If You’re Considering an Electric Car, Be Sure to Do Your Homework
Just a few years ago, many people may have never seen an electric car in person, unless they lived in a place like California where electric vehicles are popular and readily available. Now, several automakers offer compelling electric vehicles (EVs) nationwide. Today, it’s not uncommon to see a Tesla Model 3 regardless of where you live.
As electric cars become less expensive and widely available, more people are interested in buying them. There are many reasons – aside from the environmental benefits – to switch to an EV, such as superb efficiency, cheaper energy costs, less maintenance, and better overall performance. However, making the transition from gas to electric is a big step. Before you take the plunge, be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions.
We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most important considerations for potential EV owners, listed in the form of questions. While some include complete answers, others depend on various factors, including which EV you choose, where you live, and how you plan to use the car.
Read through the following information to decide if electric car ownership is something you’re really serious about. If you decide to move forward, be sure to get all of your questions answered before completing the transaction.
Read on to learn if picking up an EV is the right choice for you.
1. Does the Car Have Enough Range?
Many of today’s EVs offer over 200 miles of range on a charge, though there are still some that have much less. Tesla is currently the only automaker that offers EVs with over 300 miles of range. The Tesla Model S currently holds the record, with up to an EPA-rated 402 miles per charge.
With 200 miles of range, most people aren’t going to experience range anxiety during their daily commutes. Keep in mind that range varies regardless of the EPA’s estimates. Many factors impact a car’s range, such as your speed, your driving habits, the weather, and the car’s climate control. It’s wise to anticipate having less range than the car’s EPA estimate, just to be safe. If you travel over 200 miles on a daily basis, you may want to steer clear of most EVs.
2. Can I Charge My Electric Vehicle at Home?
One of the most convenient aspects of EV ownership is charging at home. At the end of the day, you simply plug the car in. When you wake in the morning, it’s ready to go. This means no more smelly hands from pumping gas, no more standing out in the cold, and no more pulling your car out of your garage to warm it up.
With that said, there are several important considerations. You can charge your EV using a standard 110-volt wall outlet (Level 1 charging), but it’s going to take some time. Level 1 charging adds about 4 miles of range per hour. If you don’t use many miles of range each day, this may work for you. However, if you deplete a full 250 miles of range, it will take several days to recharge this way.
Most EV owners hire an electrician to install a 240-volt outlet in their garage. This allows for Level 2 charging, which can add 25 miles of range per charging hour. Make sure to find out how much it will cost to add 240-volt service at your home.
If you don’t have a garage, you can plug in outside. If you have a 240-volt outlet installed outside, make sure it's up to code, and that your charging cord or station is designed for outdoor use.
3. How Much Does Electricity Cost?
Just like gasoline, the price of electricity varies depending on where you live. The average price of electricity in the U.S. is 13.28 cents per kilowatt-hour. In Louisiana, you’ll pay 9.5 cents, compared to 19.79 cents in California. Regardless of where you live or where you charge your EV, electricity will still cost you much less than gas for a competitor in the same segment. According to the EPA, fuel costs for a BMW 3 Series are over three times more expensive than charging a Tesla Model 3. However, there are details you should know in order to save the most money.
Charging at home is typically cheaper than public charging, though some public charging units are free. Electricity prices can vary based on the time of day. It’s usually much less expensive to charge overnight or on the weekend than it is to charge at peak times, such as weekday afternoons and evenings. Your local utility company can break it all down for you. Some utility providers even offer special plans to accommodate EV owners.
4. Are There Public Charging Stations Nearby?
While home charging is the most convenient way to juice up your electric car, you’ll probably need to charge on the road at some point. Some public charging stations are Level 2, but many offer DC fast charging, which allows you to charge your car rapidly. Some EVs can be charged to 80% in less than 30 minutes at a fast-charging station. However, there are many factors involved.
Make sure you find out if the EV you’re planning on picking up is capable of fast-charging, as well as how many miles you can expect to add in a given time. In addition, you should locate the charging stations in your area and on your typical routes, and then determine what type of charging they support.
There are many resources available, including PlugShare.com and PlugInAmerica.org. Charging networks, such as EVgo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America also have their own interactive maps. Tesla owners have exclusive access to the Supercharger network, which includes fast-charging stations strategically located nationwide.
5. Can I Take My EV on Road Trips?
Any electric car is capable of road-tripping. Whether it’s convenient or viable comes down to your route and your car’s range. If your EV offers 200 or 300 miles of range, you’ll probably be ready for a bathroom and snack break by the time you’re getting low on battery power.
There shouldn’t be an issue mapping out your trip and making sure there’s a charging station every three hours or so – especially if you’re traveling on major highways. However, you may have to diverge from the usual route to make sure you can DC fast-charge at each stop. Otherwise, your travel time will be extended significantly.
Many EV owners also own a gas car that they use for family road trips. If you don’t go on long road trips often, you shouldn’t worry too much. You could always rent a car for the annual family road trip and still save money using your EV as your daily driver.
6. What Electric Vehicle Incentives are Available?
The federal U.S. government offers electric car buyers a $7,500 tax credit. The full amount only applies to new, fully electric cars. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are also eligible for the credit, though it reduces based on the size of the car’s battery. Longer range PHEVs like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid qualify for the full tax credit, but the Toyota Prius Prime and Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid are only eligible for about $4,500.
Not all EVs qualify for the tax credit. The incentive phases out in increments after an automaker sells 200,000 electric vehicles. For example, Tesla and GM EVs are no longer eligible. It’s also important to note that not everyone’s tax situation will allow them to take advantage of the credit. Before buying an EV, be sure to talk to a tax professional to make sure you’ll get the credit. You can’t get the credit if you lease an EV, but the dealership can get it and apply it to the lease discounts. However, that’s not always the case. If you plan to lease, find out if the tax credit is applied or if the dealership is planning to pocket the credit.
States and cities also offer credits and incentives in addition to the federal tax credit. Make sure to do your homework to find out if you can get a local discount, financial assistance for a home charging system, or any other local incentive for purchasing an electric car.
7. Should I Buy a New or Used Electric Car?
Electric cars are expensive, so buying used will save you money. Interestingly, all new EVs are pricier than new gas-powered cars, but many used EVs are much cheaper than most used gas cars. This is because most EVs depreciate more rapidly than traditional cars due to the tax incentives and limited demand. However, this isn’t true of Tesla’s vehicles, which tend to hold their value better than most cars. Many used electric cars also have low mileage due to being relatively new and having range limitations.
Buying new guarantees your car will have a full warranty, the longest electric range currently available, and up-to-date tech and safety features. While batteries don’t degrade quickly, buying new still gives you the peace of mind that your battery is in tip-top condition. Finally, the federal EV tax credit and other electric car incentives aren’t available on the purchase of used EVs.
Many of the same pros and cons of buying a new or used gas-only vehicle applies to EVs, too. Read our guide on choosing between a new or used model to learn more.
8. Is it Better to Buy or Lease an EV?
If you’re in the market for a new EV, you’ll have to decide whether to buy or lease. EV leasing is much more popular than buying since electric cars are so expensive. While buying a car, especially with a low interest rate, is generally a more sound financial decision, it’s not a good idea if you can barely afford the monthly payment.
A $40,000 car loan with zero APR over five years will set you back almost $700 per month. You can often lease that same EV with a monthly payment that’s half that. Moreover, new electric cars are coming to market regularly, and current models are getting better every year. Many EVs get new technology and more range with each new model year. Leasing assures that you can take advantage of the newest technology or swap your car for an even better EV every few years. If your tax situation won’t allow you to get the federal electric car tax credit, you may benefit from the dealership applying it to your lease as a discount.
In the end, you have to ask yourself how long you plan to keep your electric car. Will you eventually pay off the loan? If you plan to sell it, realize that EV resale value may work against you. However, leasing means having a monthly car payment for a long period of time. Also, exceeding the car’s mileage restrictions or damaging the car may end up costing you when it’s time to turn it in.
Choosing to buy or lease an EV is similar to any vehicle. Our article on buying versus leasing can provide you with more information.
9. What Do I Need to Know About EV Maintenance?
Overall, electric cars require less maintenance than gas-powered cars. There are virtually no fluids to change, and the friction brakes last longer since regenerative braking assists with stopping the car. An EV’s battery and motor have the potential to last longer than the life of the car. In the rare event that an EV’s battery needs replacing, it can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $16,000, and that doesn’t include labor. For comparison, replacing the engine in a gas car can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the size of the engine and the hours of labor.
Fortunately, federal regulations require that automakers cover an electric vehicle’s battery for eight years or 100,000 miles. Keep in mind warranties can be packed with exceptions and exclusions, so make sure you understand exactly what’s covered.
10. How Much Does it Cost to Insure an Electric Car?
Insurance tends to cost more for electric cars than traditional cars. However, it has nothing to do with the vehicle’s safety. Instead, it’s because EVs are more expensive than gas-powered cars. More expensive cars typically cost more to repair. In addition, insurance companies take into account the high cost of EV battery packs. If an accident causes damage to the pack, and it needs to be replaced, it’s one of the most expensive repairs insurance companies will have to cover.
On average, you’ll pay 23% more to insure an electric car than a gas car. Some insurance companies are more forgiving than others, and rates vary widely depending on many variables. For example, State Farm’s rates don’t seem to increase much for electric cars, but Allstate charges a hefty premium. Regardless of the car you drive, be sure to shop around for the best insurance rate. Our auto insurance guide can help you find the best options to insure your EV.