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Electric car glossary – everything you need to know about EVs

Electric cars bring a host of changes, including plenty of new words and phrases; our glossary sheds some much needed light

We have over a century of petrol and diesel-powered motoring in our collective memory banks. We’re all used to fuel, and engine sizes being measured in litres, for example, and a car’s efficiency being measured in miles per gallon, or mpg.

Our knowledge of the internal combustion engine runs deeper than that, though: even people who may not consider themselves petrolheads are likely to be familiar with oil changes, clutch replacements and spark plugs, not to mention idioms like ‘give it some gas’, that ‘grinds my gears’, or ‘jumpstart’ this meeting.

As we shift towards electric cars, however, concepts such as these will be consigned to the history books or at least become anachronistic, and a new set of words, phrases and acronyms will enter our language.

There are quite a few terms drivers will need to become familiar with as the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars edges nearer and nearer, beginning in 2030, and it can be helpful to know about these ahead of time. Even the term ‘EV’ is a slight misnomer, for example, as this is used synonymously with ‘electric car’, even though it is actually short for ‘electric vehicle’, and applies to battery-powered vans, trucks, and more besides.

This glossary aims to act as a primer for buyers who are new to electric motoring. Click any of the shortcuts below to jump to specific words beginning with the corresponding letter that you want to know the meaning of.

A     B     C     D     E     H     I     K     M     O     P     R     S     T     V

A

Auxiliary battery

It may come as a surprise to learn that electric cars have conventional 12-volt batteries, just like petrol and diesel cars. These auxiliary batteries are separate from the main battery, and power systems such as the alarm, lights and central locking. This is because it is much simpler to provide electricity to such features with a relatively low-voltage battery, rather than use the 400 or 800 volts that are typical for an EV battery. Just as with petrol and diesel cars, auxiliary batteries are charged when the car is moving and they can go flat if the car is not used, so be sure you know where your car’s 12-volt battery is, and how to recharge it if it goes flat.

B

Battery

Battery packs typically lie along the floor of an EV

An electric car’s power source, which provides power to the drive motor or motors. EV batteries typically lie flat in the floor of an EV, and their size is measured in kWh, short for kiloWatt hour. The higher the kWh, the more electricity the battery can hold, and the further the car can travel on a single charge – although other factors, such as how the car is driven, also affect an electric car’s range. Car makers sometimes offer larger batteries as an upgrade; an entry-level car might come with a 60kWh battery, whereas the more expensive version of the same car might have an 80kWh battery, allowing you to go further on a single charge.

Battery health

Most of us have experienced mobile phones that need recharging more frequently as they age; this is an example of poor battery health, or battery degradation. When the first EVs hit the market, there were concerns that EV batteries would need regular replacement due to degradation. This has proven to be a largely unfounded worry, partly thanks to the sophisticated nature of battery management systems. EV drivers can help maintain battery health by using rapid chargers only when they need to (quicker charges are less kind to batteries), and by trying to keep their car’s batteries between 20% and 80% full where possible, rather than letting them get to 1%, or charging them to 100% every time – although most EVs will manage this automatically if you adjust the settings appropriately.

Battery management system

A battery management system, or BMS, controls how the battery delivers its power to the wheels, and how it is recharged. Batteries consist of numerous individual cells, and these need to receive or discharge electricity in a balanced way in order for battery health to be maintained. 

C

Charging

Perhaps the biggest of all EV topics, it will come as no surprise to learn that charging is what you do when you need to replenish an electric car’s batteries. Plugging a car into charge is like plugging an appliance in at home, only the plug is a bit larger. Charging can be split into two categories: public charging, and home charging. Public charging takes place at points that are open to all, while home charging takes place at people’s private residences. Charging speeds are measured in kiloWatts.

Charging: AC/DC 

Short for alternating current, your home electricity is delivered as AC, and you can charge an electric car with AC power – though this is best done via a home wallbox. AC charging isn’t as quick as the DC charging you will typically find at rapid public chargepoints, however.  

Charging: CCS connector

From left to right: CHAdeMo, CCS and Type 2 EV charging plugs

Short for ‘combined charging system’, almost all modern EVs come with a CCS connector, and it has become industry standard. CCS allows for fast DC charging at public chargepoints. A CCS connector comprises a Type 2 connector plus two additional pins on the socket that allow for DC charging, rather than the AC charging a Type 2 connector facilitates on its own. 

Charging: Type 2 connector

This is the industry standard plug for AC charging, and you can expect all modern EVs to have a Type 2 connector. Type 2 connectors deliver electricity at up to 22kW, though 7kW is most common. 

Charging: CHAdeMO connector

Short for ‘CHArge de MOve’, CHAdeMO connectors were presented as an alternative to CCS roughly a decade ago, but have now fallen out of favour and are essentially the EV charger equivalent of Betamax. The Nissan Leaf uses CHAdeMO for its rapid DC charging (and Type 2 for slow/fast AC charging), and the majority of public chargepoints offer a CHAdeMO connection.

Chargepoint: destination

Destination chargers are a type of public charger, but rather than being specialised rapid chargers at en-route locations such as motorway service areas, they are typically found where people often finish journeys – think supermarkets, restaurants, golf clubs, gyms, hotels and campsites. Destination chargers typically deliver electricity at 7-22kW.

Chargepoint: home/domestic

Most EV drivers with off-street parking get a dedicated home charger, sometimes called a ‘wallbox‘, installed

This, as the name suggests, takes place at home. Home charging is far easier if you have off-street parking, as this allows you to have a wallbox installed. Charging solutions for people without off-street parking include lamp post chargers, while landlords and people who live in flats can apply to the Office for Zero Emissions for a grant to help towards the cost of getting a wallbox

Chargepoint: public

There are over 30,000 public chargepoints across the UK, and a number of organisations – including dedicated EV chargepoint firms, oil companies and local councils – operate them. Most chargepoints offer pay-as-you-go open-access charging, sometimes with discounted rates for drivers who pay membership fees to the company operating the charger. Some older chargers may require you to become a member before you can use the charger. Public chargepoints include dedicated chargers, plus everything from lamp post chargers to destination chargers, which are effectively wallboxes that are open to the public. 

Chargepoint: tethered/untethered

Whether a charger is tethered or untethered refers to whether or not it has a charging lead that is permanently fixed to it. All rapid chargers come with tethered leads, but some fast chargers are untethered, meaning you will need to have your own charging lead to plug into both the charger and your car. You can expect modern untethered chargers to have a Type 2 connection, just like all modern EVs.

Charging speed

This refers to how quickly electricity is sent from a charger to an EV. Charging speeds are measured in kiloWatts, or kW, and this can be thought of in a similar way to how quickly petrol flows out of a petrol pump: the higher the kW, the faster the car will charge. The size of an EV’s battery is measured in kiloWatt hours, or kWh, which is equivalent to the size of a petrol tank. If you have a large battery and a slow charger, it will take a long time to recharge; if you have a small battery and a rapid charger, the charge will happen much more quickly – although charging an EV will take longer than filling a petrol tank for the foreseeable future. All EVs have a maximum rate of charging they will accept, with 50kW being the minimum you should expect, and some car makers offering faster maximum rates as an optional extra. 

Charging speed: slow

Slow charging is anything below 7kW. For reference, a domestic three-pin plug will deliver electricity at around 2.3kW, which will take many hours (think around 30) to charge an EV from full to empty. It is not recommended to charge an EV from a three-pin plug unless in an emergency, however, and you should not use an extension cord to do so, as conventional extension cords are not rated to take the high demand an EV places on the wires and plugs. 

Charging speed: fast

Fast charging refers to charges delivered at 7-22kW. A home wallbox will typically deliver 7kW, and while this may technically be referred to as fast charging, this rate of electricity delivery could take something like 12 hours to charge an EV from full to empty. 

Charging speed: rapid 

Rapid charging refers to electricity that is delivered at rates of 50kW and above. This rate of delivery sees a 20-80% charge take somewhere in the region of an hour. 

Charging speed: ultra rapid 

The Porsche Taycan can accept a 270kW charge rate

Ultra-rapid charging takes place at 100kW and above, and can see a 20-80% recharge take as little as 15 minutes. Many EVs will not accept charges that are faster than 50 or 125kW, however.

Charging: wallbox

A wallbox is a dedicated EV chargepoint that can be installed at your home. If you have a driveway or garage and are interested in an EV, you will almost certainly want to get a wallbox installed, as they can charge at over twice the speed of a three-pin plug, and are much safer. It’s worth investigating getting a wallbox before you buy your car, as some homes may need upgrades to their wiring to handle a wallbox, while some car makers will bundle a wallbox in with a new EV purchase. It used to be possible to get a government grant to help with the cost of installation, but these grants are now reserved for landlords, or people who live in flats. 

D

Drive motor(s)

Drive motors turn the wheels of the car. As with petrol and diesel engines, drive motors can turn the front wheels or the rear wheels, or front and rear wheels for a four-wheel-drive EV. Some EVs are offered with the choice of single or dual motors, with dual-motor versions being more powerful and offering better traction, while single-motor EVs tend to be cheaper, and able to travel further on the same battery.

E

EV

Short for electric vehicle, EV is often used to mean electric car, but technically applies to electric vans, trucks, buses, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters. 

H

Heat pump

With no petrol or diesel engine to keep things toasty, some EVs will use a heater element to warm the cabin, but many others come either as standard or optionally with a heat pump; this acts like a fridge in reverse, using evaporation, condensation and compression to warm your air. 

Hybrid

The Toyota Prius is arguably the best-known hybrid in the world

A car with both an electric motor and petrol or diesel engine. Hybrids can typically only cover short distances at low speed on electric power alone. Hybrids are sometimes called HEVs, short for hybrid electric vehicles. Note a ‘mild hybrid’ is not the same as a hybrid, with mild hybrids essentially being conventional petrol and diesel cars that can coast with the engine off, or use a very small motor to help with acceleration. 

I

ICE

Short for ‘internal combustion engine’ – essentially a petrol or diesel car. If you ever hear anyone talking about getting ICEd, this is when someone with a petrol or diesel car parks at an EV chargepoint, blocking it from use. 

K

KiloWatt (kW)

The rate at which electricity flows – an important metric for EV charging. The ‘W’ tends to be capitalised as Watts are named after James Watt, who developed the concept of horsepower. 

KiloWatt hours (kWh)

A kWh is a unit of electricity, and is the measure by which the size of an EV’s battery is gauged. A small EV battery might be 25kWh, whereas a large EV battery can be over 100kWh. While real-world performance may vary, a 50kWh battery will take an hour to charge from a 50kW charger, whereas a 100kWh battery would take two hours. 

M

Miles per kWh

While once we were all familiar with miles per gallon, soon we will all get to know miles per kWh, or kiloWatt hour. As with mpg, the higher the figure, the more efficient the car is, although the numbers tend to be lower. Five miles per kWh is strong efficiency, whereas two is low. As an example, an EV with a 50kWh battery would cover 250 miles if it was returning five miles per kWh, but only 100 miles at two miles per kWh.

O

Office for Zero Emission Vehicles

Previously the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), now rebranded with a focus on zero (exhaust) emission vehicles, OLEZ is the government agency in charge of incentives and support for electric cars, such as the Plug-in Car Grant. 

P

Plug-in Car Grant

The Plug-in Car Grant, or PiCG, was a government-funded discount applied to new electric cars. The scheme has now ended, having contributed £1.4 billion to almost half a million new EVs.

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)

The Mitsubishi Outlander popularised plug-in hybrids; most manufacturers now offer such cars

A car with a petrol or diesel engine and an electric motor; the difference between a PHEV and a conventional hybrid is that a PHEV’s batteries can also be charged using a home or public charger, whereas a conventional hybrid’s batteries cannot, being charged using the engine, or regenerative braking. A PHEV will also be able to travel for between 20 and 80 miles on battery power alone, and at higher speeds (EG 80mph) than conventional hybrids

Pre heating

Using the heater in an EV uses power from the main battery, negatively affecting its range. Using pre heating warms the cabin when the car is plugged in and charging, meaning the initial warming or cooling of the cabin is not drawn from the battery. This is a convenience feature, as the car is toasty or cool before you get in, as well as being beneficial for range.  

R

Range

How far an EV can travel on a single charge, range is measured in miles. Numerous factors can influence an EV’s range. These include: the size of the battery; the efficiency of the battery chemistry; the weight and aerodynamic properties of the of the car; the outside temperature (batteries don’t perform so well in the cold); how the car is driven (a heavy right foot will see the range shrink); how quickly the car is travelling (high-speed cruising is less energy efficient than low-speed cruising); and whether the car is travelling uphill.

Range anxiety

This is the emotional state of being worried about running out of charge, or being able to recharge when needed. Range anxiety can often be mitigated by planning charger stops at specific points on longer journeys, and tends to dissipate as owners become familiar with EV motoring.

Range extender 

The BMW i3 used to be available as a REx

While the batteries and electric motor in a conventional hybrid and plug-in hybrid can power the car’s wheels directly, a range extender, sometimes shortened to ‘REx’, is essentially an electric car with a small engine that acts as a generator. The generator does not drive the car’s wheels directly, instead charging up the batteries if they become low. 

Regenerative braking

Regenerative braking, sometimes shortened to ‘regen’, refers to using energy generated by an EV’s brakes to add charge back into the battery. Many electric cars allow you to alter, typically by paddles either side of the steering wheel, or via the car’s infotainment system, how much regen is applied. Heavy regen essentially feels like the car is braking for itself when you lift off the accelerator, and while a curious sensation at first, often becomes second nature to the extent some EV drivers need to use the brakes so little they refer to ‘one-pedal driving’.

S

Smart charging

Dumb charging simply sees you plug your car into a charger and electricity be delivered to it. Smart charging introduces an internet connection between the car, the charger and the electricity grid. This can allow your car to charge when electricity demand elsewhere on the grid is low, or when tariffs are cheaper. Our detailed guide for smart charging contains more information. 

State of charge

Quite simply the amount of electricity presently in your car’s battery. State of charge, or SoC, can be thought of as equivalent to the amount of petrol in a tank, although it tends to be expressed as a percentage. 

T

Tesla Supercharger

Superchargers can usually only be used by Teslas, though a pilot scheme is making some open access

The proprietary name for Tesla’s brand of chargers. Superchargers used to only work with Tesla cars, and while this is still largely the case, a trial is opening up around 15% of Tesla’s UK Superchargers to other car makers’ EVs, with Tesla planning to make all its Superchargers open access in the future. 

Three phase

This is a type of electricity supply that allows for 11kW or 22kW charging to take place at your home. Upgrading your electrics to three-phase is not a simple or cheap task though, costing upwards of £4,000, and requiring an application to the Distribution Network Operator, which is the company that owns the power lines and electricity infrastructure in your area. 

V

Vehicle to grid (V2G)

This is a type of smart charging that allows electricity to be sent from an EV to the electricity grid, rather than the other way around. Vehicle to Grid, often shortened to V2G, can largely be thought of as being in an experimental phase at present, but could be used in the future to help balance the electricity grid during times of high demand, or store electricity if wind and solar sources are generating more power than the grid needs at that point.   

Vehicle to load

Also known as V2L, this sees an EV turn into a source of power for other items that run on electricity. A number of electric cars offer V2L, often as an optional extra, and the system works by an adaptor plugging into the car’s charging port, and an electrical appliance plugging into the adaptor – allowing you to run anything from a television to a coffee machine from your car – although there are limits to how much electricity can be drawn from a V2L car.

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