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.

Autocross Buying Guide – Select the Right Car

In my experience, autocross can be a very fun and exciting sport. I have participated in several events in my local area. I found the hobby to be very addictive as well.

Out of all my other hobbies, I think this one is the best “bang for the buck” as far as thrills go with your car. Everybody can participate. Every car (some clubs have exceptions to this though like no SUV’s, no Trucks) can race. The nice thing about this kind of race is that you are competing against others in your class usually defined by the SCCA, however, you are on the course alone so there is minimal chance of hitting other cars.

The hardest part about autocross (aside from learning how to race) in my opinion is finding the right car. Sure, you can use a daily driver, but that is not recommended if you are going to participate in several events a year. Autocross can create wear on the tires and other components very quickly and can get expensive very fast. I would recommend to get a vehicle that you can use for autocross. This can be a “trailer car” or a car that you can still drive on the road, but use only for this hobby.

There are 4 key components to consider when selecting a car for autocross:

1) What type of car to get
2) The Price of the car
3) The overall condition of the vehicle (if used)
4) Aftermarket upgrades/modifications


For autocross racing, some people would assume that the car has to be very powerful, small, 2 doors and modified. This is not entirely accurate. While that type of car would be nice, it is not required to be competitive in autocross.

Remember that most autocross events and clubs have the cars grouped in to some sort of class. The club I participate with follow the SCCA Class guidelines. The classes help group the cars so the same “level” of vehicles can remain competitive within each class.

This is done to avoid the “biggest and fastest is best” state of thought. It would be unfair to put a heavily modified Porsche GT3 up against a stock Ford Focus. This is why they do that.

So, to pick the right car for autocross, you would probably want a coupe or convertible FIRST if possible. Sedans can work well too, but some sedans are not geared for modifications, although, the sport sedans of today are really starting to take over.

Manual transmission would be recommended, however, if you have an automatic that is OK too. You may want to consider trading it for a manual in the future to remain competitive. Again, there are still “sport shift” type automatics out there that are getting better and better each day.

Ideally, you would also want a rear-wheel drive car for autocross. RWD cars typically provide better control and handling in most cases. I know some enthusiasts out there will disagree with me, but that’s OK. On the other hand, I have used several front-wheel drive cars that run with the best of them.


The price of buying a car for autocross is always the factor for me. I, like many others, cannot afford an expensive vehicle for autocross. There are, however, those that can afford it and price is still something for them to consider.

The $0-$5000 range:

This is the range most of us beginners want to start. Of course, free is GOOD, but consider the 3rd component (overall condition) when this option comes to mind. Several cars that can perform well and have a lot of upgradable options are the following:

1989-1997 Mazda Miata – Very nice power to weight ratio. It is VERY popular at autocross. 1979-1991 Mazda RX7 – Fast small car, handles well. Many upgrades available. 1989-1998 Nissan 240sx – Several aftermarket upgrades, handles very well. 1990-1999 BMW 3 Series – Very versatile car. You can find very nice models in this range now. 1988-2000 Honda Civic/CRX – I have seen several models compete well in autocross. 1984-1999 Toyota MR2 – Low center of gravity, great performance, mid engine. 1990-1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon – Many upgrades, some models Turbo AWD. 2000-2007 Ford Focus – Very competitive cars. SVT models available in price range. 1997-2003 VW Golf – Hatchbacks always like autocross. VR6 models available in range. 1990-1999 Acura Integra – Like the Civic, very competitive with many upgrades out there.

There may be a few more cars that I missed that fall under this price range. The method I use to hunt for cars can vary depending on the type I am looking for. I will use local classified ads, Craigslist. I will also use the bigger car searches and expand my general “hunting” area. I have successfully found great cars using VEHIX, AutoTrader as well as Government Auction Sites.

But what about the autocross cars above the $5000 range? Well, I am glad you are think that because I am about to list them below.

If you have some money to work with and want to get something newer, you can consider the following cars:

The $5,001-$20,000 range:

This range can include newer cars as well as pre-owned cars that are no more than a few years old. Remember, cars usually depreciate very fast, so as the years go by, some of the newer cars can be within reach for less money and are great for autocross. The cars below come to mind in this range:

1998-Current Mazda MX-5 – Still same basic car, but more power as they got newer. 2003-Current VW Golf – Even more modified than the previous versions, compete well. 1992-1997 Mazda RX7 – 3rd Gen is twin-turbo and can compete in autocross. 1992-2006 BMW M3 – M3′s are designed for racing. Some newer models will fall in this range. 1998-2003 BMW M5 – M5′s are very powerful and compete in their class well. 1994-Current Ford Mustang/Cobra – Very versatile car. Competes well in class. 1994-2002 Camaro/Firebird – Competes well in class. Many autocross upgrades. 2007-Current Mazda Mazdaspeed3 – Turbo, hatchback, competes well in autocross. 2003-2008 Nissan 350z – Great autocross car, very popular on the track. Special Autocross Kit cars such as the V6 Stalker fall in this range as well.

Now, this price range can vary in vehicles. A lot of these cars are still new and may require loans to purchase them.

The $20,001 spectrum will consist of some of the current-day models as well as the obvious “super cars” we all respect such as the Corvette, Viper, Porsche, Ferrari, Lotus and others. I will not include a list for those because if you are buying one of those for an autocross car, you did your research.


When buying a second car for autocross, treat it like when you are buying your daily driver car. You want the car to be relatively free of major problems. Autocross racing can put stress on the car’s frame, the suspension, the brakes, the tire and the overall body of the car.

You want to be sure that the car has not been in any major accidents. Frame repair or frame damage can be very dangerous mixture when you autocross. That is the MOST important thing to check for when buying a car for autocross. I have experienced and used the service by Experian called AutoCheck. They offer an unlimited number of VIN checks for one of their service options and the price is way better than the other services out there. I have used it when shopping and comes in very handy when you are checking the history of a vehicle.

The next important item to check on the car is major component problems such as smoke coming out of the back of the exhaust, major oil leaks (small leaks are expected on most used cars) slight/major overheating of the engine. Autocross is outside and you push the car to the limit. You want the major components to be in the best shape they can be. The mentioned problems can leave you stranded at the track if you do not look out for them.

I usually have some expectation to do minor repair or preventive repairs on my vehicles when I am buying to autocross them. As I stated above, small oil/fluid leaks are “OK” and can usually be fixed very easily. Small leaks tell us that the car is just used and may not be suffering from the leak as a result. Large/major leaks tell us the car may have been neglected by the previous owner and may carry residual problems unseen at the moment. When looking at a car, start it up, drive it around with the A/C engaged (even if it doesn’t work). When you are finished with the test drive, leave it idling while you walk around the car continuing to inspect it. If the car has an overheating problem, often this is the time it will show. This tip has helped me avoid several beautiful autocross cars that had an overheating problem.

Belts and hoses are my most frequent “preventive” repair I do, even if they are not a problem. It is always best to know when an important component has been replaced rather than to “guess” and trust the previous owner. Water pumps, too, fall in this category sometimes.

One thing people always check when buying a used car are the tires. Yes, this is important for an autocross car, but not to see how “good” the tires are, but to see if the car needs an alignment. Autocross is about handling and you need to be sure the car’s stock “handling” ability is where it should be.

Why not worry about the tires? Well, tires should be one thing to consider buying for your autocross car to begin with, so the existing tires should be removed anyway. Tires are probably the most bought wear item an autocross member will buy. A lot of autocross racers will bring a set of tires for racing, one for driving home (those who do not use a trailer) and some will even bring spares for the racing tires. This is so common that Tire Rack offers tires just for autocross. I have used them and they are the best place to get tires for this.


If you ever look into the aftermarket world of the auto industry, you know that there are literally thousands of places to look and buy. I will list a few spots that most people do not think to look, but surprisingly have things for the autocross fans.

First and foremost, autocross cars do NOT always need major upgrades to be competitive. A driver can use a stock vehicle and compete against fellow stock vehicles and remain competitive. Once you start to modify or upgrade heavily, you may start to move into different classes and compete with other cars that are equally modified. Keep that in mind when you want to change something.

Usually, I say modify the easy things first: Intake, exhaust and general tune ups. Most autocross drivers do not go far from that. These should be the first things you try to upgrade while you participate in autocross to get the most performance out of your vehicle.

If you decide to go further to be more competitive, my next recommendation would be suspension and body roll modifications. Please remember, certain upgrades in this area may change your class. Be sure to check your club or groups rules with these modifications.

Usually, the fastest upgrade to an autocross car would be front and rear strut tower bars/braces. They are usually inexpensive to buy and easy to install. They are also very modular meaning that when you buy these, they will work with other suspension components in place (usually). This modification helps stiffen the car’s suspension and frame and helps with cornering.

The next modification recommendation would then be the front and rear sway bars and links. These parts also help the body roll while cornering and handling and can sometimes be modular to the suspension system as a whole.

The final suspension upgrade is usually the most expensive: The struts (shocks/springs). This upgrade usually works well with the above items, but ads more stiffness, more response to the handling and sometimes lower the car overall for a lower center of gravity.

Once you have modified the entire suspension, my next recommendation would be to upgrade the brakes (at least the pads). This will help your stopping ability for those moments where a tap of the brake is needed during a lap. Please keep in mind that high performance brake pads usually wear much quicker than OEM.

One of the last things I recommend to upgrade is the tires. Now, I’m not saying that you should not FIRST buy new tires when you autocross, but I am saying not to UPGRADE them to an autocross/race tire just yet. Most autocross enthusiasts will tell you to get used to the stock/regular tires on your car first.

Once you get used to stock type tires, modifying them to a race tire or softer tire will actually improve your lap times (that’s the theory anyway).

One last note. I recommend replacing the fluids in your car with as many synthetics as you can. Synthetic fluids have higher heat resistance and can take the intense moments you will be putting on the car during the autocross laps.

Some of the places I have bought aftermarket modifications and upgrades are from the following: Tires- Tire Rack, General maintenance items/Oil/Filters/Performance, MyAutocross Store, Auto Warehouse

Model and make specific forums are also a great place to find parts for your specific car. Usually people on those forums are experts with that model and are constantly modifying it and selling the used items.

Now that I have provided this information, I hope it is useful to at least one person out there interested in autocross racing. I know when I started I had to learn my lessons the hard way and ended up buying cars that either were no good or were not “for” autocross. Please keep in mind that these opinions are based on my experience and knowledge. I am open to changing or adding items I may have missed. Please comment if you’d like.

Plastic Recycling From Cars

Plastic is one of the most extensively used materials in the car body. It is gaining popularity among car manufacturers these days. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that lightweight of plastics makes the vehicle more fuel-efficient. Fuel efficiency is an attribute that addresses the economic and environmental concerns. The reasons are that a fuel-efficient vehicle releases a lesser quantity of exhaust and also reduces the consumption of fuel. However, when the car reaches its end of life, it is this plastic that becomes a challenge to dispose of as it is non bio-degradable.

Three of the most used types of plastic in a car include polypropylene, polyurethane, and PVC. Approximately 10% of a car’s body weight is constituted by plastic. An auto wrecker can recycle this plastic to generate an income from it.

Let us understand the how plastic is recycled from cars:

• When the car is sent for dismantling, the functional parts are detached from it.
• After this, the hazardous material is eliminated so that it doesn’t pollute the environment.
• After this, the body of the car comprising plastic and metallic parts is sent to a crusher.
• After they are flattened by the crusher, these parts are sent for shredding.
• The shredded plastic and metallic parts come out as a mixture of clumps. These need to be separated.
• Metals, plastics, and fibers are separated using different techniques. Some of these methods are floatation, magnetism, size filtering, and manual filtering, etc. These not only separate plastics from metal but also enable grouping different polymer types.
• After grouping, the plastics are fed to extruders. These melt the plastic into a liquid which can be formed into shapes.
• Some recycling centers shape the plastic as per the requirement of the client. While others produce plastic pellets which are sold in the market. These are used to form products of a variety of shapes.
• Depending on the usage the plastic is further processed. For instance, food packaging industry warrants the plastic to pass purity standards. Hence, it goes through extra processing to ensure that there is no contamination. Consequently, it is priced high.

Automobiles are one of the major sources of waste plastic. Plastic is non-biodegradable and can harm the environment. With the growing concerns for environmental protection, plastic recycling has become mandatory. Hence, plastic recycling is a great means to conserve the environment. Recycled plastic finds applications in a host of areas producing a wide range of products.

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