Porsche Taycan owners. Chargefox also says its energy comes from 100% renewable sources.
It's worth noting that some of the chargers are in car parks where you need to pay, adding to the cost to top-up.
Looking after your batteries
Though electric cars have fewer moving components than traditional ICE vehicles and require less demanding maintenance, you still need to look after your battery in particular.
You can think of the battery in an electric car like the fuel tank of a traditional vehicle. The electrical energy stored in it is equivalent to the liquid fuel that would be held in the tank. You'll soon get used to plugging in your car to a charger, rather than dropping in a pump nozzle at the petrol station. Unlike a conventional pipe though, the onboard system will adjust according to battery temperature, condition and age to prolong its health and lifespan.
How long will the battery last?
Batteries have a limited lifespan, just like an engine in an ordinary car. Exposure to high temperatures, high or low levels of capacity, numerous charging cycles and charging speeds can all cause a deterioration in the battery's state of health.
To give you an idea of how long a battery should last, here are some of the most common warranty periods on offer.
- Nissan Leaf: 8 years, or 160,000km, battery warranty
- Hyundai IONIQ Electric: 8 years, 160,000km battery warranty
- Tesla Model 3: 8 years, 192,000km battery warranty
- Tesla Model S: 8 years, 240,000km battery warranty
- Hyundai KONA Electric: 8 years, 160,000km battery warranty
- Audi e-Tron: 8 years, 160,000km battery warranty
- Jaguar i-Pace: 8 years, 160,000km battery warranty
From these models, we can see manufacturers are willing to cover the batteries often for 8 years, up to 160,000km, so must have crunched the numbers to make a solid business case for doing so. This indicates they hold the belief that the majority of batteries, with proper care, will last at least the warranty period.
How to care for your EV car battery
Try to cut back on rapid charging where possible
There are times when you'll want to use a fast or rapid charger, to give you the maximum possible range in as little time as possible. However, if you only ever use rapid chargers, this can affect the battery chemistry and shorten its lifespan. Because DC charging, with high currents, generates high temperatures, it can place stress on the battery.
A study by software company Geotab showed that vehicles operating in hot climates, with three or more fast charges per month, would deteriorate faster than those that were rapid charged fewer than three times.
Instead, whenever you can, you're best plugging your car into a slower, overnight charger. This places less strain on the battery.
Stay between 20% and 80% charge
You want to try and keep the charge level between 20% and 80% where possible. Other figures are bandied around, but this one seems to be the most common. In practice, that means you never allow the car to go completely flat and you try and minimise the times you charge it to 100%, for example, only when you go on a long-distance journey. This is apparently especially important if your car is going to be sitting unused for a length of time.
Charging to 100% shouldn't be a problem, because, through use, it won't stay like that for a long time. But storing your car at full charge could prove an issue. Just try and do it only when you absolutely have to.
Keep it cool
Heat can place extra stress on the batteries, so do what you can to keep them cool. Try parking in the shade, or even in a covered car park. If you've just returned home from a long-distance journey, or from hammering the throttle, give the batteries some time to chill before you hook them up to to the grid.
You should find the recommended cooling down time in most user manuals.
What can you expect when driving an EV?
- Less noise, but some new ones. Gone is the big thumping orchestra produced by the heavy mechanical components of a traditional engine. That means the interior of an EV is almost always going to be quieter than the equivalent ICE car. You'll probably hear the gentle whir of the motor engaging (manufacturers may artificially make the motors louder using an audio emitting device for pedestrian safety), as well as the tyres gripping onto the road surface. The tyre noise was always there, it was just blocked out by the sound of a revvy engine. You might also be more aware of surrounding sounds, like when stopped in traffic, as you can't hear your engine idling like you would normally. As an added benefit, you should hear your passengers better, making conversations more engaging.
- Acceleration. Because electric motors are more efficient than engines, they deliver 100% of their torque at all times. That means, they can be pretty quick off the mark. Even more modest EVs will pack a bit of a punch from the off (up to speeds of around 50km/h on non-sports models). In fact, some of the fastest accelerating production cars are electric, including the Tesla Model S which can zip from 0-100km/h in as little as 2.5 seconds!
- Regen braking and one-pedal driving. Make no mistake, EVs have conventional brakes. But, using regenerative braking, they can slow you down to varying degrees (normally adjusted using paddles on the steering column) when you lift your foot off the accelerator. In practice, that means you may get used to only using the brake when you need to, such as for emergency stops.
- No gears. Electric cars are generally always automatic, with only one gear needed. That means you're not going to feel gear shifts.
- Heightened range awareness. Coming from a fossil-fuel car, you probably don't pay too much attention to the trip computer which tells you how much fuel is left in the tank. Some people fill up as a matter of routine on a particular day of the week, or when the reading hits a 25% left. Others run their cars on fumes (you shouldn't do that, by the way). But the point is, we've gotten used to the idea of refilling at one of the many thousands of petrol stations we come across. Driving an EV, you're likely going to be paying more attention to the range reading and planning ahead so you can incorporate charging locations into your journey.
- A car-like experience. Manufacturers have put thousands of development hours into making EVs as car-like as possible. They position big weights like the batteries down low and so, in general, the ride and handling should be decent.
The infotainment system on an electric car becomes arguably more important than it ever has been. Yes, traditional cars have useful things like satnavs and fuel tank levels, but on an EV, you're going to be more reliant on them.
Electric cars typically come with electric charging points loaded into the satnav to help you find them and keep your car running.
Range and battery level
Many fuel-powered cars can predict how much distance you have left in the tank, and electric cars can do the same thing. You'll also see the current battery status. The best ones will incorporate some intelligence, factoring in topography and your driving style, as well as the external temperature.
Eco and range tips
Energy-saving tips might pop up on some models, helping you to make the amps last longer. Tesla's Energy App does this and it takes into consideration things like your driving style. The Nissan Leaf also offers suggestions to improve fuel economy.
A smartphone app provided by either your car maker or your EV charging operator you hook up to can help you remotely check on how long it is until you need to charge. Tesla has one, as does Nissan, Hyundai and the i-Pace.
Electric car running costs are very favourable compared to traditional cars. That's thanks to the simplified servicing that arises with fewer moving components. Plus, they do away with messy stuff like engine oil.
You should save money on servicing. For example, a Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid model has a 3-year (or 45,000km) service plan that costs $795, a 4-year (or 60,000km) plan charged at $1,260 and a 5-year (75,000km) tier for $1,525.
Meanwhile, the electric version costs $480 for 3 years, $1,240 for 4 years and $1,400 for 5 years. That's a saving of $315, $20 and $125 respectively. The difference will be even greater when compared with other ICE vehicles with larger engines.
Like with any car, there are still consumable parts on an EV. These include the tyres, wiper blades, brake discs, brake pads, bulbs and cabin filters, among other things.
Subsidies and incentives
Australia is lagging behind other countries which offer incentives and subsidies to encourage the uptake of electric cars.
For example, in Norway, you can drive in bus lanes for free. The idea is that other drivers will see you smugly whizzing past them as they sit in traffic. Unsurprisingly, EV sales now account for 70% of new car sales there.
Other governments will pay significant contributions towards the purchase price.
As of 2020, in Australia, any incentives are typically limited and not offered at a federal level. Some states have made registration cheaper for EVs. The threshold for LCT has also been adjusted for efficient vehicles, to $77,565 (from $75,526).
What happens if you run out?
In order to have run out of battery power, you'd have had to ignore several audio and visual warnings from your car. Generally, you'll quickly develop the practice of planning ahead and making sure you stop to charge with plenty of electric in reserve. The best charging habit is to slow charge your car overnight, so you start the day with 100% charge.
If you do come to halt though, you should be able to ring roadside assistance. NRMA, for example, is rolling out portable emergency chargers.
Electric car lingo
AC – Alternating Current, the type of electricity your home runs on. With AC, the electric current changes directions in flow.
DC – Direct Current, the electric current flows one way. It's faster to charge your EV with DC.
AC/DC – Not related to electric cars.
EV – Electric vehicle.
BEV – Battery Electric Vehicle.
PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.
kWh – Kilowatt hours are a unit for measuring energy; you may have noticed them on your home energy bills. With electric cars, manufacturers use the kWh to indicate the size of a battery, roughly equivalent to the litres volume of a petrol or diesel fuel tank.
kW – Kilowatts alone are used to indicated how much power an electric motor can output, or how much power a charger is capable of handling.
Lion – Short for lithium ion, the go-to battery type used in EVs.
ICEing – When you turn up at the charging station and some idiot has parked their Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car in the bay. You got ICEd.
Recent car reviews
- Maserati Levante Hybrid: Thrilling eco alternative to Volvo XC60 or Lexus RX
- 2021 Kia Stinger 330S review
- Lexus’ Tesla-fast LF-Z electric concept car
- Kia EV6: Specs and Australia launch
- Six of the best electric cars in Australia
Picture: Supplied and Getty Images
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