Are electric vehicles too heavy for multi-storey car parks?

The rise in electric vehicles (EVs) over the past few years is a positive step towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and minimising the carbon footprint associated with travel and commuting. However, with more and more EVs on the road, there are important infrastructure adaptations that need to be taken into consideration.

Some of the more obvious concerns include the availability of public charging points and the impact on the national grid as electricity demand increases. However, there are also growing concerns that car park structures may not be able to handle the increased weight should the majority of road users switch to electric vehicles.

In this article, we’re going to explore whether electric vehicles are too heavy for multi-storey car parks, and what solutions can be put in place to mitigate the risk of collapse.

Are EVs heavier than ICE vehicles?

The first modern EV models were only capable of travelling short distances between charges, which meant that they were small city cars. This meant that they often tended to be lighter than vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE vehicles).

However, as battery technology has developed, EVs are becoming more powerful, capable of transporting greater weights and completing much longer journeys. This means that the cars themselves are also becoming bigger to match their ICE counterparts. However, to deliver the power needed to run a larger EV, the battery alone weighs around 500kg, making the cars much heavier than similar ICE models.

The average weight of an electric vehicle is 2,276kg, compared to 1,914kg for a comparable ICE vehicle. That’s a difference of 362kg across the board. While this won’t make too much difference with just a few EVs on the road, the more people switch, the heavier our daily traffic will become.

Are car parks really at risk of collapse?

At the moment, the risk of collapse isn’t a pressing concern, and is instead something that experts and engineers are looking to mitigate well before it becomes an issue. Structural engineer and car park consultant Chris Whapples, who is working with the government to write new guidance for multi-storeys said that “there definitely is the potential for some of the early car parks in poor condition to collapse.” However, he also emphasised that there’s no immediate cause for alarm.

As well as advising on load bearing requirements, the guidance also stipulates that maintenance of these buildings should be improved to better monitor their condition and avoid structural problems in the future. It’s estimated that there are 6,000 multi-storey car parks in the UK, many of which were built in the 1960s and 1970s when car usage was much less prevalent.

The sale of electric cars has increased steadily over recent years. In 2018, only 15,510 new electric cars were sold in the UK, but this number has shot up to 267,203 in 2022. With the publishing of the government’s Zero Emissions vehicle mandate, which restricts the sale of ICE vehicles, we’ll continue to see more EVs on British roads, and in our ageing car parks. Unless we take action, there’s a real possibility that some of these structures could collapse in the future.

What needs to be done to accommodate more EVs in multi-storey car parks?

Along with Russell Simmons, the chair of the British Parking Association’s structures group, Chris Whapples has drawn up new guidance to increase the amount of weight the concrete floors in car parks are able to hold. While the loading limit is currently 2.5 kilonewtons per square metre, the recommendation is to increase this to 3 kilonewtons per square metre.

For some car parks, this can be achieved by renovating the existing structure, or knocking it down to build new premises that have been designed to withstand the new weight requirements. However, budget restraints or environmental circumstances may mean that these improvements can’t be achieved. These car parks will instead have to reduce the weight limit of vehicles allowed on site, or restrict EVs to parking on the ground floor only.

At present, these are guidelines only, and there’s no immediate cause for concern. But with thousands of car parks to get up to code, it’s important to consider the need for improvements and clear legislation sooner rather than later.

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