Car Buying Tips

Answering Your 12 Most Common Questions About EVs

Between high fuel prices and increasingly urgent calls to curb climate change, Canadian shoppers are considering sustainability more often in their purchase decisions, which includes their vehicles.

According to Electric Autonomy Canada, more than one in 20 cars registered in Canada in 2021 was an EV, an increase of nearly 4 per cent from the previous year.

With many automakers reporting the heaviest sales increases in electrified and electric models, it’s clear that more Canadians are considering making the move into an electric vehicle, and the selection available as they enter the market in the coming months and years is about to expand rapidly.

If you’re considering an EV for your next vehicle, whether as a primary family hauler or fuel-free second car and have some questions, read on. We’re answering the internet’s most common questions about electric cars.

Are Electric Cars Automatic?

Electric cars don’t actually have traditional transmissions at all to shift, but in the spirit of answering this question, yes, they’re fully automatic. Ultimately, an EV works just like the automatic car or SUV you’re probably used to – just put it in drive and get going. There’s no electric car available with a manual transmission.

When placed in drive, an EV accelerates smoothly at all speeds with no interruption in power delivery caused by shifting gears, like in conventional stepped transmission. With no gears to shift, EVs make for a smooth glide up to speed.

What Is One-Pedal Driving?

Electric cars use regenerative braking, a process that allows them to recapture electricity while coasting, decelerating, or braking and use it to charge the battery. Regenerative braking is possible in vehicles that have electric motors connected to their wheels, like EVs and hybrids. Regenerative braking and one-pedal driving go hand in hand; with regenerative braking, some EV drivers hardly end up using their brake pedal.

When you’re driving, you’re either accelerating, coasting, or slowing down. If you’re accelerating, power is being applied to the wheels to make them turn. When coasting or braking, the wheels are turning, but no power is being used to keep them in motion – they’re spinning solely because of momentum. When coasting or braking in an EV, this momentum is recaptured and funnelled back into the car’s battery.

Some models allow drivers to set the intensity of the regenerative braking effect, enabling so-called “one-pedal” driving, in which the vehicle slows aggressively when the throttle is released, which can heavily reduce the need to work the vehicle’s actual brake pedal.

For instance, the Kia EV6 has multiple levels of regenerative braking. In the lowest of these, the vehicle creeps and coasts along freely when the driver isn’t pressing the throttle, just like the conventional gas-powered car or truck you’re used to. In the highest setting, the regenerative braking effect is much more aggressive. Now, releasing the throttle quickly causes the vehicle to slow down much more quickly, with no need to touch the brake pedal. Drivers can set the regenerative braking effect to best match their tastes.

Can Electric Cars Tow?

Yes, many electric vehicles can tow.

The GMC Hummer EV can tow 7,500 pounds, the Ford F-150 Lightning can tow 10,000 pounds, the Audi e-Tron can tow 4,000 pounds, and the Tesla Model Y can tow 3,500 pounds. The Volkswagen ID.4, which comes with a standard trailer hitch in Canada, can tow 2,700 lb as well.

Do your homework, though, as towing a trailer with an EV can considerably reduce its range.

In expert testing, some EV models lose nearly half their range when towing at or near their maximum towing capacity. This means that an EV might not be the best vehicle in your driveway to tow a heavy trailer for long distances, especially in the cold.

How Are Electric Cars Charged?

Electric cars can be charged in different ways, and owners typically create a charging strategy that works seamlessly for their lifestyle. You can recharge your EV at one of three levels.

Level 1 charging runs on 120 volts and involves plugging into a standard household outlet. This is the slowest way to recharge the battery, but for drivers who only drive short distances, it’s often sufficient. Every EV comes standard with the hardware for this type of charging.

An EV owner might plug in at Level 1 at home and at work and keep it plugged in as much as possible. Effectively, this car spends most of its time parked on a Level 1 “trickle charge,” which is plenty to cover the daily commute of many drivers. From empty, it might take a few days to fully charge an EV at this speed, but if you’re regularly plugging it in to top up the battery, it will do the trick.

Level 2 charging runs on 220/240 volts and recharges an EV much faster – about 10 times faster than Level 1. Some EV owners install a Level 2 charger at home, since it makes it more convenient to charge, especially if plugged in overnight to charge during off-peak electricity hours.

Level 2 public charging is also available in places like malls, restaurants, and other attractions, often with favourable parking (and sometimes, charging is even free). Many EV owners plug their cars into a Level 2 public charger while they shop, hike, or see a movie, quickly refilling the battery while they’re away.

For many EV drivers, plugging into a public Level 2 charger for a few hours during a weekend shopping trip and using Level 1 at home is more than sufficient. From empty, it might take about eight to 12 hours to fully charge an EV at a Level 2 speed.

DC fast-chargers (sometimes referred to as Level 3) are the fastest way to recharge your EV and they work great on longer drives where a quick recharge is required on the move.

Commonly found near popular attractions, gas stations, and rest stops, a DC fast-charging station can bring many EV batteries from low level to a high level (perhaps 20 per cent to 80 per cent) in less than 30 minutes, or add 10 kilometres per minute, ideal for a fast boost of range while you take a lunch break on a road trip.

Most EVs can drive a few hundred kilometres on a full charge, even in very cold weather. Since the average Canadian drives less than 50 kilometres per day, it’s easy for EV drivers in most locales to stay charged up, though colder temperatures do increase charging times.

Can Electric Cars Be Charged at Home?

Yes. Using Level 1 charging as above, your EV might charge at a rate of four kilometres per hour at room temperature, or one kilometre per hour in cold temperatures.

If you have a Level 2 charger installed at home, your EV might recharge at a rate of 40 kilometres per hour at room temperature, and 25 kilometres per hour in the cold.

Your results will vary depending on the age and setup of your home’s wiring, the climate where you live, and which EV you drive.

Online owner’s communities including Facebook groups and owner forums are great places to connect with existing owners and seek out useful real-life stories and advice about charging, home charging setups, and charging on longer trips.

What if I Don’t Have Access to EV Charging at Home?

If you’re unable to charge an EV at home (maybe you live in a building with no chargers), there are numerous apps available that will help you find local public chargers, allowing you to filter by distance, price, availability, and speed. It’s slightly more inconvenient and more expensive to charge an EV if you don’t have access to home charging, but it’s still very possible using the public charging network that’s expanding almost every day.

How Does an Electric Car Work?

An electric car is like a great big skateboard.

The deck is the battery pack, which is wide, low, and flat. At either end, there’s an axle with two wheels. In an EV, one or both axles has an electric motor powering it, which drives the wheels. Like your favourite electronics, EVs run on battery power and will need to be plugged in to recharge using electricity.

Most EVs look pretty similar underneath: a big flat battery in the middle, and an axle at either end, one or both of which have a motor on it.

For instance, in its rear-drive configuration, the Volkswagen ID.4 has a flat battery in the middle, a rear axle with a motor attached, and a front axle without a motor.

In an all-wheel drive (AWD) EV, both axles have an electric motor. This is why the Tesla “Dual Motor” designation can be taken to mean it has AWD.

What Happens During a Power Outage?

An EV needs electricity to fill up, so if there’s a power outage, you won’t be able to charge your car unless you have a gas-powered generator.

On the other hand, some EV models have Vehicle to Load (V2L) functionality, allowing them to power electrical devices like radios, compressors, heaters, and appliances, or even other electric cars during power outages.

Some electric models can also function as an automatic battery backup for your home if the power goes out. For instance, the Ford F-150 Lightning, using optional equipment, can automatically take over powering your home in the event of a power outage.

This same capability also allows some EVs to recharge during off-peak hours and power your home during on-peak hours, reducing your hydro bill and reducing the load on the electrical grid.

What Electric Cars Have the Longest Range?

North America’s longest-range EV models in 2022 include the Tesla Model S Long Range (652 kilometres) – among other Tesla models, Ford Mustang Mach-E California Route 1 Edition (491 kilometres), Hyundai Ioniq 5 Preferred Long Range (480 kilometres), and BMW iX (475 kilometres).

Generally, a long-range designated EV model commands a heavy price premium over equivalent models with lower range.

The average translation price of a new car in Canada is around $50,000, in the same ballpark as EV models like the Kia EV6, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia Niro EV, and Volkswagen ID.4, each of which offers a range of 400 kilometres or better.

What Electric Cars Does Ford Make?

At this writing, Ford offers two all-electric models. The F-150 Lightning is an all-electric version of Ford’s popular F-150 pickup truck. Priced from $68,000, it’s available with both standard-range and long-range battery options.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E is a two-row crossover SUV model, priced from $51,495. It’s available in four versions with up to 480 horsepower, and with a variety of range, performance, and equipment levels.

Can You Drive an EV in the Winter?

Yes, you can absolutely drive an EV in the winter. Many EV models have all-wheel drive, and with the generous torque inherent of electric motors, they can be quite enjoyable in the snow, especially to enthusiast drivers. With all that torque, you’ll need to ensure your EV has a dedicated set of winter tires.

When it’s cold out, it takes more energy to drive any vehicle, meaning you can’t go as far on the same tank of fuel or a battery full of electricity. Though cold temperatures decrease the range of all vehicles, EVs suffer in the winter more than equivalent gas-powered models.

After years of cold-climate testing numerous EV models, I expect to lose about a third of the vehicle’s range on the coldest days of the year, perhaps 25 below.

For instance, in a recent test drive of the Kia EV6 GT-Line, the 441-kilometre range of its battery in ideal conditions shrank to about 300 kilometres at -10°C, with the heat blasting.

That’s still more than plenty of range for the average Canadian, who drives less than 50 kilometres per day.

What Is an EV Heat Pump?

A heat pump is a device that moves heat from one place to another. There are many applications for heat pumps, including household heating and cooling, and the climate control systems in electric cars.

Some EVs are equipped with a heat pump to help them do a more efficient job of heating the vehicle’s cabin when it’s cold outside. Others use a resistor-style heater, which consumes more energy from the battery, leaving less range to drive the car.

To help minimize the effects of cold temperatures on an EV’s range, a heat pump moves waste heat generated by the vehicle’s battery and motors into the vehicle’s cabin when drivers turn on the heat.

By heating the cabin using warmth generated automatically as you drive the vehicle, there’s less drain on the battery, and less of a hit on the EV’s range in colder temperatures.

A heat pump can also help the EV better manage the temperature of its battery, contributing to longer range in winter driving.

Why Do Electric Cars Accelerate Faster?

Electric cars are often surprisingly quick thanks to something called torque. Torque is a twisting force, exerted on the wheels of the car by its engine or electric motors.

In a gasoline-powered car, the engine generates torque as a result of numerous mechanical processes enabled by moving parts that spin within the engine and transmission.

Each of these processes and moving parts causes a small amount of energy loss, and further, a gasoline engine only creates optimal torque output when it’s spinning at a certain speed.

An EV has an electric motor, not a gasoline engine. Electric motors make tremendous amounts of torque with no power-sapping processes required, and minimal moving parts. The electric motor has no optimal torque range either, as it generates peak torque output instantly and on demand.

Electric cars waste less drive power because there are fewer moving parts, so they’re able to get the power to the ground abundantly and efficiently.

Is EV Maintenance Expensive?

Generally, EV maintenance is not expensive. With far fewer moving parts than a gas-powered drivetrain and minimized failure points, the vast majority of EV owners report few if any major problems and issues as their cars age.

With no oil changes, gaskets, filters, or fluids to flush, many EV owners say that making the switch to an EV has reduced their maintenance to tires.

Some EVs require occasional inspection of electronic and other components, and others have special instructions that must be followed when storing the vehicle for an extended period, perhaps before leaving on vacation. Always read the owner’s manual completely, so you’re able to best care for the specific EV you drive.

The very vast majority of EV owners do not report the need to replace weak or dying battery packs, and new EV batteries are generally covered by warranties from eight to 10 years, and up to 240,000 kilometres.

A recent study from JD Power and Associates says that the Tesla Model 3 ranks highest in owner satisfaction among shoppers in the premium EV segment, while the Kia Niro EV is tops amongst mass market EV models.