Problems and solutions

* What are electric cars?* How do they work?* What can you buy now?...

Problems and solutions

The biggest problem with electric cars is their range: how far they can be driven before they need recharging.

Improved battery technology is extending that distance all the time, but the fact remains that, if you were faced with a journey of more than 100 miles, you'd still be better off with a conventional petrol- or diesel-powered car.

Then, there are the issues of how long it takes to recharge an electric car and where you can do it.

You can refill a car with petrol or diesel in just a few minutes, but you're probably looking at an absolute minimum of half an hour to charge an electric car and even then it's unlikely to be charged to its maximum.

What about charging in public?
While the country is littered with petrol stations, finding an electric charge point is far trickier.

It might be easy enough to charge a car at home if you can park close enough and have a long enough lead but on-street charging points are still rare.

That said, more and more points are being set up as the Government, councils and employers try to encourage the use of electric cars. However, there's nothing even close to the existing infrastructure of conventional fuel stations; and it will be some time before there is.

Is there any point in buying electric, then?
It is widely acknowledged that most car journeys are well below 100 miles, so an electric car would be ideal for many.

If you're just commuting and can leave the car to charge during the day or overnight, you should not dismiss the electric car out of hand.

The 'range-extender' solution
If you need to travel greater distances, there is a potential solution to these range- and charging problems in the shape of so-called 'range-extended' cars such as the Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt.

Like a regular electric car, these are always driven by an electric motor and can be plugged into the mains to be recharged, but they also include an on-board generator (in the Ampera's case, working from a small petrol engine) to top up the batteries when necessary.

It is the inclusion of this engine that means we go into more detail on range extenders in our hybrid section.