Electric car travel: everything you need to know

written by Rachel Mills
updated 10/22/2021
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It’s no secret that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the future and we’re seeing increasing numbers on the roads in the UK. But what are the benefits of driving an EV? How much does it cost to charge an electric car – do they help your back pocket, as well as the environment? How quickly do they run out of power and how fast can you recharge? Read on for the answers to all your questions about electric cars.

For the definitive guide for any green holiday in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, buy the groundbreaking guidebook The Rough Guide to Green Britain and Northern Ireland.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

When going for a longer drive, you may also be surprised by how little it costs to get from A to B. EVs can run from as little as 1p per mile, compared to 13-16p per mile for even the most fuel-efficient petrol and diesel cars.

Charging an electric car © PH888/Shutterstock

What are the benefits of driving an electric car?

Helping the environment

Fully electric cars and vans, and plug-in hybrids driven in electric mode, produce no tailpipe emissions. This means that driving an EV can dramatically improve local air quality. As more and more of our electricity comes from renewable sources, EVs are becoming even more environmentally friendly.

Drivers charging at home using a renewable energy tariff are even more sustainable, as energy suppliers match their electric use with contributions from renewable sources.

Saving money

EVs offer great day-to-day savings with lower maintenance costs, reduced or free road tax, free parking in many areas and cheaper fuel costs. In fact, EVs can run from as little as 1p/mile when charged overnight, using off-street parking.

What’s more, if your journey takes you through London, you’ll be pleased to hear that fully battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell EVs (not hybrid vehicles) remain exempt from the Congestion Charge. This makes quite a difference, given the charge is £15 per day.

If you’re considering purchasing an EV after your holiday ends, there are government grants which contribute towards the cost of your new EV.

Parking Space for Electric Vehicles © QQ7/Shutterstock

Driving range

Choosing a car that helps the environment doesn’t mean you have to make a sacrifice when it comes to driving range. EVs are more than suitable for your longer journeys on holiday. Many of the latest new EVs can travel over 200 miles on a single charge.

Safety

The benefits of driving an EV – the batteries are often found in the floor of the car, providing excellent balance and weight distribution. It also makes the handling around corners extremely safe and reliable.

Enjoyment

One of the first things you’ll notice when driving is just how quiet it is when compared to an internal combustion engine. Not only does this make your playlist sound excellent, it also helps create a more relaxing driving experience.

Picturesque route through the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland © Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

Charging on road trips

The UK’s charging network is rapidly expanding and is one of the largest in Europe, meaning there are more chargepoints than you might think.

Almost every UK motorway service station now has a rapid chargepoint, allowing you to charge up to 80 percent of the battery in under an hour. However, new cars are typically capable of charging up 120 miles or more in as little as 20 minutes – the time it takes to enjoy a cup of coffee!

A common misconception is that EV charging is focused on urban areas, with those driving across the country at risk of finding themselves without somewhere to charge. Yet in reality motorists can recharge at locations from John O’Groats to Land’s End – perfect for taking a roadtrip wherever you so desire. Check Zap Map website (or app when on the go) for the nearest chargepoints on your route.

There are many rural charging points for EVs © ganzoben/Shutterstock

How quickly can I charge on the road?

There are three different types of charging methods available: rapid, fast and slow. Be sure to take note of the different charger types available en route before you set off.

Rapid charge

Rapid chargers can be found at most motorway services, so provide a convenient way to have a quick rest before continuing on your journey. It’s much faster than your average EV chargepoint and can deliver an 80 percent charge in under an hour, depending on the car’s model and battery capacity. Most carmakers use either CHAdeMO, CCS or Tesla connectors for rapid charging, so make sure you know which connector type your car is compatible with. All versions may look slightly different, but they’re equally well supported in the UK.

Slow charge

A slow chargepoint could be all you need if you’ve arrived at your destination. They take more time to get your vehicle to full capacity and are more appropriate for overnight use. Charging overnight will also help you take advantage of low-cost energy tariffs, too.

Fast charge

Fast chargepoints are a happy medium (between rapid and slow charge) that are perfect for when vehicles are parked for a few hours.

Recharging in towns and cities is a common sight © Scharfsinn/Shutterstock

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Is there an app that shows chargepoint locations?

Zap Map, an app-based map service, is the best way to identify all the different chargepoints in your area, and highlights restrictions, from faulty connectors to bays that require you to pay to park.

What brand/type of car shall I buy?

There are currently more than 130 fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles available on the market, from family hatchbacks to vans to sports cars and everything in between. And as demand for new EVs increases, so too does the demand for used versions, which are more affordable than you may think.

Charging electric car © Standret/Shuttertock

Hiring an EV for a weekend away is a great way to try before you buy. Beyond the usual insurance and "full tank" caveats, check if the rental company provides an "access card" that lets you charge with multiple chargepoint providers.

Can I hire an electric car?

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If you’re in London, why not try driving one of Zipcar’s EVs? Available in their one-way Flex service, they’re an easy way to get from A-to-B for a day trip in the city. Members simply search, reserve and unlock a car via the Zipcar app when they need to use one, and then drop it off within Zipcar’s designated one-way area (most of London). Zipcar are continuing to expand their electric fleet, and have a vision to become fully electric by 2025!

When hiring an EV check if rental includes an "access card". This allows you to charge with different chargepoint providers.

Will I still have to pay the London Congestion Charge?

It’s good news for Electric Vehicle drivers – you don’t have to pay the rather costly Congestion Charge. But bear in mind it’s only fully battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell EVs that pass are exempt – not hybrid vehicles.

Streets of London © Iakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

Where shall I go?

Thanks to the ever-expanding number of public charge points across the UK, you can travel the length and breadth of the country in an EV with ease. So why not take the opportunity to visit some of Britain’s best eco attractions? There are also plenty of eco-friendly places to stay – from swish 5-star hotels to cosy B&Bs, back-to-nature campsites – and everything in between.

For more on green holidays and travel in the UK, read: UK’s best eco friendly hotels & restaurants and UK’s top eco attractions and activities.

Header image: Charging an electric car at home © husjur02/Shutterstock

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written by Rachel Mills
updated 10/22/2021
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Rachel Mills is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster based by the sea in Kent. She is a co-author for Rough Guides to New Zealand, India, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain a contributor to Telegraph Travel, the Independent, AFAR, DK Eyewitness and loveEXPLORING.com and an expert in sustainable, responsible tourism. Follow her @rachmillstravel on Twitter and Instagram and listen to her show Over Here on ramsgateradio.com.

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