6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying An Electric Vehicle

Mature woman in pink jacket plugging in the charger at home on her electric vehicle

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Every car purchase comes with plenty to ponder, from the cost and size of your future ride to the bells and whistles you can’t live without. Afterall, a new or used car is one of the biggest buys you can make besides purchasing a home. But when it comes to considering an electric vehicle (EV), there are unique factors to consider, like how far it can get on a charge, where you’ll charge it, and more. 

As automakers hone their electric offerings, EVs are more attractive from a performance and price perspective. Batteries are safe and efficient, which means longer ranges that can compete with gas-powered cars. The nation’s charging infrastructure is improving too, assuaging range anxiety. 

Electric make and model options are also more and more robust. “There's quickly becoming an EV for whatever you want to do,” says Sara Lacey, managing editor at A Girls Guide to Cars. “Whether you are looking for a nice compact city car, a high-performance EV, or even a pick-up truck for towing or camping, those exist now.”

Is your household ready to bypass the gas pump for good? Consider these questions to see if the switch is right for you.

Does The EV Have Enough Range for My Lifestyle?

A few years ago, it was rare for an electric vehicle to have a range greater than 200 miles per charge, but, with improvements in technology, “EVs manufactured in the last year are gunning for 300 miles of range per charge, and that puts a lot of people at ease as far as range anxiety,” says Joseph Yoon, a consumer insights analyst at Edmunds. Yoon adds that for gas cars, “Most people, when driving around town, are getting around 300 to 350 miles per tank – 400 if you have a more efficient car.” Thus the 300-mile sweet spot of EVs now approaches – or meets – the mile-per-tank capacity of gas-powered cars. So with typical driving around your homebase and a charge that can meet the range of a gas engine, an EV may be as, or even more, convenient for you than a gas car (more on that below). 

The caveat is longer journeys, which require a bit more planning, since charging stations aren’t yet as ubiquitous as gas, and charging takes longer (about 30 minutes at a fast-charging station versus a few minutes at the pump). This may not be a road trip deal breaker if you can use the time for a food, restroom, and stretch break.

How Will I Charge My Electric Vehicle?

If your EV is primarily used for errands around town and shorter commutes, charging likely won’t be a stressor, and is particularly convenient if you can recharge at home. You can charge an EV using a standard 110-volt outlet, also known as “level 1 charging,” which gets you about 3-5 miles of charge per hour. 

Many EV owners opt to install a 240-volt outlet, the same kind used to power larger appliances, like clothes dryers and refrigerators, which facilitates “level 2 charging.” This level gets you around 25 miles of charge per hour. According to fueleconomy.gov, “home charger units generally cost between about $400 and $1,000.” The installation cost will vary based on the electrician, required permits, and complexity of the job. “Incentives may be available in your state or local area that offset some of the cost,” and some car manufacturers offer charging incentives as well. Level 3 charging, also known as DC, is the fastest option, and can be found at public charging stations.

If an at-home set-up isn’t an option, you’ll need to factor charging into your schedule, since it’s a more time-consuming errand than topping off a gas tank. Many multi-family residences, workplaces, grocery stores, and shopping malls have charging stations on-site and sometimes for free, which can be very convenient if they’re not in high demand. 

EV navigation systems make finding a charging station easy, as do specific charging company apps, like ChargePoint, Electrify America, Tesla, EVgo, and Blink, which allow you to locate stations based on your location and route. EV onboard computers also provide the amount of miles you’ll have left after a trip, says Lacey. “When I put in my EV navigation where I am going, it will tell me approximately what I’ll have remaining on my battery when I get there so I know I’m OK to get home without any stress. All the EVs that I’ve tested have that feature.”

 What Kind of Maintenance Should I Expect?

“Maintenance is one of the biggest upsides of owning an EV,” Yoon says. “It’s a very obvious thing to consider cost savings with fuel,” Lacey says. “But the maintenance is also very minimal. Because EVs are closed units, there’s really not a whole lot that can go wrong with them. So for example, my maintenance will be tires, windshield wiper fluid, and brakes.”

What Incentives Are Available?

As EV adoption is encouraged, there are numerous incentives to explore, from federal tax credits, charging rebates, local utility incentive programs, and other perks. You can look at rebate options based on your location at electricforall.org and by manufacturer, year, and model at irs.gov.

Should I Consider a Hybrid or Plug-in Hybrid Instead?

For those who aren’t quite ready to take the plunge to fulltime electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles are a fantastic option, Lacey and Yoon say.

Hybrid vehicles require no charging and consist of a battery, electric motor, and gas engine. The battery is recharged when braking and by the gas engine. The battery supplements the gas engine and increases overall efficiency. This means filling up your tank less frequently thanks to better gas mileage.

Plug-in hybrids have larger batteries, which need to be plugged in to recharge, in addition to a gas-powered engine. Plug-ins can get around 20 - 50 miles of range on electric-only, meaning you could tackle in-town errands and daily commutes without using any gas. When you run out of charge, the gas engine kicks on. “Even though you're still going to the gas station, you're cutting those trips significantly, depending on how far you go,” Lacey says.

When Is The Best Time To Buy an Electric Vehicle?

If you’re ready to buy an EV, Yoon recommends talking to your local dealership immediately about the availability of your desired model. Due to demand and inventory, by the time EVs get to the dealership, they are often already sold, Yoon says. You may have to put your name on a waiting list, and wait times can be a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on your location.

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