What is range and how much will I need?

Explainer

Intro

​Range seems like it should be quite a simple concept, but as always there are complications. So let us try to clear the air.​

Firstly, the range numbers you’ll see quoted in our reviews and on the car maker’s websites are simply saying how far a car will go between charges. These are the independently assessed ‘official’ figures, but they are done in a lab, so what you’ll get in the real world will almost certainly be less.

So don’t buy a car with a quoted 200 mile range and expect it to do a 200 mile journey without giving you a few squeaky bum moments. They give us a benchmark though, so you can compare cars before you buy.

Having a long range is a real luxury, as it means you’ll be charging less. And you get more miles by having a bigger battery or more efficient car. But bigger batteries in particular are very expensive and they add weight, which in turn makes your car less efficient.

That means you really want to try and buy a car with the smallest possible battery for your needs. It will save you money and mean you use less power as you won’t be carrying around cells that you don’t really use.

So you need to work out how much range you really need to be comfortable. If you do a 20 mile commute, have a home charger and your longest regular journey is to see your gran 50 miles away, then you’ll be fine with a car like a MINI Electric or Honda e with a 120 mile real-world range.

If you only do a couple of big journeys every year, for a holiday say, then don’t forget you can stop at a rapid charger at a service station, supermarket or restaurant and top up. It’s worth spending an extra few minutes stopped and plugged in on those occasional longer journeys rather than having a big battery all the time but only using its full capacity occasionally.

If you can’t charge at home, then you might want a bigger range so you can cover a week’s worth of miles and only top up once a week. In this case, you might consider a car like a Renault Zoe or VW ID.3 which could do the commute and the gran visit all on one charge.

If that’s still not enough, then there are plenty of other cars which can cover bigger distances without needing to charge. Around 250 miles or more is becoming quite common now, and the most expensive models from the likes of Mercedes and Tesla will do 400 miles. That’s the distance from Heathrow to Glasgow!

​​Download our Beginners' Guide to Going Electric, produced with the Department for Transport.

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