Share
Struggling to get your head around hybrids? Exasperated by EVs? You’re not alone there.

With petrol and diesel cars set to be discontinued from 2030, we’re all going to need to get up to speed on a whole new set of acronyms, and some heavy scientific terms too.

In this guide, we’ve split the jargon by topic, rather than alphabetically. This should show how all the different concepts and terms fit together to get your electric car charged and moving.
Choose a topic to get started:

Charging an electric car

It’s probably enough to say that you’re charging your car with electricity but, as a quick reminder from school, there are three key factors to electric charging:

• Current – how fast the electricity moves through a wire, measured in amps.
• Voltage – how much energy a circuit needs to push the current through, measured in volts.
• Power – the end result and worked out by multiplying current by voltage, measured in watts.

The current and voltage dictate how fast you can charge your electric car, and the power is how much you can do with the charge before it runs out.
Ioncity charging

Electric car current

AC charging and DC charge
Electricity coming from the grid is always in alternating current (AC), but electric car batteries store power as direct current (DC).

Therefore, a converter is needed in the car or the charging point. The faster AC current can be converted to DC current, the faster the car can charge.
Onboard charger
Most plug-in vehicles have onboard chargers which change the AC power from the charge point to the DC energy that’s stored in your battery.

Some EVs offer “higher rate” onboard charging. They often come for an optional extra price because they’re capable of charging the car faster.
Single-phase or three-phase power
AC has two classifications, which can also impact on how fast your car charges. The phase limits how many kW can transferred from the charging point.

• Single-phase power – provides a single alternating current (AC) for up to 7kW charging from a dedicated charging point. Most three-pin plug sockets in UK homes provide single-phase power.
• Three-phase power – provides three alternating currents (AC) for 22kW charging from a dedicated point. DC rapid chargers need three-phase power to work.

Electric car voltage

Electric cars need a high voltage to power the motor. Modern electric cars have voltage level of 400 to 800 Volts (V).
Honda E electric car

Electric car power

Amps and Ampere hours
Occasionally, you’ll see an electric car refer to amps in the specs.

• Amperes (amps) – a measure of current strength.
• Ampere hours (Ah) – a measure of how much current a battery can supply in an hour.

Amps and ampere hours showcase the battery’s potential. The higher the figures, the more current can be supplied.
Kilowatts and kilowatt hours
The most common way of showing a car’s power is in kilowatts.

• Kilowatt (kW) – a measure of power, one thousand watts.
• Kilowatt hours (kWh) –a measure of how much energy is transferred in an hour.

In electric cars, kWh is a measure of a battery’s performance. The more kilowatt hours your battery has, the further it will go on a single charge. One kilowatt hour is roughly equivalent to three or four miles of range in an electric car.
Should I use ampere hours or kilowatt hours?
The industry, and therefore the cars, tend to use kilowatt hours (kWh).

As battery performance can vary, especially in older electric cars, kilowatt hours tend to give a better idea of how your car will perform.

To convert ampere hours to kilowatt hours, simply use this equation: kWh = Ah × V1,000.

Learn more about charging an electric car.

How is electric car economy measured?

An electric car’s efficiency is normally measured in distance and Kilowatt hours (kWh) consumed – the same as ICE vehicles measure efficiency using miles per gallon. It could be presented as any variation of the following:

• Kilowatt hours (kWh) per mile
• Miles per kilowatt hour
• Kilometres per kilowatt hour

This gives you a guide as to how long the car’s range will last.

Back to top of page.
BMW i3 interior

Charging points

You’ll plug your car into a charging point to draw power from the grid. Charging points may also be called:

• EV charging stations
• Electric recharging points
• Electronic charging station (ECS)
• Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE)

Public charging network

This refers to charging points made available for everyone to use. You’ll have to pay to use them, just like you would a petrol pump.

There are actually a number of public charging networks, run by different companies. Some only cover specific regions, while others are national.

Learn more about public charging points.

Residential charging stations

Residential charging stations are for those who live nearby.

These could be home charging points, which often wall-mounted (so called wall boxes) and use your home’s electricity supply to charge.

There are also a number of on-street residential charge points, for those who don’t have off-road parking. These often require a subscription, or for users to sign up to a tariff. There are a couple of types:

• Free-standing pillar units, which look like regular charge points
• Telescopic charge points, which retract into the ground after use
• Charge points that are installed into or onto lamp posts.

Learn more about charging at home.

Paying for public charging points

Just like petrol and diesel, you have to pay for your fuel. You have a couple of options:

App – some charging networks allow you to pay via a dedicated app.

Contactless payments – you can access and pay for some rapid charge points by tapping your contactless card.

RFID cards – a system similar to rail or bus cards, where you use a pre-paid card to access and pay for public EV charging points. Mostly used by older charge points. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.

Subscription – some networks charge a monthly subscription fee (like paying for Netflix every month), rather than you having to pay every time you use a charge point.

Back to top of page.
Tesla charging

Charging cables and sockets

Charging cables connect your plug-in vehicle to the charging point. The bit to pay attention to are the sockets (sometimes called connectors). There are a couple of different types:

Type 1: a five-pin plug with a clip. One of the earlier cables, but it’s pretty uncommon in Europe these days so no need to dwell on it.

Type 2: a seven-pin plug with one flat edge. This is the European standard, and the one you’re most likely to come across in modern electric cars. Common in public charging points and suitable for slow, fast and rapid charging.

ChaDeMo: a round, four-pin plug. Suitable for rapid charging and commonly used in Asian brands like Nissan. This is used in addition to the Type 2 cable.

Combined Charging Standard (CSS): suitable for rapid charging and used in addition to the Type 2 cable, CSS is common in German brands like BMW and Volkswagen.

Commando: another older cable type, similar to those found in caravans.

UK mains plug: the standard three-pin plug you get on the TV or kettle. One to avoid unless it’s an emergency.

Back to top of page.

Charging modes

Once you’re plugged in, you can start charging.

Some cables simply connect your car to the charging point and transfer power, while others use advanced systems to make sure you’re getting the right amount of voltage and current to your battery. These are called different charging modes. There are currently four:

Mode 1: you simply connect the car to the power, and it starts charging. Virtually obsolete nowadays.

Mode 2: uses inline circuitry to dictate how much current flows into the battery pack, to prevent overheating and other issues.

Mode 3: the charge point (usually a wall box) communicates with the car to evaluate the charging point capacity and get the best charging speed available. Mode three also turns power off when the battery is fully charged.

Mode 4: works in roughly the same way as mode three, but this is for rapid charging only.

Charging speeds

Now you’re plugged in and charging using one of the four modes. How long will that take though?

There are three main charging speeds, which offer different levels of power:

Slow charging. Normally takes between eight and 12 hours to charge an electric car, with power between 3kW and 6kW.

Fast charging. Normally takes three to four hours to charge an electric car, with power between 7kW and 22kW. Most public charge points are fast chargers.

Rapid charging. Can charge an EV to 80% in half an hour, with power between 100kW and 350kW. Not compatible with hybrids. Rapid charging can overheat and damage the battery if done in excess.

Back to top of page.
EV dashboard

Other charging jargon

Home charging. When you plug your car in to charge at home, usually overnight if you have an off-peak energy tariff. Dedicated home charging points are the best and safest way to home charge.

ICEd. When a petrol or diesel internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle parks in an EV charging point and prevents it from being used.

Smart charging. When the charging point, charging operator and your electric vehicle share data (usually via WiFi) to continuously optimise your charging.

Trickle charging. When electric charge is done very slowly, usually overnight, and most safely through a dedicated charge point.

Top-up charging. When you plug your car in for a short time just to top the battery up, like you might do with a phone.

Vehicle to Grid (V2G): transferring power from your electric car battery back into the grid, for example to use in a local building.

Electric car batteries and range

There are a few terms to spot when looking at electric car batteries:

Lithium Ion (Li ion) – most EVs use a Lithium Ion battery. They currently have an estimated lifespan of eight to 10 years and should retain at least 80% of their charge by the end of their life. As technology improves, these batteries are becoming better and cheaper – bringing the price of EVs down as they do so.

Solid State – smaller, cheaper and higher-capacity than Lithium Ion batteries, Solid State batteries used solid electrodes and electrolytes instead of liquid. Not widely available yet, but one to watch.

State of Charge (SOC) – this is the percentage of charge a car battery has. As it approaches zero, plan your trip to a charging point.

Learn more about electric car batteries, including how to prolong their lifespan: https://www.autotrader.co.uk/content/features/electric-car-batteries
Range – how far an electric car can travel on a single charge. The better the battery, the further the range.

Range anxiety – the fear of running out of charge and being stuck on the roadside, easily overcome by keeping the battery charged.

Range per hour (RPH) – miles of range per hour of charge. This helps you estimate how far you’ll be able to travel using your last charge. The RPH figure is normally displayed on charge points.

Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Transfer Procedure (WLTP) – range is measured using WLTP tests, which are the new European and UK standard method of testing car performance.

Learn more about electric car range.

Back to top of page.
Jaguar iPace

Grants and Finances

There are a number of grants and schemes available to support people buying an electric vehicle. The government body responsible for UK EV incentives is called the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

Electric Vehicle Home-Charge Scheme (EVHS) – also called the homecharge scheme, this is a taxpayer-funded grant that provides up to 75% towards the cost of installing a domestic charge point. Currently capped at £350 (including VAT) per installation.

On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) – funding made available to support local authorities finding and installing on-street charge points for residential use.

Plug-In Grant – a taxpayer-funded grant that subsidises up to £5,000 towards the purchase of a brand-new electric vehicles. Set to be cut to a subsidy of £3,000 for vehicles costing under £50,000.

Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS) – supports the up-front costs of purchasing and installing a charge point in a workplace.

Back to top of page.

Technical jargon

The inner workings of electric cars and their motors are quite complex, so we’ll just stick to the bits you need to know (or might need to know for a pub quiz, you’re welcome).

Acoustic Vehicle Alert System (AVAS) – all electric and hybrid cars must be fitted with this system, which produces warning sounds, to meet audio warning legislation.

Permanent magnet synchronous motors – the most common type of motors in electric cars, which use a mixture of magnetic fields and current.

Regenerative braking – charges the battery while the car is slowing down. Normally this is done by the electric motor, which acts a generator and allows power to flow to the battery and the motor.

Revolutions per minute (RPM) – same as in a petrol or diesel, it’s the number of times the motor’s shaft turns 360-degress in one minute.

Torque – a twisting force that causes rotation and is a major factor in acceleration speeds. Unlike ICE vehicles, electric vehicles can deliver maximum torque from zero revs – which can translate in some spectacular 0-60 times.

Back to top of page.

You might also like