[Tiny Float GIF]Electric Milk Float FAQ[Tiny Float GIF]

Alright, maybe they are not exactly “frequently asked”, but they might be the kind of questions people might ask, given the opportunity, and cover some of the problems I encountered with my own milk float.

If you have any questions not covered, please ask!

I have tried to group them into broad headings, but other than that they are in no particular order.

General Questions

Q: Why are they called "Floats"?
A: This has to be the most commonly asked question of them all! There has been much discussion on this topic on the mailing lists, I receive a steady stream of e-mails asking this question, and there was even a radio phone-in on the subject in September 2004. There are many different theories around, but the real answer is that nobody really knows. The word "float" seems to have the meaning "delivery vehicle" only when applied to milk floats and, very occasionally, coal floats. However it seems likely that the latter usage resulted from the use of the word with milk, so it would appear that the origins of this meaning of "float" just aren't known. If you know better, or if you have an interesting theory, then please tell me!

Q: Why are milk floats usually electric?
A: There are several likely reasons for this: the most commonly cited one is quietness of operation, as the doorstep milk delivery frequently occurs in the early hours of the morning, before most people are awake. However, compared with petrol or diesel engine vehicles, they are also very economical to operate under the constant “stop-start” conditions of the milk round, and directly emit virtually no pollutants into the atmosphere. Sadly, as fewer and fewer households have a morning milk delivery, the length of the rounds and distance between stops is increasing, and diesel floats are gradually replacing electric ones as the most practical choice. But there are still a lot of electric floats in daily service.

Q: How fast do they go?
A: This varies between floats, but top speed is typically around the 15 to 20mph mark.

Q: How much do they cost to run?
A: This is tricky to calculate accurately, but based on the charge time and average power consumption of my own milk float, it works out to very roughly 1 kWh for each mile driven. My electricity supplier currently charges me 11.6p per kWh, so that's roughly 12p per mile, excluding maintenance costs, but this is very un-scientific and relies on a lot of assumptions and guesswork. Batteries are the biggest single maintenance cost, and these need to be replaced every five to ten years, depending on how the vehicle is used.

Q: How far do they go on a full charge?
A: Again, this depends on the individual float as they are often built to specific customer requirements, but 60 to 80 miles per charge is typical. Frequent stopping and starting, particularly on steep inclines, will significantly reduce the range. Unlike a vehicle powered by an engine, the most efficient way to drive an electric milk float is to depress the accelerator fully to the floor and keep it there. Charging the batteries is typically an “overnight” task, taking around 8 hours or longer.

Q: I'm making a film/video/tv programme; Where can I borrow or hire a milk float?
A: This is a surprisingly common question, but unfortunately I don't know a good answer to it. The advice I usually give is to contact some of the milk float specialists, post a request on the mailing list or contact local dairies. There are also specialist hire companies who provide vehicles for use in such productions, some of which may be able to provide a milk float. Please let me know if you have a better answer to this.

Q: Can I transfer a cherished number plate to or from an electric milk float?
A: No. At the time of writing, DVLA do not allow registration number transfers unless both vehicles are of a type that requires an MOT test certificate. This rules out electric milk floats. You can't even transfer a plate from one milk float to another. See the DVLA page on transferring number plates for more details.

Buying and Driving a Milk Float

Q: How much is a second-hand milk float?
A: A serviceable, second-hand milk float, with half-decent batteries, will set you back around 500 to 1000 pounds. A float in good condition with good batteries may cost more than twice that, and a fully-serviced and refurbished float with brand new batteries may cost anything up to 10,000 pounds. If you are in the market for a brand new float, have a look at the Manufacturers page.

Q: Where can I buy a second-hand milk float?
A: Have a look on the Buying page, or ask on the Milko mailing list. Auction sites such as eBay are also a potential source, but beware of misleading descriptions and go and give the float a thorough examination and take it for a run before bidding. Be particularly careful with batteries - leaving these standing in a discharged state for an extended period can ruin them. Floats that have been in regular, daily use are usually preferable to those that have been left standing. You might even find a discarded milk float at a scrap yard!

Q: Do I need a special licence to drive a milk float?
A: A full car licence is usually sufficient. Just check it covers you for category L (sometimes shown as a lower-case "l") which permits you to drive an electric vehicle. If you have category B (Car) you should have this as standard, but it is worth checking to be certain.

Q: Can I learn to drive on a milk float?
A: Not any more, unfortunately. Previously, it was possible to learn to drive and pass a test on a milk float, giving you a licence for Category l, defined as an "electrically propelled vehicle". This test was withdrawn in 2001, however.

Q: How much does it cost to tax?
A: Electric vehicles are exempt from vehicle excise duty in the UK. You will need to apply for tax in the normal way, and renew it every year, but you won't have to pay anything.

Q: What about the London Congestion Charge?
A: As "Electrically Propelled Vehicles", milk floats are exempt from the Congestion Charge, but to qualify for the 100% discount, you must register the float as an exempt vehicle. At the time of writing, it costs 10 pounds per year to register. More information and an exemption application form can be found on the Congestion Charging web site.

Q: What about insurance?
A: My own float is insured with NFU Mutual. Another good company to try is Footman James, and many of the “enthusiast” insurers will cover milk floats – many such companies advertise regularly in classic vehicle magazines and similar publications. However, the mainstream car insurers (e.g. Swinton, Direct Line etc.) will simply laugh in your face. Premiums vary widely - I had quotes between 60 pounds and 600 pounds!

Q: Do milk floats require MoT testing?
A: No, as electric vehicles they are exempt from MoT testing. They are still legally required to be roadworthy, though, and must be "taxed" (although this does not cost anything - see above). You must complete an MOT exemption form, DVLA reference V112 (available at the DVLA Web site).

Q: What if I haven’t got the Registration Document (V5 or V5C) for my float
A: You can obtain a replacement V5C by completing a form V62 (available at the DVLA Web site), provided you know the registration mark (number plate) and the VIN or Chassis number of the vehicle. If you purchase a vehicle without the V5 or V5C, then tick the box to say that the original document “was not given to me by the previous keeper”. If you don’t know the VIN, the DVLA can give you this over the phone if you can provide the name and address of the current registered keeper and the registration mark of the vehicle.

Q: Are milk floats allowed in Bus Lanes?
A: No. Only buses are allowed to use bus lanes during their hours of operation, unless signs indicate otherwise (typically this means bicycles and taxis are permitted in the bus lane). It may seem sensible to allow slow vehicles such as milk floats to use bus lanes, but the law is the law and you would be committing an offence by driving a milk float in a bus lane.

Q: Are milk floats allowed on Motorways?
A: Generally not. Unless the vehicle is capable of achieving a speed of 25mph on a level road, it must not be driven on a motorway. This rules out most milk floats. They can be driven on dual carriageways, but any vehicle which is not capable of achieving 25mph must display a flashing amber beacon when travelling on any dual carriageway where the national speed limit applies. The beacon must flash at least once per second. Note that, contrary to popular belief, there is no minimum speed limit for UK motorways; the key is the capability of the vehicle, not the speed it is actually travelling at any particular time.

Q: Do I need to wear a seat belt?
A: Most milk floats do not have seat belts, but if they are fitted in the vehicle then in general you must wear them while driving or as a passenger. The only exception to this is if you are driving less than 50 metres between stops, in which case you are not required to fasten your seat belt.

Technical

(Please note that I am not a “techie”, so some of this may not be completely right – corrections are welcomed!)

Q: How big are the batteries?
A: Battery voltage varies from 48 volts on smaller floats, to 132 volts on large models. (More details of W+E Float voltages.) The battery packs are usually made up of a number of individual 2 volt lead-acid cells. Cell capacity ranges from 200 ampere-hours to 600 ampere-hours.

Q: How big is the motor?
A: My own milk float has a motor rated at 8.4 kilowatts, which is approximately equivalent to 11 horsepower. The rated voltage is 60v, but the battery pack is 72v, so the motor is slightly “over-run” by design.

Q: How much current does the motor take?
A: Based on measurements on my own float, which is 72 volts, the peak current draw when setting off with no load on-board (apart from two people of average build) is around 250 Amps. Continuous current while running along a flat road with no load is around 110 Amps.

Q: How are the auxiliary electrics, like lights and wipers, powered?
A: Milk floats generally use ordinary 12V auxiliary electrical devices. Since the main traction battery is normally a much higher voltage than this, typically 48V or higher, separate arrangements must be made to provide 12V power to the auxiliary systems. The simplest and cheapest way to achieve this is to simply 'tap off' 12V from the traction battery. Even when combined with a load-spreading switch in the cab of the vehicle, however, this will inevitably lead to the cells becoming unevenly discharged, which may lead to overcharging of some cells. Most milk floats now use a device known as a DC-DC Converter. This converts the high-voltage DC from the traction battery into 12V DC for the auxiliary systems. This is much better, because it ensures that the cells are always discharged evenly. Occasionally a separate 12V battery, not linked to the traction circuit, is used to provide auxiliary power. This is much more common on modern electric vehicles.

Q: What about gears?
A: A milk float has a fixed-ratio transmission, and does not have "gears" in the usual sense. Speed control is achieved by varying the voltage applied to the motor, either using variable resistors, or more commonly by using much more efficient thyristor or pulse-width modulating speed controllers. This principle is still used on most modern road-going electric vehicles today, and "gears" on such vehicles are rare.

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