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How much range do you really need?

A big issue that is raised about EVs is a lack of driving range compared to a petrol car, but are we thinking about this in the wrong way?

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One of the big issues that is always raised about EVs is a lack of driving range compared to a petrol or diesel car, but are we thinking about this in the wrong way?

It’s no secret – and and a lot of noise gets made about the fact – that EVs will not go as far on a full charge as most ICE (internal combustion engine) cars on a full tank. This has given rise to what’s known as range anxiety – the fear that if you’re driving an EV, you’ll run out of electricity somewhere and be stranded by the side of the road.

We’ve become used to the idea that when we fill up with petrol or diesel, we can expect to drive for around 400 miles (or more than 500 in some diesel models) without having to stop at a petrol station. By comparison, the average battery range for new EVs on sale in the UK is around 240 miles.

But, hang on. Is 400 miles really necessary? It’s unlikely that you would drive for 400 miles – the distance from London to Edinburgh – without taking at least a few several decent breaks or even an overnight stop. In day-to-day driving, running your fuel tank all the way down until the warning light comes on is also a bad idea.

So how much range do we actually need in our cars?

We really don’t drive as far as we think we do

You might be surprised by a few government statistics that show how we really use our cars here in the UK. In fact, the government has an entire page devoted to challenging common misconceptions about EVs (you’ll like this if you like spreadsheets).

Over the nearly 20 years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic (2002 to 2019), the average car trip made in England in 2019 was consistently about 8.4 miles, according to the Department for Transport. However, over that time, the number of car trips undertaken reduced by about 13%. The average trip distance fell to 5.7 miles in 2021 during the pandemic, and increased back up to 6.2 miles last year, although the number of trips taken is still significantly lower than pre-pandemic.

Data from Wales is older but in line in England, with an average distance of eight miles. Northern Ireland also reports an average car journey of about eight miles. Scotland’s trip distance pre-pandemic was only half that of England, with an average trip distance of only 4.2 miles. Post-pandemic data is not yet available.

In addition to the above, the data reports that the average number of trips taken is less than two a day, which is consistent across the UK. That means the average daily distance travelled is about 15 miles, which works out to less than 100 miles a week.

On top of all that, 99% of all journeys in England are less than 100 miles. Although we don’t have equivalent data for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they’re unlikely to be significantly different.

When you consider all of this data, it clearly shows that most drivers’ needs can easily be met by an EV without the fear of running out of electricity.

For those travelling further, there are now plenty of models available with a quoted 300-plus mile range, with some models offering 400 miles or even more – so equivalent to a petrol car.

Working out roughly how many miles you drive in a year is a useful exercise before you choose an EV, but it’s also helpful for any car to get your car insurance quote at the right price, or if you’re about to lease a car.

How often would I need to charge?

With each listing for a new or used EV, our Expert Partner Auto Trader presents a ‘How often will I need to charge’ tool which allows you to choose an annual mileage from 4,000 to 30,000 miles and home charging (two or three voltages depending on the car) and public charging (50kw rapid or up to 150kw rapid). It will then estimate how many hours you would have to charge that car each week. Anyone can use it, even if they’re not buying. 

Let’s work though some examples. If you drive 100 miles a week (52 weeks is accepted as the average in a year) that’s only 5,200 miles a year. Let’s be generous and take that up to 8,000 (154 miles a week).

As an example of a low-range EV, we input the Honda e city car, which gets a lot of stick for having a claimed range of only 125 miles. The answer is five hours a week on a normal home charger (7kW) or one hour a week on a rapid public charger (50kW).

A new Volvo EX30 Extended Range with a 295-mile claimed range came in at six hours a week (bigger battery to charge) on a fast home charger (7kW) and an hour a week on a 175kW ultra-rapid charger.

However, when it’s cold the range of an EV suffers, as we have explained in this feature. This is well-known and shouldn’t come as a surprise to EV owners – even the manufacturers are up-front about it. With improving technology this will get better, but you will have to charge more often in winter.

Thinking differently about charging

The majority of EV owners to date have a home with off-street parking and a home charger installed. It’s the best-case scenario for EV ownership – you don’t have to make a detour to fill up as you would with a petrol or diesel car because you’re going home anyway. You can plug it in when you get home, leave it alone and find it fully charged the next time you need to go for a drive.

Many such EV owners have never had to use a public charging point. Just imagine never handling a mucky petrol pump or standing in a queue to pay ever again.

For those who don’t have the ability to charge at home, an EV can still be perfectly capable of meeting your needs. It does require a shift in thinking, but it’s not usually a major hassle.

The key difference is that public charging is more expensive than home charging, so choosing where to charge can make a significant difference to your running costs. As a rules, the faster the charger the more it will cost to use.

We might think we need all of the range in petrol or diesel car, but most drivers don’t run the tank down to empty before filling it up again. And plenty of others don’t ever fill the tank, instead choosing to add £20 or £30 at a time. So the reality is that people tend not to fill up with 400 miles of fuel in one go at a petrol station anyway.

It’s not too much of a jump to transfer that idea to an EV: top up the charge while you have parked the car to go and do something you would do anyway. There are more places to do this than there are petrol stations – places like supermarkets, gyms, railway station car parks, cinemas, restaurants, or even pubs. You don’t lose time and the car’s always topped up. 

As we explain in this feature, it’s called destination charging. If you have a street charger near your flat/house, you can leave it alone charging in the same way as driveway people can.

Beat the long-distance dread

If you’ve not done one, long trips, especially involving motorways, can seem daunting in an EV. But unless you drive as part of your job, you probably don’t do a long journey (over 100 miles) as often as you might think (and it’s worth noting that many high-mile company car drivers are happily in EVs).

Yes, on occasional long-distance trips you may have to use a charger at a motorway services, but you can anticipate this. We all know not to set off on a motorway trip with a thimble of petrol in the tank: you just shift that thinking to an EV. A bit of planning isn’t difficult using an app such as Zap-Map to see where you could stop, how many chargers there are and whether they are working and available.

Motorway charging isn’t really wasted time. Whatever fuel is powering their car, on a long trip everybody needs a break for safety and for comfort at least every two hours. Given that you’ll probably want to eat something, have a coffee, visit the bathroom or simply stretch your legs, that can easily take 45 minutes to an hour (especially you’re travelling at a busy time). 

If you’d have plugged your EV into a fast charger during that time it would likely be back up at 80% or more. Yes, charging at motorway services is the most expensive option, but remember, you’re not going to do this very often, and you’re not being stung on cost any more than the petrol and diesel drivers filing up at the same services at an extortionate premium. 

We’re aware that public charging not always perfect; in summer 2023 our editor did a family road trip of 1,000 miles and while he never remotely looked like running out of electricity, there were some hassles.  But it’s getting better every day.

If you’re still uneasy about long EV trips and if you’re lucky enough to have two cars in your household, swap one for an EV for day-to-day driving and keep a petrol or diesel car for longer trips. Plenty of people do. You can shift to fully electric in the future when the cars, their ranges and the charging opportunities will only have got better. 

And here’s an even more radical thought. A long drive in any car in the UK can be a bit traffic-clogged and a bit miserable. If you don’t have masses of bags for a holiday, why not take the train?

The future is accelerating

EV technology is running at a frantic pace because it has to. Petrol and diesel cars have had over a century to get as good as they are now, but even in the last 20 years EV progress had eclipsed this.

In 2009, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV city car was the first truly mass-market electric car and could manage 80 miles on a full charge, the much larger (with much larger battery) Tesla Model S only arrived in 2012 (300 miles).

Now we can expect a Fiat 500e city car to have an official driving range of 199 miles, but big range still means big batteries in big expensive cars. The Mercedes-Benz EQS, for example, can take you up to 453 miles – but the price starts at more than £100K. However, in summer 2023 Toyota announced that it believed it could make a solid-state battery with a range of 745 miles as early as 2027 and many other manufacturers continue to develop their battery designs.

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Russell Hayes
Russell Hayeshttps://amzn.to/3dga7y8
Russell Hayes’ early career was 14 years of motoring journalism in print, television and online. He worked for What Car? and Complete Car magazines, the BBC's original Top Gear programme and Channel 4's Driven. Since 2007 he has written motoring history books on subjects including Lotus, TVR, the Earls Court Motor Show, the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Beetle and Bus and the original Aston Martin V8. Now a full-time author, two more books are in the pipeline for 2023 and 2024.