Electric and Hybrid Cars – The Wave of The Future

It seems like we’ve been waiting forever for electric cars to come along, but after more false starts than you’ll see at the London Olympics this year, it looks like the electric car is finally here to stay.

Now, we need to start with some boring terminology: A true electric car (EV, for Electric Vehicle) has no petrol engine as backup, so you are reliant on the batteries having enough charge to get you to where you need to go. The Nissan Leaf is the best-known (and best) electric car currently on sale.

A regular hybrid uses an electric motor and/or a petrol motor, depending on the circumstances. You don’t plug it into a wall socket as the batteries charge while you are driving. A typical journey, even a short one, will use both electric and petrol power to drive the wheels. The Toyota Prius is the most popular and best-known hybrid on sale around the world.

A plug-in hybrid, “range-extending” electric car, is technically more of a fancy hybrid than a true EV although it drives more like an EV than a regular hybrid. In practice it might be a huge difference or none at all, depending on how you use the car. A range-extender, or plug-in hybrid as it’s more commonly known, has a petrol engine which can be used to power the electric motor once the batteries have drained, but the petrol engine does not directly drive the wheels*. The Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt twins are the leading example of this type of car, and they claim an urban fuel consumption of 300mpg (yep, that’s three hundred. Not a typo!)

A car running on an electric motor is usually very quiet (eerie silence or a distant hum instead of a clearly audible petrol engine) and smooth (no vibrations from engine or gearbox). The response from the car away from rest is both immediate and powerful, as electric motors generate huge amounts of torque instantly. They’re quiet from the outside to, to such an extent that the EU is considering making audible warnings compulsory in the future as pedestrians simply won’t hear an electric car coming.

In terms of exciting handling, electric cars are usually not brilliant, it must be said. They tend to be very heavy and usually run tyres & wheels more beneficial for economy than handling. But as a commuter vehicle around town, they are zippy and efficient. Plus they generate less noise, heat and pollution into the street so a traffic jam of Nissan Leafs in the city would be a lot more pleasant for passing pedestrians.

The batteries on a typical electric car only give it enough range for a few miles (although a true EV will have a bigger battery pack as it doesn’t have to fit a petrol engine & fuel tank as well), so the cars use various means to charge the battery while driving. Usually this involves converting kinetic energy from coasting and braking to electric energy to store in the batteries. The Fisker Karma even has solar cells in its roof to charge the batteries as well.

However, a longer journey will inevitably mean that the batteries are drained. In a fully electric car that means you have to stop and charge the batteries, so hopefully you parked near a power socket somewhere and have several hours to find something else to do. In a hybrid, the petrol engine will start up to provide the power. In a regular hybrid like a Prius, the car effectively becomes an ordinary petrol car, albeit with a fairly underpowered engine pushing a heavy car around so it’s not swift. In a ‘range extender’ like the Ampera/Volt, the petrol engine provides energy to the electric motor to drive the wheels, which is more efficient in both performance and economy. Depending on how you’re driving, any spare energy from the petrol engine can be used to charge up the batteries again, so the car may switch back to electric power once charging is complete.

So what does this mean in the real world?

Well, how much of the following driving do you do? We’re assuming here that the batteries are fully charged when you set off.

Short trips (<50 miles between charges).

These sort of journeys are ideal for electric cars and plug-in hybrids, as the batteries will cope with the whole journey and also get some charge while you drive. A regular hybrid will still need to use the petrol engine, although how much depends on how you drive it and how much charging it is able to get along the way.

Medium trips (50-100 miles between charges).

These are the sorts of trips that give EV drivers plenty of stress, as the traffic conditions may mean you run out of juice before you make it to your charging point. A plug-in hybrid or regular hybrid will be fine because they can call on the petrol engine. In a regular hybrid, this means the car will be petrol powered for most of the journey. In a plug-in hybrid, it will be mainly electric with the petrol engine kicking in to top up the batteries if needed late in the journey.

Longer trips (100+ miles between charges)

Not feasible in a fully-electric car, as you will almost certainly run out of electricity before you get there. The regular hybrid is basically a petrol car for almost the whole journey and the plug-in hybrid is majority electric but supplemented by petrol in a far more efficient way than a regular hybrid.

The pros and cons:

Let’s summarise the three types of electrically-powered cars:

Regular hybrid (eg – Toyota Prius)

PROS: cheaper, no charging required, no range anxiety, regular petrol engine makes it feel like a regular petrol car

CONS: only very short journeys (a few miles at best) will be fully electric, small battery pack and weak petrol engine means relatively poor performance compared to a normal petrol car or a fully electric car, poor economy when driven hard (like most Prius minicabs in London…), not very spacious for passengers and luggage due to carrying petrol and electric powertrains in one car

Fully electric car (EV) (eg – Nissan Leaf)

PROS: powerful electric motor gives much better performance than a regular hybrid, larger battery pack means longer electric running, no petrol engine reduces weight and frees up a lot of space, £5000 government rebate, electricity is cheaper and usually less polluting than petrol, privileged parking spaces in certain public places

CONS: Still expensive despite rebate, minimal range capability due to lack of petrol engine backup, resulting range anxiety is a real issue for drivers, question marks over battery life, technology advances will make next generation massively better and hurt resale value, some driving adaptation required, lengthy recharging required after even a moderate drive

Plug-in Hybrid / range-extender (eg – Vauxhall Ampera)

PROS: powerful electric motor and backup petrol engine give best combination of performance and range, most journeys will be fully electric which is cheaper than petrol, no range anxiety, privileged parking spaces in certain public places

CONS: Very expensive despite rebate, question marks over battery life and resale value, wall socket charging is still slow, lack of space and very heavy due to having petrol engine and fuel tank as well as electric motor and batteries.

Electric Car Economics – is it all worth it?

For most people, an electric vehicle is difficult to justify on pure hard-headed economics. Even with a £5,000 rebate from the government, an electric car is expensive. A Nissan Leaf starts at £31,000, so after the government gives you £5K you have spent £26K on a car which would be probably worth about £15K if it had a normal petrol engine. That could conceivably buy you a decade’s worth of fuel! And there are still question marks hovering over the long-term reliability of batteries and resale value, which may bite you hard somewhere down the line

Electric Cars and the Environment

Buying a hybrid or electric car because you think you’re helping the environment may not be helping that cause as much as you think, if at all. Producing car batteries is a dirty and complicated process, and the net result is that there is a significantly higher environmental impact in building an electric or hybrid car than building a regular petrol or diesel car. So you’re starting behind the environmental eight-ball before you’ve even driven you new green car.

Beware of “zero emissions” claims about electric vehicles, because most electricity still comes from fossil fuel sources (like gas or coal) rather than renewable sources, so you are still polluting the atmosphere when you drive, albeit not as much and the effects are not as noticeable to you. If you have your own solar panels or wind farm to power your car, this is much more environmentally friendly.

Range anxiety

The biggest electric car turn-off for car buyers (other than the high purchase price) is the joint problem of very limited range and very slow recharging. In a petrol or diesel car, you can drive for a few hundred miles, pull into a petrol station and five minutes later you are ready to drive for another few hundred miles. In an electric car, you drive for 50-100 miles, then have to stop and charge it for several hours to drive another 50-100 miles.

If you only take short journeys and can keep the car plugged in whenever it stops (usually at home or work), this may never be a problem. But you can’t expect to jump in the car and drive a couple of hundred miles, or get away with forgetting to plug the car in overnight after a journey. You have to be much more disciplined in terms of planning your driving, and allow for recharging. Away from home this is still a big problem as there are relatively few power sockets available in public parking areas for you to use.

A plug-in hybrid like the Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt gets around the range anxiety problem, as does a normal hybrid like a Toyota Prius, but you are carting a petrol engine (and fuel) around all the time which you may not need, adding hundreds of kilos of weight and taking up lots of space, so it’s a compromise.

So as you can see from all of the above, it’s not at all straightforward. You need to carefully consider what sort of driving you will be doing and what you need your car to be able to do.

*there is a complicated technical argument about whether the Ampera/Volt’s petrol engine directly drives the wheels under certain circumstances, but it’s really boring and doesn’t really make any difference to how the car drives.

Stuart Masson is founder and owner of The Car Expert, a London-based independent and impartial car buying agency for anyone looking to buy a new or used car.

Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for nearly thirty years, and has spent the last seven years working in the automotive retail industry, both in Australia and in London.

Stuart has combined his extensive knowledge of all things car-related with his own experience of selling cars and delivering high levels of customer satisfaction to bring a unique and personal car buying agency to London. The Car Expert offers specific and tailored advice for anyone looking for a new or used car in London.

Master the Craigslist – Used Car Buying Tips

Why buy used?

A used car (be it 1000 miles or 100,000 miles) is much cheaper than that same car when bought brand new off the lot (obviously). Craigslist, aka private party, lets us find these cars for the best price. Read on to learn how to become a master of the used car buying and selling process.

Finding the right car

First, find a budget that you are willing to work with. If you do not have the cash, and if the car qualifies, a bank or credit union may offer a loan.

Always refer to KBB (Kelly Blue Book) for the current private party value of the car you are purchasing. This will give you a better idea on how much you should be paying for the car, as well as potential negotiating power to lower the price.

If not familiar with cars, we suggest finding a shop to do a Pre Purchase Inspection. That way you know the mechanical condition and can use it as negotiating power. The thing to remember with all used car buying tips, you must always negotiate the price.

Pro Tip Most people expect to get lowballed, so they set the price much higher than what they would really like to get.

A Note on Smog

If you live in a state that requires a SMOG check, make sure that the seller has a smog certificate included. Verify that the smog was completed within 90 days, otherwise it is not valid for transfer of ownership (CA).

Double check to make sure the registration is current. A lot of times, people sell their car for a cheap price only because they cannot smog it due to a Check Engine Light, or other issues.

Setting up for finding the right deals

On the Craigslist page, navigate to your location’s web page, then click Cars and Trucks by Owner. In the search settings, set the range from $0 – (Your Max Limit). I like to add about 20% to my max limit to allow for cars that can be negotiated within the budget.

After you save your search settings, and refresh your page, you will see all the vehicles in your area that are for sale.

Pro Tip Save this Craigslist page to your home screen on your phone and your computer, that way its quick access and you do not have to mess with the settings again.

If you have this on your home screen you will see it more often, reminding you to check the listings and therefore increasing chances of finding the killer deal.

Contacting the seller

Remember, these used car buying tips apply for all private party car buying platforms, not just Craigslist. When I sell a car, the biggest thing I hate is when people ask “is the car still available?”.

Be polite, but do not waste anyone’s time. Contact the buyer through phone call when possible. If it’s a smokin’ deal, it will NOT last on Craigslist. The phone is the quickest and most direct method. Do not dilly dally around and have the sweet deal scooped up by a car dealer!

When buying a car, I look at the person selling me the car just as much, if not more, than the car itself. Mainly, it shows me what kind of treatment and service history the car received. If the person was older, spoke intelligently, and looked wealthy, we found that most times the car was in great shape to match.

Most Important Questions to Ask

“How long have you had the car?”
“What kind of maintenance have you done with the car”
“Why are you selling the car?”
“Are there any leaks or major mechanical problems?”

Ask these questions over the phone, and try to get a general understanding of the car’s shape before going out to see it, especially if its a long distance.

Saving time is key, you would be surprised how often people say “The car is flawless” on the ad. Asking these questions lets you determine if they are honest.

Set up an appointment to see the car if you feel like the information you’ve gathered about the car matches what you’re looking for.

Getting Ready to Meet and Test Drive

When meeting with a seller, I always bring:

Scan Tool for Monitors / Codes
Powerful Flashlight (I recommend Streamlight flashlights)
Pivoting and extendable mirror to check for leaks
My Drivers License / ID
Cash (I bring cash with me, but leave it in the car. I only do this if the amount is under $3000. Anything past that I just go to the bank with the seller and get them the cashiers check or cash when the deal is done).

Anti-Lemon Used Car Inspection Checklist

Before the meeting

Verify the sellers has the necessary paperwork, aka Pink Slip, proof of registration, and smog certificate (if required by state). Although not necessary, print out a copy of the bill of sale form.
Use CarFax or Autocheck to run a VIN background on the vehicle. This is key!
Set up personal guidelines to the maximum amount willing to spend on the car.
Make sure you have the funds ready, or instant access to them in the payment form the seller prefers.
Advise the seller you want the car to be COLD for your test drive. We want a cold engine to get a complete analysis. This is a key part to the used car inspection checklist!

At the car

Engine Inspection – Use the combination of the pivoting mirror and flashlight mentioned above to peek behind components and around the valve cover, checking for leaks. Inspect everything carefully, pay special attention to the serpentine belt area and leaks around the valve covers.

Check for Codes – Connect the scanner and make sure there are no engine codes. Make sure the monitors for smog are all completed – if not, be suspicious.

Check the body panels and paint, does it all look even? Is the texture the same everywhere? Look for panels that are a slightly different color or hue, which may indicate a sign of collision that was already repaired.

Check all the paperwork before starting the drive – make sure they own the car and that they have a pink slip with their name on it.

Check tires. Are they a matching set? Good Tread? Any signs of uneven wear? Could mean bad alignment or an accident in the past that prevents proper alignment.

Check brake pad thickness through the wheels if possible.

Check maintenance records (see if big service items have been done, like timing belt and water pump if the engine is a timing belt engine)

Check condition of oil. Open the oil filler cap and look under for any foamy, milky substances, which MAY indicate sludge or head gasket issues.

Upon vehicle start up, check the exhaust pipe for smoke. Listen to the engine for any uneven running aka “misfire” and try to smell for coolant or oil burning off which would indicate a leak.

Look over the serpentine belt(s) and all other engine components for any signs of damage, wear, or leaks.

Peek under the car to check for leaks, rust, and damage.

During the Test Drive

Engine Check – Make sure to use some power and get the engine to a high RPM (don’t redline someone else’s car). Have the windows down and constantly monitor for noise from the engine, as well as the suspension. Note how the vehicle idles, it should be smooth for the most part. Keep checking the instrument cluster for warning messages as well as overheating. Be keen to any burning oil or coolant smells.

Brake Test – Come to some stops at different speeds/intensities and try to listen for screeching or grinding noises

Alignment Check – During the test drive, while on a somewhat even road, let go of the steering wheel for a few moments and see if the vehicle drifts to one side. Keep in mind, most roads have “road crown” and will slightly cause all cars to drift to the right, but a barely noticeable amount.

Transmission Check – Make sure the test drive takes at least 15 minutes, ask the seller for permission first. This will allow the transmission to fully warm up. For automatics, issues could potentially arise online when hot, and not be present when cold. You will feel jerkiness when the auto transmission is malfunctioning. For manuals, do a clutch test by engaging 4th gear at a slow speed and go wide open throttle – see if the clutch slips (the rpms will climb extremely fast like you are in neutral).

Wiggle Test – At about 30 mph roll down your windows do a few quick left to right steering wheel maneuvers. Listen to the suspension and chassis – it should not make ANY noises while doing this.

Suspension Check – Go over some bumpy roads, and take some angled driveways / turns. Listen for any binding suspension components which will present itself with a loud knock. Also listen for failing wheel bearings by rolling up all your windows and checking for a loud whirring rotational noise.

Interior and Features – Finally, check all the features. This means A/C, reverse camera, navigation, etc. Check all window motors by rolling up and down the windows. Make sure everything is working to your desire.

During the Test Drive, DO NOT:

Drive the car like you are taking a hot lap around the Nurburgring
Go on an extended period test drive unless agreed upon with seller
Do anything that would put you or the car at risk, cosmetically or mechanically.

Remember – an honest seller will often also have a car that is in fairly decent shape. Verify that the story they tell you matches the clues you see with the car.

Ask one of the previous questions to see if the answer remains the same this time around. If something doesn’t match up, chances are the seller is hiding something, and I would investigate further.

“Gut Feeling” plays a big role in this game. Be alert to your senses and you will not buy a lemon. This is one of the key used car buying tips.

Inspecting the Car

If inspecting yourself, print out and follow our Inspection Checklist

Make sure to find a professional shop to do a Pre Purchase Inspection if you are not mechanically inclined. Anything wrong with the car, especially when NOT told about by the seller, can be potentially used to reduce the selling price or to save you from thousands of dollars in losses.

One of the used car buying tips I want you to take away from this is that any car can be a “good deal” so long as the issues within the car are discovered and price lowered to compensate.

Seal the Deal

First, before anything else, make sure they have the pink slip, as well as the smog certificate. Verify they are the owner by asking to see their ID and matching it to the name on the pink slip.

Make sure the smog certificate states that it has been completed within 90 days, otherwise its invalid for title transfer. Other states may have more paperwork so get familiar with your states requirements.

Reach a price that both parties can agree to.

Do NOT be afraid of throwing out an offer. They just spent their time showing the car, and people hate to lose time. Most times they will take a substantial amount below asking value as long as you show them things they have left out in their ad.

Sellers usually prefer cash money, but if the car is more expensive you should pay with a cashier’s check. Since there is a lot of check fraud going on, sellers are typically sketched out.

Invite them to come to the bank with you while you have the cashier’s check made out. If both seller and buyer have the same banking company, an instant transfer can also be arranged.

After completing the transaction, make sure to save the sellers phone number for any further questions. Also ask them for any sets of spare keys, and service records they have.

Thank you very much for reading

My name is Anton and I’m from California. My website CarLifeDaily.com is an auto repair and used car buying and selling advice blog. Check out the website and make sure to subscribe to receive exclusive member-only content weekly!

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Brake Pad Replacement: What Are Anti-Lock Brake Systems?

Many people know Anti-Lock Brake Systems as ABS. This is a system that has been installed on most cars since the early 1920′s that was developed for aircraft. Vehicles only experienced the first ABS in the 1960′s.

The purpose of them was to control the car easier around corners. It also has various electronics that prevents the car experience wheel lock up. ABS is known to be a safety feature on all cars and it is standard to have the system installed by law to protect drivers.

ABS usually comes into place when the wheels lock up when applying the brakes rapidly. This system allows you to steer even when you are braking. This gives you the control you need as a driver.

Anti-Lock Brake Systems also prevent the car from skidding whilst braking. Any driver will know how dangerous this could be especially to pedestrians. Whilst skidding you also lose the ability to steer which removes your title as the driver but with ABS you get can grab hold of the wheel and avoid hitting what you were avoiding in the first place.

ABS works wonders as a traction controller. Sometimes in harsh weather conditions such as rain and snow, the wheels struggle to grip the road. The system helps the car to gain traction to continue driving comfortably.

A new system is also being developed for most cars. With the electronics and intelligence of the ABS engineers have invented automatic or self-braking. This uses the ABS software and a radar located in the front of the car to detect if the vehicle is about to collide with an object or another car. Of course, the system will alert the driver but if the driver does not react to the stationery object, the car will automatically stop.

Did you know that off-road cars have the function to turn the ABS off? The system doesn’t work so well on terrain such as sand and rock. The off-road car also needs to grip onto the rocks and the Braking system prevents the driver from doing this effectively.

All systems on your car have to be maintained and serviced at all times. ABS allows a smoother drive and a safer car in the end. To get the Anti-Lock Brake System checked you need to visit your closest brake pad replacement workshop to ensure that you and your passengers are safe on the roads.