Electric cars: my first time behind the wheel
14 April 2021 | Jayne Wade
OVO writer and EV novice, Jayne Wade
This is the second in our series of EV Stories, where members of the OVO team share their first-hand experiences of electric cars. Read the whole series for insider tips on buying, driving, leasing, charging, insuring them – and so much more! Thinking of making the switch? We hope these stories can help.
“Oh no, we’re going to have to buy a car!” I said to my partner in a horrified tone one day, as our big move to Bristol loomed. Up until this point I’d avoided car ownership, worried by the emissions and the costs. But moving out of London car ownership looked increasingly likely. I mean, how would we cope without the capital’s amazing transport system?
Luckily, I needn’t have panicked. Because, in our little corner of Bristol, there is a thriving car club scene. And since most of those cars are electric, the tricky dilemma of “cheaper fossil fuel car” versus “pricier electric car” never had to play out.
Working at OVO alongside a bunch of electric car experts, I feel lucky to have a fairly decent knowledge of EVs. I’m aware that electric cars end up pretty much paying for themselves in the long run. And I know that the cost of buying one will eventually fall – as battery tech improves, manufacturers ramp up production, and the second-hand market expands.
But, on the flip side, I’m a consumer too. The price tag is daunting and for now, at least, the cost of buying an electric car is too steep for us. Enter the green car club…
Car clubs are a great way to get familiar with electric cars
Whether you’re thinking about buying one, or just want to know what all the fuss is about, joining a car club is a fab way to get started. It’s a bit like taking an electric car for an extended test drive! Car clubs are especially good if you live in a city and don’t need a car on tap – like us. Plus, they’re a greener, cheaper alternative to driving around in (or buying a new) fossil fuel car.
So what are the benefits of car clubs?
As it happens, there are plenty. You completely avoid car tax, insurance, upkeep, MOTs, or any running costs. And, since they live in their own dedicated parking spots, you needn’t jostle with the neighbours over parking. Bonus! Some research from 2019 suggests that London motorists driving no more than 2,000 miles a year could save £1,000 a year by offloading their own car and joining a car club instead.
According to Enterprise Car Club, car club cars produce 43% fewer CO2 from tailpipe emissions than the average car. It’s a positive impact that’s amplified by the fact each club car displaces 10.5 private cars and defers 12 private car purchases (which is exactly what happened with us!). This means the more car club wheels that hit the road the fewer cars there are on roads overall, improving air quality and congestion. And you’re also sharing the carbon emissions created when the car was made in the first place, with all the other club members.
The low-down on car club practicalities
If you’ve not tried a car club yet, they’re really easy to use and becoming increasingly popular (with over 25,000 members in the UK alone). Usually you pay a monthly membership fee (we pay £5 a month), then download an app which allows you to book your car by the hour. Car club electric cars are always parked in the same reserved place – hello, VIP parking spot! And they’re plugged in and charged up when you collect them.
The club that serves our area is Co-wheels. They operate in over 45 UK locations: from big cities like Glasgow and London to smaller spots like Frome, Orkney, and Lewes. And because they’re a social enterprise, they’re not for profit, which I love.
So far I’ve only driven a Renault Zoe and an MG ZS, but with each drive I’m learning more and more about EVs. It’s even shifting my position on whether we ever need to buy one at all. Perhaps car sharing is the future for us? Of course, it won’t suit everyone. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool car lover the idea of sharing might fill you with horror – fair enough. I’m speaking as someone who has a purely functional relationship with cars. Like fridges or cookers, I need them but you’ll never see me lust after them.
Here are 7 things I’ve learned as an electric car beginner...
1. Obvious when you think about it, but they’re all automatics!
EVs have motors not engines (of course!) so they’re all automatics. I’d only driven an automatic once, in the US 10 years ago, so my first trip got off to a slow start as I anxiously asked Google for help with the “gear” letters. (It’s laughable that I had to look this up, but for the record it’s Parking, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive.)
This little episode sums up my first encounter with an EV perfectly: I was nervous and unprepared. It’s testament to how easy they are that 3 or 4 drives later I’m a convert.
It turns out that 2 pedals are (predictably) much simpler than 3. Plus, without a clutch to worry about, you can wave goodbye to stalling, or any embarrassing crunching of the gears. In short, I’m a far better driver when I’m behind the wheel of an automatic.
2. The dashboard display shows you the charge levels of your car battery
This includes how many miles the charge will get you, among other things. Despite electric cars being so new and cool, once you’re inside they’re much the same as fossil fuel cars. It’s only the little things that feel different. I love the sci-fi-like “brrr-ing” noise the Renault Zoe makes when it bursts into life.
3. It’s easy to plug and unplug an electric car
My experience is limited to car clubs, but unplugging involves tapping a plastic charge card on the charging machine on the road. This stops the car being charged and releases the charger, so you can pull it out. Similarly, a button by the steering wheel releases the lock that connects the other end of the charger to the car.
You do need to concentrate a little to begin with. I’ve forgotten the order a few times, and have had to retrace my steps. But just like the first time I filled up at a petrol station, aged 17, what felt odd at first has quickly become instinctive.
4. Electric cars don’t growl aggressively, they hum softly
One of the first things that struck me is how quiet they are to drive. Rather than the growl of a fossil fuel engine, you hear a serene low-level hum: a combination of the electric engine and the ambient noise of tyres on road. Where we live there are lots of electric cars and vans driving around now, so even as a pedestrian your ears tune into this subtle sound.
We’ve all clocked how towns and cities have become so peaceful through these weird Covid times. And how nature’s subtler notes – birdsong, bees, and trees shivering in the wind – have been turned up loud for us. I just hope the electric rollout picks up pace, so we don’t mindlessly slide back to our older, noisier, more polluting way of living.
5. It's good to read the manual, first
Before I got behind the wheel of an electric car, I’d never driven a car with an “eco” button before. It’s basically an energy-saving function that’s used for cruising at low speeds through a city. But it’s definitely NOT meant for motorway driving, which I discovered in one of those “you’ll laugh about it later” moments when I attempted to overtake a lorry on the M32 and couldn’t accelerate beyond 59 mph.
None of us will ever read a car manual line-for-line. Some quick swotting before you hit the road is sensible, though.
6. Remember to stow your charger in the boot
As it happens, these sausage-like charging cables are quite pricey – so stowing them in the boot or on the back seat is a must. Leave them on the street and they might get stolen. Thankfully, I did read this much before driving off.
7. Electric cars please 3-year olds and 94-year olds equally!
To be fair, any car with a stereo equipped to handle the Frozen soundtrack on repeat is a winner with my 3-year old daughter. But she loves our drives in the “lectric car”. And at the other generational end of things, my 94-year old Nan is also a fan. When I dropped some Christmas presents off for her (at a social distance), she was blown away by the tech. Keen to know exactly how it all worked.
I guess what I’ve discovered over the past few months is that electric cars really can be for all of us. Yes, the cost of buying them outright still isn’t accessible. But with more and more of us opting to use car clubs like Co-wheels, surely it won’t be long until we can all enjoy a little slice of this amazing green tech…
Not yet tried one? Why not put it on your to-do list this year? (After hugging all your relatives, of course.)
Jayne and her daughter enjoying the EV lifestyle
Want to find out more about electric cars? Check out some of our other EV articles
- Are electric cars really better for the environment?
- Running costs of an EV: how much it costs to buy, charge and run.
- Smart EV charging: how it works and why you need a smart EV charger.
- Government electric car grants: the complete guide
Thinking of buying an EV? We can help you charge your electric car everywhere, for less. Our EV Everywhere tariff is designed specially for owners of electric (and plugin hybrid) cars. It comes with fixed energy prices for two years and free membership of Polar Plus, the UK's biggest EV charging network.