What is it actually like to own an Electric Car?

My wife and I have had our Renault Zoe – our first electric car – for nearly four years now, and we love it. But I’m also the first to admit that electric cars are not for everyone, at least not yet. They aren’t exactly cheap, and there are many other barriers to ownership for a lot of people. However, there is no doubt that they are the future of personal transport and I think it’s important to understand how they differ from their petrol-powered predecessors.

So, what is it like to drive? What is it like to live with? And what are the key differences between combustion and electric car ownership? Here are my thoughts.


The year is 2019. My wife and I had bought a house, and the prospect of starting a family was on the horizon. So, the time had come to trade in my wife’s twelve-year-old, two-door VW Beetle for a car with a larger boot and more doors. I’d done some research, and it seemed like electric vehicles (EVs) had reached the point where getting one was a viable option. So, we took the plunge and bought a 2015 Renault Zoe.

Photos of the Zoe, including the PodPoint charger we had installed at home.

As I said, we’ve now had the car for four years, and in this article, I’m going to discuss what I think are the most important things I’ve learned about EV ownership in that time.

I’ve done first impressions, a one-year update and a long-distance road-trip review of the car previously on this blog; check them out if you’re interested.

What are they like to drive?

Obviously, every car is different, and the technology has greatly improved since 2015! But from my research, most EVs seem to be similar. Because of the batteries, they’re usually pretty heavy, but have a low centre of gravity, good weight distribution and accelerate quite fast, particularly at lower speeds (the Zoe’s 0 to 60mph times are relatively slow, but the 0 to 30mph times are blistering!).

It’s not great at motorway speeds, where it tends to devour electrons at an alarming rate. But that isn’t a regular feature of our driving lifestyle. Most of what we do is suburban and city driving, and for that, it’s quite fun. There are no gears and no clutch, but it’s more like driving a go-kart than an Automatic. To top it all off, it’s quiet, comfortable and just easy to drive. For all these reasons, we love it.

But, of course, there’s more to the story.

Running Costs

One alleged upside is that EVs have significantly fewer moving parts than an internal combustion engine (ICE) car (I’ve heard that it’s around 300 components, compared to 1,200 in an ICE). This means there’s less to go wrong, so they’re more reliable. They’re also cheaper to ‘fuel’, especially if you have the luxury of being able to charge at home (more on that later).

At least, that’s the theory. We’ve had to have quite a lot of work done on the suspension and other components, as well as replacing several flat tyres (which are pretty expensive, as you need specialist EV tyres due to the car’s weight and torque). My wife feels like it’s less reliable than the Beetle, but this may be more to do with the fact that Renault has a worse reputation for reliability than VW, rather than anything to do with it being electric!


As I said, it’s great for most of the journeys that we make. But occasionally, we have to take longer trips, and that’s where you start to run into problems.

Now, I don’t really understand what a “kilowatt hour” (kWh) is, but fortunately, I don’t really need to. Our battery has a capacity of 22 kWh, and the car does about 4 miles to the kWh. Theoretically, this means that — on a good day — it can do around 80 miles on a full charge.

On a good day.

But not every day is a good day. My parents live 65 miles away, and in the summer, we can make it in one go. But in the winter, the range is reduced, and we have to stop to top up on the way (which adds 15–30 minutes to our journey).

It’s worth saying that this is less of an issue with newer cars. The 2019 Zoe can do closer to 180 miles on a charge, and most of the more modern cars can reliably do 250+ miles, but it is something to be aware of.

TIP: A good place to look up a car’s range is EV Database, which uses real-world data from actual drivers, and so gives more realistic estimates than the manufacturers!

A closer look at the charging port and the Zoe’s interior.


So, what about charging? This is one of the things that people seem to be most concerned about, and the thing that is most often misunderstood (or misrepresented in the media!). But unfortunately, it is currently a significant source of problems for the EV owner.

Your experience will vary depending on where you live.

Charging at Home

We are fortunate enough to have a drive, so we had a home charging point installed. We mostly charge at home, very rarely charging in public unless we’re on a journey close to (or greater than) the car’s 70-ish mile real-world range limit.

It’s not particularly rapid, but it will fill up the car from nearly empty in around four hours. We also have a cable to charge from a standard three-pin plug, which takes closer to eight hours.

Charging in Public

This is where it gets harder to argue the case for getting an electric car in 2023. Public charging can be a nightmare! Apparently, things are slightly better in London and the south, but we live in the North of England which, as usual, has been left behind!

The best-case scenario is that you pull up somewhere and discover that there is a free-to-use charger that you plug into and it just works. Then you go off to do some shopping, get a coffee or whatever, and then come back to find the battery a little bit fuller. They aren’t rapid chargers, so it might not be 100% full when you get back, but if you’re doing the weekly shop, you should add enough to be able to continue your journey.

This has happened to us a grand total of three times (and one of those chargers has now been “upgraded”, so now you have to pay for it)!

The more realistic outcome is that you find a charger, pull up… and then the fun begins!!

There are dozens of different charging companies, most of whom require you to either download an app and set up an account to use their chargers. Some of them even ask you how many kWh you want in advance, when most of us don’t know how much we need or how long it will take to add that much charge. This means a lot of faffing around, creating accounts and putting your card details into various apps. And that’s if they actually work and don’t have a fault, or you have no signal, or the payment doesn’t go through…

Tip: ZapMap is a handy app that can let you plan routes, including stops at charging points, and tell you whether a charger is working before you get there!

I’ve seen a few recently that are more sensible (and this is how I hope they all will work in the future!). You just swipe with a contactless card to start charging, then press ‘stop’ when you’re done, and they charge you (no pun intended) for how much electricity you’ve used. This is much easier, but it is not (yet) the norm.

A Change in Mindset

The biggest thing that I find myself explaining to ICE owners is the change in mindset, particularly when it comes to “refuelling” the car. You don’t just run your car until it’s nearly empty, then “fill it up to the brim” with electrons.

Instead, EV owners tend to ‘graze’. You stop at a services, or the supermarket, or the gym, then plug it in, do whatever you were going to do anyway, and then come back and find an amount of range has been added. And you don’t have to completely fill it up, as long as you’ve added enough range to get to where you’re going.

It doesn’t really affect you if, like us, you can plug it in when it’s sitting on the drive. But yes, it does mean you have to plan more carefully and stop for longer on long journeys. But you should be taking sensible breaks on long journeys anyway! I think of visiting our friends in Bristol, which is about 300 miles away. It would not be practical in our current car, as we’d have to stop four times on the way there and back. A newer car that did closer to 200 miles would be perfect, however, as it would easily accommodate our “miles to the bladder” range, and we’d stop to stretch our legs and take a break at least once on that journey anyway (just as we would in any other car).

Final Thoughts

So, my wife and I are, in general, electric car converts. But EV ownership is currently not without its frustrations.

They are more expensive to buy but cheaper to run. If you have a drive or a garage, and most of your journeys fit comfortably within a car’s real-world range, then I’d definitely recommend trying one out. But if you can’t charge at home or at work, and would have to rely on the public charging network… Then I concede that it is a much harder sell.

But do keep an eye on things. The technology is moving fast and hopefully, in the next few years, we can look forward to a cheaper, greener and significantly less frustrating future.