Kia EV6

A guide to electric car range

If you’re thinking about switching to an electric car, it’s likely you’ve heard the term ‘range’. It’s a word little used in reference to petrol or diesel cars, so it may be a new term for you. But don’t worry – this guide tells you everything you need to know.

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By Cazoo editorial team

What is an electric car’s range?

The range of an electric car refers to how far it can travel on a single, full battery charge.

All electric cars are advertised with an official range, which is determined by a test called the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, often referred to as WLTP. This is carried out in a lab and is the same for every new electric car.

Cars sold new before September 2017 will have undergone a slightly different test, called the New European Driving Cycle, or NEDC. This was replaced by WLTP as it was found to be less accurate for real-world driving. This means you should take the official ranges of older cars with a pinch of salt.

That said, the official range of an electric car will give you a good idea of how far it can go before you need to recharge, but it’s important to note that many real-world factors can affect your actual mileage. We’ll go into more detail on those shortly.

Official figures, however, are particularly useful in comparing the ranges of different electric cars because the tests are the same for each one.

Which electric car has the best mileage?

The electric car market is developing at a rapid pace and almost every month, new cars have launched that push the boundaries of battery technology. Some of the latest electric cars can now do almost 400 miles on a single charge.

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How can I improve my electric car’s mileage range?

There are several ways that you can get the best out of your electric car’s battery, and go further before you need to recharge. The easiest way is to drive as efficiently as possible, much as you would in a petrol or diesel car.

Essentially, the more you press the accelerator, the more electricity you’ll use. Don’t mash the accelerator into the floor if you don’t have to – use just as much as you need to get up to speed. Remember, if you brake, you’ll have to use the accelerator to get back up to speed again. Try to anticipate the road ahead and coast whenever you can by lifting off the accelerator a bit earlier, so that you don’t need to brake. If you can avoid coming to a complete stop, for example when approaching traffic lights, you’ll be able to eke out extra mileage from your battery. Oh, and if your car has an Eco mode, turn it on!

Some electric cars have different levels of regenerative braking, often known as ‘regen’. This is when the car harvests kinetic energy when coasting or braking and sends it back into the battery. For the best results, use the highest level of regen around town, and the lightest on the motorway to conserve momentum.

Plan your route. Electric cars consume more power at motorway speeds, so doing a long journey at 70mph will drain the battery faster than at, say, 50mph. Many electric car sat-nav systems will recommend the most energy-efficient route for your journey. It might take longer, but it’ll save you power and money.

Other factors that affect how quickly your battery will drain include the weight of the car, so try to keep it clear of unnecessary clutter – everything you carry requires extra power. Take off roof racks and bike carriers if you’re not using them, as that will improve the car’s aerodynamics and means it doesn’t have to work as hard to cut through the air.

Will switching on the air-con impact my range?

Yes, so think about which systems you’re using as you drive, and whether you really need them. Is it really hot enough to require the air con, or cold enough to have turned on the heated seats? If not, switch them off to save power.

Some electric cars let you start the heating and cooling systems before you set off, which means you can get the interior up to a comfortable temperature while it’s still plugged in. That means less drain on the battery once you’re driving.

Does cold weather affect the range of an electric car?

Batteries perform differently in colder temperatures. There’s not much you can do about the weather, but keep in mind that when the thermometer goes sub-zero, it affects the chemical reaction in an electric car’s battery, and lessens its performance. This means reduced range, often by dozens of miles per charge, and longer charging times.

However, it’s worth noting that the UK generally has very mild weather, and some colder countries such as Norway have wholeheartedly embraced electric cars with few issues.

How does a heat pump work in an electric car?

Don’t get confused by the terminology here – we’re not talking about the air vents blowing warm air into your car. You can turn these on and adjust them in just the same way as any other car. No, we’re talking about heat pumps, which some electric cars have fitted, often as an option when new.

A heat pump converts heat from around the car’s motor and other components and amplifies it to heat the car’s interior. It works in a similar way to a fridge, but backwards. A liquid refrigerant absorbs heat and changes into a gas, which is then compressed to heat it further. This heat is sent into the car to keep you warm, and as the refrigerant cools it changes back into a liquid. Then the process starts all over again.

This makes heating the car much more efficient than relying purely on battery power. The question you have to ask is whether the extra cost of a heat pump is worth the savings you’ll make on power. Some would say that the UK’s temperate climate means it’s probably not, but if you’re doing long journeys in chilly weather, the big difference in efficiency could pay off. It’s certainly a feature worth keeping an eye out for on second-hand electric cars.

What is an electric car range extender?

You might sometimes see electric cars with the letters ‘REx’ in the model name. This means they have been fitted with range extenders.

A range extender is a small engine, usually running on petrol. It doesn’t directly drive the wheels as it would in a regular petrol or diesel car. Rather, it acts as a generator to recharge the car’s battery. 

Technically, this makes the car a hybrid because it uses more than one power source. But in practice, the car still moves under direct electric power only. 

Range extenders were designed to combat ‘range anxiety’ – the fear of being stranded without power if your electric car ran out of charge – because you could run the range extender and fill up at any fuel station. But as battery technology and electric range improve, range extenders are becoming less common. You’re most likely to see one on an older BMW i3.

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