A Simple Training Guide for New Electric Car Drivers
Whether you purchase an electric car for a company fleet or personal use, you can expect superior economy and reduced operating costs. However, the cars do not drive themselves (well, not yet… fully). To reach peak efficiency numbers, drivers have to understand how the vehicle works and react accordingly.
The process includes getting used to strong acceleration, and a braking system that actually adds power back to an EV battery when operated correctly. Knowing how to charge and manage an EV in different types of weather is also useful.
Overall, it’s less complicated than it sounds: most will get the hang of it with some time & effort. But for those who want to get a head start, here is a simple guide to driving, charging and getting the most out of an electric vehicle.
Key Differences Between Gas Vehicles and Electric Cars
Settling inside an electric car for the first time, you will notice everything is basically in the same place as it would be in an internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.
Accelerator and brake pedals are in the traditional spots. Gear shifters are located either between the seats (as below, in the Chevrolet Bolt EV) or on the steering wheel (as in a BMW i3). Having the gear shifter on the steering wheel was common with ICE vehicles a generation ago, but you can still find the same placement on some vehicles.
As opposed to five-or six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, most electric cars operate only in drive (one-speed) mode. However, drivers can typically adjust the amount of power available when you accelerate by using different driving settings.
First-generation models like Nissan Leaf or Kia Soul EV have ECO settings that limit power for maximum economy. The 2017 Bolt EV features a sport mode in addition to four levels of braking, which affects how you capture energy when stopping.
The Chevrolet Volt also has modes such as “Hold” and “Mountain,” which can hold the state-of-charge at certain levels and kick in the gasoline engine.
EVs feature regenerative braking, which sends kinetic energy back to the battery whenever braking. If you are braking smoothly, you will recapture most of the energy used by the car to brake. In models like the Ford Focus Electric, you can see on the main display what percentage of the energy used was captured.
Some vehicles will allow you to control how you stop the vehicle. In the Bolt EV and i3, the regenerative braking system is more pronounced and drivers may operate the vehicle using a single pedal. This one-pedal driving helps train vehicle operators to accelerate and stop smoothly, thereby conserving energy and range.
Whereas ICE vehicles take many revs to get to maximum torque, electric cars have access to the majority of torque from a stop. Therefore, EV acceleration is superior to equivalent gas-powered cars.
It will take an adjustment to get used to the additional power available every time you put your foot down. In city driving, this rapid acceleration is useful.
No Engine Noise
Last but not least, the most obvious difference between ICE and electric vehicles is engine noise. EVs operate on silent electric motors, so you only hear the quiet whirring and tire noise. Drivers should not expect pedestrians to hear their approach when driving an electric car.
For this reason, the NHTSA established a rule that will require EVs operating at low speed to make noises beginning in 2019. Until then, plug-in drivers must assume other drivers and pedestrians are unaware of your presence when not looking in your direction.
Conserving range is crucial when operating electric cars, and driving style has a direct impact on battery depletion. Try to accelerate smoothly so as not to brake suddenly, as this method of driving protects against energy loss.
How you heat and cool the car also plays a role in preserving battery power. During winter months, EVs may lose as much as 30% range while in particularly cold weather. To combat the effects of winter weather, drivers should utilize heated seats and wear coats while driving to conserve range. (See our guide to winter EV operation for more.)
Air conditioning has a similar range-draining effect on electric cars, so consider rolling down the windows if you have limited range to avoid charging before your destination. Use of the sound system and other onboard apps will also draw energy from the battery, which is the sole source of the car’s power.
Managing an electric vehicle’s charge is an essential part of operation. Drivers can end up wasting time stuck at charging stations if they do not have enough battery power before leaving. This means timing your charge sessions appropriately.
In our simple guide to EV charging, we discussed each aspect of the equation. Drivers starting out should be aware of the basics:
- Level 1 (110v) charging on standard outlets delivers only 2-3 miles of range per driving.
- Level 2 (240v) charging may deliver as much as 25 miles per hour, depending on the onboard charger. When equipped with the least powerful (3.3 kw) charger, plug-ins may only add 12-15 miles per hour of charging.
- Fast charging typically charges a battery to 80% full in 30 minutes.
Charging ports may be located in the same place as a gas tank (BMW i3); they may also be located next to the driver’s door (Ford and Chevy EVs) or on the hood (Nissan Leaf). When on the road, EV chargers typically require subscriptions, so plan sessions accordingly.
To find a charging station near you, both PlugShare and ChargeHub are helpful resources. Simply enter your location, and it will show you a map of all nearby stations and whatever additional information is available for each one.
Understanding Your Electric Car’s Battery
We recently put out an article on what you should know about today’s electric car batteries. It’s worth checking out to understand more about battery costs, battery degradation, factors affecting battery life, manufacturer warranty, and tips for maintaining your EV battery. We’ve pulled some of the highlights for you below:
What factors affect EV battery life?
EV batteries are lithium based – when they are charged and discharged once, it’s called a cycle. A battery’s capacity will degrade as the cycle number increases. A number of factors can also pose an impact:
- High temperatures
- Overcharging or high voltage
- Deep discharges or low voltage
- High discharges or charge current
Tips for Maintaining Your EV Battery
Some examples include:
- Don’t leave battery sitting at 100 percent state of charge too often, because it’s stressful for the battery
- Avoid deep discharging of battery
- Avoid extreme temperatures (store in a garage whenever possible)
- What to do with EV if going away on vacation? Set charge level to 50 percent and leave it plugged in – if you can.
- Minimize fast charging whenever possible
Notes and Best Practices for First-Time Drivers
- While the above discussion is geared toward pure electric vehicles, the same applies to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) until their battery runs out of charge. After that point, the PHEV switches to gas engine operation.
- To take advantage of the power source while charging, heat or cool EVs before unplugging.
- Electric cars offer drivers detailed information on distances traveled, energy used and driving technique. Utilize the vehicle’s mobile app and onboard system to see how you score. This information can help you drive more efficiently and charge less frequently (i.e., save money).
- When charging, keep a close eye on the battery levels so you do not prevent other drivers from plugging in once your battery is full.
With a little practice, anyone can learn to drive an electric car with maximum efficiency. Whether you are driving a company car or your own EV at home, the effort is well worth it.