Your questions answered

Can I take my electric car through a car wash - and other questions

We lift the lid on some of the more unusual questions posed by would-be electric car buyers

For thousands of motorists, choosing an electric car throws up all manner of questions – and not just the obvious ones either.

It highlights the need would-be electric car buyers have for clear, common-sense advice.

That’s why we’ve compiled some of the most common, and some of the more unusual questions motorists ask…

What happens if my electric car is struck by lightning?

There are protective fuses which will prevent damage to the car or its battery in the unlikely event of a lightning strike. Just as with any type of car, lightning will flow around the 'cage' of the external bodywork and safely into the ground. 

If you’re in the process of charging your car it is possible that a current surge could cause some damage, both to the charging point and your car's internal circuits. 

One Tesla owner reported error messages appearing when their car was struck while charging, but no serious damage was caused.

Can I take an electric car through a car wash?

This is a surprisingly common worry. In fact, one government survey discovered 42% of people thought taking an electric vehicle through the car wash could be dangerous. Of course it is perfectly safe, thanks to the 'soak test' which manufacturers put every type of car they make through. This replicates the heaviest rain and flooding conditions, to ensure the car is fully watertight. 

You can wash an electric car in all the same ways as you can with any car.

Do electric cars need special tyres?

Some people worry whether they need special eco tyres, and of course electric cars do generally come with low-rolling resistance tyres which trade a bit of grip or improved efficiency. You don’t have to go back to the supplying dealer for new tyres though - you can shop around for a good deal on replacements, just as you would with any other car.

Can you plug an electric car in when it's raining?

The answer is yes. Just take the same common sense precautions you would with any item of electrical equipment. That means avoiding rain dropping straight into the end of the connecting cable or the charging port. Dedicated domestic and public car charging points, and the car’s plug connection are all designed to be weatherproof, so it’s perfectly safe to leave your car charging in the rain.

What's the typical distance between charging points?

The average distance between charging points in England is less than four miles. However, charging points aren’t distributed evenly across the country, which means much longer distances in some areas. 

While you should still plan your route to include charging stops if you’re concerned about driving range, the charging network on major routes is now established enough that topping up your batteries should be easy. According to the charging point database Zap-Map, there are now nearly 19,000 connection points at more than 6,500 locations across the country.

Can you make an electric car sound like a different car?

Because electric cars are so quiet, especially at low speeds, new rules are coming in next year to ensure pedestrians and sight-impaired people can hear them. A standard has been agreed which means that one of a variety of unintrusive sounds will be emitted at lower speeds when the sound of the car rolling along is too quiet to notice. 

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But the only permissible sounds are limited to a mix of 'tonal sounds and white noise' similar to an ordinary engine. So, no. Sadly, you won't be able to give your electric car a supercar soundtrack.

How does the speed you drive affect the range?

Electric cars are well-known for their acceleration and Audi recently showcased a model that will go from 0 to 60 in two seconds. And yes, accelerating hard uses more power than if you drive more steadily. This is partly why there is a difference between the maximum claimed range you see in manufacturers' brochures and the 'real world' normal use figures we prefer to talk about on 

It's not just because the engine naturally uses more power to maintain, say, 70 mph compared with 30 mph. Some tests have revealed that frequent hard acceleration does significantly waste power, compared with approaching your desired speed more gently. If you insist on flooring it every time you pull away, expect about 20% less range on a journey - just like any other car running on one tank of fuel.

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Will the battery wear out?

We're all used to the rechargeable batteries in things like phones 'wearing out' over time. This is because all batteries lose capacity the more times they are charged and discharged, which is known as a 'cycle', including those you find in electric and hybrid vehicles. 

The evidence so far is that deterioration is very slow, so even after 100,000 miles and more you’ll likely still have at least 75% or more of your car’s original battery performance, if not a lot more. Some manufacturers offer guarantees to replace the batteries if they drop below a certain level of performance within a stated period, and there are also guidelines for best practice on how to maintain your battery pack’s performance, including not letting it run down completely. 

Of course, if you’re buying a used electric car, it’s worth asking to view the car with a full charge so that you can easily see what its estimated maximum range is. Even so, electric cars are already proving to be more reliable - batteries and all - than far more complex combustion-engined cars.

Can you tow a caravan with an electric car?

Yes, but you'll be limited to choosing certain models. It’s not because electric cars aren't well suited to towing, rather because their manufacturers don't usually certify them for towing. 

It's all to do with the combined weight of the vehicle and whatever is being towed. Electric cars tend to be heavier than conventional models, because of their large batteries, so the combined weight of the car and a caravan would affect braking efficiency. But it's a different story for plug-in hybrid cars and there is a good choice of models from manufacturers like Mitsubishi, Volvo and Audi that will easily lug a caravan.

Can you jump start an electric car?

You can jump start a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or a standard hybrid vehicle but a pure-electric car can't be jump started and must be properly charged. You may be able to connect jump leads to an electric vehicle’s 12V battery, to power some of the electrical systems, like screens and computers. But that isn’t going to get you back on the road if you’re out of charge. 

It’s also worth noting that many manufacturers recommend you don’t jump start another vehicle from a hybrid or electric car, so check your owner’s manual before trying to connect any jump leads.

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