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Mobility Prepare for an eerily quiet ride with battery-electric cars

The Hyundai Kona EV.

Jason Tchir

Gas is getting insanely expensive in B.C. and I’m seriously considering buying a battery-electric car, especially with the new federal rebate. But I’ve never been in one. I’ve read about the basics, such as the different types of chargers and where to charge, but is there anything else I should know about living with one? – Laurel, Vancouver

The most shocking thing about driving an electric car? Especially with the current crop of battery electric vehicles, it’s a lot like driving a gas car – without the gas.

But, after driving a bunch of the BEVs out there right now – including the Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Kona Electric, Hyundai Ioniq, Volkswagen e-Golf, Tesla Model 3, BMW i3, Chevy Bolt and Jaguar I-Pace – here are a few things we think you should know.

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They’re eerily quiet

A light usually shows that the electric car is ready to go, and if you don’t have the fan on, there’s typically not much, or any, noise inside at all.

Jason Tchir

When you turn them on, there’s no roar of an engine. A light usually shows that the car is ready to go, and if you don’t have the fan on, there’s typically not much, or any, noise inside at all.

That quiet can make it tough to tell whether the engine is actually off (so you can lock and charge the car). It also means pedestrians might not hear you coming. Some cars, including the iPace and Kona electric, play an artificial hum at lower speeds. The United States is requiring a sound on all EVs and hybrids when travelling under 30 kilometres an hour for all EVs as of September, 2020. Transport Canada says it’s considering a similar rule.

You probably shouldn’t use an extension cord

Since the charger draws a lot of power, a cheap extension cord might not be able to handle it.

Jason Tchir

Typically, BEVs and EVs owner’s manuals say not to use an extension cord if you’re charging at a 120-volt outlet (the slowest way to charge) – which, if you can’t park near an outlet, can make it tough to charge at home.

The reason? Since the charger draws a lot of power, a cheap extension cord might not be able to handle it. It could increase resistance and slow down charging, Rob Dexter, a BMW spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Longer cords only exacerbate this risk,” Dexter said. The cord could overheat and cause a short, or even a fire, he said.

That free charger isn’t always free

Some chargers are free, but you may have to pay for hourly parking.

Jason Tchir

If you can’t plug in at home, some chargers are free, but you may have to pay for hourly parking. For instance, at Sunset Beach in Vancouver, the two 240-volt Level 2 chargers are free, but parking is $3.50 an hour from 6 a.m. until midnight – to a maximum of $13 a day. So, if you’re charging, say, a Nissan Leaf Plus from empty to close to its full 363-km range, it could take more than 11 hours. Still, that $13 is cheaper than a tank of gas.

You’ll need lots of apps

You'll likely need apps for the different charging networks, especially for Level 3 fast chargers, so you can use chargers along your route.

Jason Tchir

Plugshare and Chargehub can help you find stations and see whether they’re working (they’re crowdsourced, so the accuracy depends on other users). And you’ll also likely need apps for the different charging networks, especially for Level 3 fast chargers, so you can use chargers along your route. Some charging networks, such as Chargepoint, let you order an RFID card, which you can use to activate their chargers even when there’s no phone signal.

Okay, the driving isn’t exactly the same

For one thing, an electric motor delivers all its torque pretty much instantly. That means if you step on the gas when the light turns green, you might peel ahead, and even get a little wheel spin. “A little bit of foot on the pedal goes a much longer way,” said Neil MacEachern, program manager for sustainable transportation with the Fraser Basin Council.

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And the regenerative brakes, which recharge the battery as the car slows down, can take some getting used to, depending on the car. On some, such as the Nissan Leaf, they can be set to deliver one-pedal driving where you can slow down and stop by just letting your foot off the gas.

Setting the level of regeneration while driving is easier in some cars – such as the Leaf, e-Golf and Kona, which don’t make you use the touch screen – than others – including the I-Pace and Model 3, which require the touch screen.

Expect a little resistance from passengers

Electric cars take a little getting used to from passengers, too. They might gripe when you take your foot off the gas and the car slows (“It’s a green light. Why are you stopping?”) or they might insist on keeping the range-sapping air conditioning on max, even though it’s only 17 C outside.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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