A test drive on the electric side of the road ...

They are cheap, silent and clean, but what’s it like behind the wheel on an electric car? There is only one way to find out, so we sent Debbie Clarke for a test drive with a difference ...

There are a number of benefits to driving an electric vehicle (EV) as I recently discovered.

Debbie Clarke test drives an electric car, with Ian Murdoch from Energy Saving Trust'. Pic: FPA

Debbie Clarke test drives an electric car, with Ian Murdoch from Energy Saving Trust'. Pic: FPA

First and foremost they are cheap to run - they cost around 2-3 pence per mile, compared to 16 pence for the average family car.

There is no road tax and with zero exhaust emissions you are helping to improve air quality. EVs are also very smooth to drive with no engine noise!

I met up with Ian Murdoch, Scottish transport manager at the Energy Saving Trust, in Kirkcaldy to test drive a Nissan Leaf, which first became available to buy in the UK in 2011.

Ian said an increasing number of people are now considering electric vehicles (EVs).

He said: “EVs were starting to become available three years ago and at the time you could purchase one brand new for £26,000. Now though people can buy them second-hand a lot cheaper at around £10-12,000.

“That may appear expensive but in the long term you are saving money because you don’t have to spend any money on petrol.”

There is also the added bonus of charging your vehicle with free electricity, until January 2015, through Scotland’s network of publicly available charging points (the nearest ones in Kirkcaldy are at the railway station and the Thistle Street car park. There is also an EV charger behind Mind and Body Studio in Kinghorn Road).

Plus the UK Government is offering grants of up to £5000 off the cost of electric cars and there is currently 100 per cent grant funding available for a 32 Amp home charging point (they usually cost around £800).

Ian continued: “You used to just see an electric car on the road once in a blue moon, but they are starting to become popular because they are cheaper to run.”

I liked the fact that the Nissan Leaf stands out and there aren’t many on the road at the moment and I loved the smoothness of the drive. The interior is also impressive with a dashboard that looks very futuristic.

However, if you are looking to take the car on a long distance drive you will have to plan your journey in advance. With a conventional car you don’t have to worry about driving to Glasgow or further in one go but with an electric car, you can’t do it.

You are likely to achieve around 70-80 miles before you have to charge the car battery, but that is dependent on the weather conditions.

For example if it’s raining, foggy or cold you will need to use the windscreen wipers, headlights and maybe even put on the heater which will drain electricity (although you could just put on a jumper or jacket instead).

So you have to make sure you take this into account.

You also have to ensure you will make it to your nearest charging point.

Charging your vehicle at one of these could take between 20 minutes and half an hour or if you are charging your car at home, it can take eight hours to fully charge the battery.

But you do have the advantage of being able to charge your car at home avoiding the need to go to forecourts.

Nissan claims the 24 kWh lithium-ion battery will be good for 10 years and Ian said the rented battery can be leased for as little as £69 a month, so potentially there are low operating and maintenance costs with no new exhaust to pay for. The Energy Saving Trust says the average saving on fuel each year is £1400 which is definitely something to consider.

But don’t take my word for it - motorists are able to find out themselves what it’s like to drive an electric car this month. An EV test drive event is taking place at Fife Central Retail Park on Saturday, October 25 from 10.00 a.m to 3.00 p.m.

A free course to help save on fuel

Locals are also being invited to sign up for free 50-minute FuelGood driver training sessions and benefit from learning efficient driving techniques which will help them reduce fuel bills.

Energy Saving Trust Scotland - which is running the scheme with local environmental charity Greener Kirkcaldy - estimates motorists could save as much as 20p on every litre of fuel they use by adopting fuel efficient driving techniques.

Stephen Rennie, Energy Saving Trust Scotland’s transport manager, said: “Transport tends to be the second largest expense for most households and we’re here to help people reduce those costs and do their bit for the environment.

“With Transport Scotland funding we can now offer the training at no cost to the participants.

“We encourage anyone who wants a free, easy way to save money every day to book a place on the course – and be in with a chance of winning a break to Crieff Hydro Hotel and becoming Kirkcaldy’s Greenest Driver.”

The initiative aims to help Kirkcaldy drivers save up to £250 per year on fuel costs.

To sign up for the training, which runs until November 30, drop into Greener Kirkcaldy’s office at 254a High Street, phone 01592 858458 or email: drive@greenerkirkcaldy.org.uk

Completely free, the FuelGood course is with an experienced and approved driving instructor, using roads which are familiar to the participant. Participants need to have a full, clean driving licence to take part.

Visit: www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/scotland/ev