If you have never had the opportunity to ride or drive an electric vehicle, when you do, the experience is entirely different from that of an internal combustion engine (ICE) variant. From the start there the very obvious lack of an noisy engine up front, the middle or back of the vehicle, the only thing you will experience when ‘starting’ the vehicle are perhaps some servo, relay electrical noises with some audible noises from the dashboard, there will also be a display to see the vehicle state, if in neutral or drive gear – forward or backward, the battery storage and estimated range just like a regular fuelled vehicles displays too.
There will be some other info on the dashboard for the control systems and integrated computer systems with multiple sensors located around the vehicle, some EVs have a dedicated flat panel touchscreen display but other than that, most other features of the interior are what you would expect with the steering wheel, indicator stalks and pedals being in the same place.
When driving the vehicle you should be aware of the normal set of skills associated but also watch out for unsuspecting pedestrians as many EVS have very little noise feedback from the electrical motors so others around you will not hear you and so realise the hunk of metal and plastics is bearing down on them. Nissan has their Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) system, under a set speed of 18.4 mph (29.93 kph) a humming-like noise is emitted externally from the EV and quietens when above this speed.
Car safety legislation changes in September 2020 and requires audio warning systems to be implemented in EV manufacturer as electrically powered vehicles are 40% more likely to suffer colliding with pedestrians when compared to petrol or diesel-engined vehicles due to not hearing them or only hearing them at the last minute. Those with sight problems as well as children are more at risk of accidents this way too and older EVs will need to be retrofitted with an audible system in time.
EVs can have different methods of entry and starting modes like ICE cars, some are keyless, others need a key of some sort to be inserted to actually start up and move the vehicle, whatever the system, you normally have to select a direction ‘gear’, forward or backward.‘ As soon as the startup and gear selection process is completed the vehicle is then ready for motion.
EVs have more torque in their drivetrains, the power delivery is instant and this is evident once the accelerator pedal is pressed so go easy on this until you get used to the vehicle – some premium marques have launch control modes – after a sequence of commands, the vehicle diverts all available energy to the electric motors, charging their big capacitors and as soon as the accelerator pedal is pressed, a very fast accelerating speed is experienced – there is very little wheelspin when accelerating quickly like this due to the computer/traction control and the lower center of gravity with an EV due to the physical weight of the battery cells that are normally located low down in the vehicle, under the seats of footwell.
Most EVs have only two foot pedals to operate, the accelerator and brake, some custom EVs have a gearbox and manual gear selector but modern EVs are automatic in nature, some models of EVs have regenerative braking, this means that when de-accelerating the vehicle, some of the energy is reclaimed and put back into the battery. There are different modes of the systems, some manufacturers set the system as a default setting, others are possible to select the regenerative braking efficiency from a little to a more active, with the more active set the vehicle will slow down quicker and regenerate more than when compared to a lesser setting.
Using this function of actively reclaiming energy whilst driving the vehicle and with it the braking feedback it provides, it is possible in some cases to solely use the accelerator pedal for speed control when in traffic queues but also on the open road and a method of suitable operation can be found after some time.
For efficiency and extended ranges the whole operation of the vehicle should be a smooth one, it may be tempting with all that power that is packed under your feet to “put your foot down”, but quite simply, if you accelerate hard and brake sharply, you will be using more overall energy from the battery cells and reclaiming less on de-acceleration, do this constantly and the vehicle will have a shorter range, the batteries could overheat and they may well be affected over time with charge capacity degradation and other problems.
The battery cells themselves have environmental control systems, the optimization of them is controlled through an onboard computer and there are charge controllers for charging/discharging so a controlled reliable rate of energy is delivered as well as protecting the batteries from overcharging.
The battery packs are the single most expensive part of an EV and as such, it is a good idea to look after them, the chemical components of the batteries are volatile in nature and can become unsafe and very dangerous if mistreated.
All batteries are happiest kept at a 50% charge level, this is no do-able with an EV or other electrical devices as power is constantly being used and levels drained. However, if you can, it is best to keep the charge level at a minimum of 20 % not letting it drop below that, and when charging, only go up to 80%. Charging to 80% will in effect shorten the range of the vehicle but the batteries will be kept at optimum levels, in the longer term they will not lose so much charging capacity when compared to batteries that at drained to a very low level and charged to a high one, it is ok to fully charge the batteries if going on a long journey and also to run them down occasionally if you have to.
It is the same when charging a mobile smartphone or an EV being better to use a slower method with gradual charging rather than fast charging as this lowers overall long term life of the batteries and a risk of overheating the cells which can have risks associated with runaway thermal reactions and chemical fires, there are many safety systems in EVs and if too fast a rate of charge is experienced a physical fuse will blow protecting you and the vehicle from further risk in most cases.
It is important to know where this main fuse is, it could be inaccessible on the battery pack but there will be a secondary isolation switch or plug you can pull in the event of a car accident or if some electrical smells start to become evident perhaps with some smoke and gases. There can be a risk of electrocution from exposed cells or buzzbars which are the interconnectors for the batteries or perhaps if a mains battery cable is damaged. Car batteries are multi-kilowatt and can give nasty shocks as can have a lot of built up storage capacity so their risks should be known.
EVs by design have far fewer components than that of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) variant but care should still be taken to maintain them properly. The main things to keep an eye on are the normal things like washer fluid level as well as the small 12 volt battery that is required to run the systems including starting it up and keeping it on standby when not in use, this is normally a lead-acid battery that is a standard size and replaceable from auto parts stockists and is much the same with a home or office computer and its motherboard that holds a small battery which saves the CMOS settings including the date and time for when the computer is unplugged from mains power.
Other vehicle components that will still suffer normal wear and tear include the tires, brakes, wheel bearings and suspension components, brake lines and the Constant-velocity joint (CV boots) which transfers power in the form of drive wheel turning from the electric motors to the wheels via a driveshaft, the rubber end ‘boots’ protect the joints from dirt and grit but do degrade over time as are made from natural rubber.
It is estimated that EVs has around 23% less servicing than is required with an ICE model, these vehicles save pollution by outputting zero emissions as well as saving costs with maintenance schedules and longer-term ownership, they are within most peoples price ranges now for a small EV and are definitely worth a serious think as an alternative to an ICE vehicle.