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What is regenerative braking?

‘Regenerative braking’ is one of those terms you may hear bandied around, but what does it mean?

Two people are crouched down on the floor, one is a mechanic showing the other something on a car

In simple terms, regenerative braking is a way for your electric car to reuse the kinetic energy it creates to charge the battery and boost overall efficiency, resulting in increased range and ‘one-pedal driving’.

How does regenerative braking work?

Regenerative braking in an electric car works in much the same way as some electric go-karts, in that when you lift your foot off the accelerator, the electric motor switches direction and creates kinetic energy that it sends back into the battery to keep it going for longer without charging.

When this process happens, the car begins to slow down, because the motor is now spinning in the opposite direction and therefore is not driving forward anymore.

Most cars can alter the amount of braking that happens when using regenerative braking, so the more powerful it is, the greater the braking force – which in some cars can result in one-pedal driving because you don’t need to use the brake to slow down in most scenarios.

Electric vehicle makers such as Tesla are actually working on cars that just have one pedal because the regenerative braking systems can be so strong, but we predict it’ll be a while before we commonly see something like that on our roads.

What does regenerative braking feel like?

When using regenerative braking in a car, it feels like the vehicle is braking itself when you lift off from the accelerator – and that’s because it more or less is.

Because the motor starts to spin the other way, the car slows itself down.

However, every car and every regenerative braking setting is different. Some cars offer a strong system whereas others may be a little weaker.

Depending on your preference, you can also change the intensity so it’s on full, half or completely off.

Why should I care about regenerative braking?

If you wish to harvest as much battery range as possible, then you might be very interested in regenerative braking because on more intense settings, you can actually extend an EV’s battery range by up to a claimed 30% on some models.

Think of it as free range (not the kind you’d find written on the side of an egg box in a supermarket, mind), and who doesn’t want to drive an extra few miles of range?

Do all electric cars have regenerative braking?

If you own a relatively new hybrid or electric car, then it’s highly likely it will have a regenerative braking system of some description – although you can't always adjust the strength.

The best way to tell would be to look in your owner’s manual or play around with the vehicle’s settings, or even just try lifting off the accelerator (at slow speeds and in a safe place) to see if it works.

Can regenerative braking improve my range?

You can reduce your car's energy consumption through regenerative braking.

If you want to maximise the range of your electric car, the strongest setting of regenerative braking can help conserve more energy and therefore improve your range.

Read more about hybrid and electric cars: