10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy an Electric Car
Are you considering making the switch from a gas-powered car to an EV? While it might be a solid option for you, it’s important to do your homework. Before you move forward, be sure you can answer all the most important questions.
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 (EVs) are popular and readily available. Now, several automakers offer compelling EVs, and some are available nationwide. It’s not uncommon to see a Tesla regardless of where you live, and Tesla’s rivals are also making their way across the 50 states.
As electric cars become more widely available, more people notice them and may consider buying one. Aside from the environmental benefits and impressive performance, there are multiple reasons to switch to an EV. Electric cars save money compared to gas cars thanks to their superb efficiency, cheaper energy costs and minimal maintenance. That said, it’s still a big step to make the switch from a gas car to an EV. Before you take the plunge, be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 critical questions that potential EV owners should consider. 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.
1. Does the Car Have Enough Range?
A growing number of today’s EVs offer 250 to 300 miles of range on a charge, though there are still a few that have less. Tesla is the only automaker with a lineup of EVs that all have well over 300 miles of range. However, the Lucid Air currently holds the record, with over 500 miles per charge. The Tesla Model S was the former record-holder, with a maximum EPA-estimated range of 405 miles.
With 250 miles of range, most people aren’t going to experience range anxiety during their daily commutes, though the range will vary regardless of the EPA’s estimates. Many factors impact a car’s range, including your speed, your driving habits, the weather and your preferred climate control settings. It’s wise to anticipate having less range than the car’s maximum EPA estimate, just to be safe.
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, and 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 a long 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 many 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 around 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 the 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. was 16.32 cents per kilowatt-hour at the time of writing. In Oregon, you’ll pay around 12 cents, compared to 27 cents in California.
Regardless of where you live or where you charge your EV, electricity will still cost you much less than gas. According to the EPA, fuel costs for a BMW 3 Series are nearly four 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 almost always 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. Many public charging stations are Level 2, but some 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.
Make sure you find out if the EV you’re considering 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 250 to 300 miles of range, you’ll probably be ready for a bathroom and snack break by the time your battery’s charge is getting low.
In most cases, you shouldn’t have an issue mapping out your trip and making sure there’s a charging station every two to four 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.
Some 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. If you only do a few long road trips per year, you could also consider renting a car for the road trips while still saving money using your EV as your daily driver.
6. What Electric Vehicle Incentives are Available?
The U.S. government offers electric car buyers a $7,500 tax credit. However, the credit that has been around for years is being phased out for a brand-new program. The new program promises rebates at the point of sale rather than tax credits. Moreover, all plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be eligible for the full credit, regardless of the size of their battery pack, which isn’t the case under the current rules. The new program also has a credit for used cars.
With that said, most EVs may not qualify for the new credit, at least initially. The program has very specific rules related to the vehicle’s price, the yearly income of the buyer, where the EV is produced and where the materials for its batteries come from.
If you’re hoping to purchase an electric car and take advantage of the federal credit, be sure to consult with a tax professional before moving forward. In addition, be as specific as possible with your local dealer, ask plenty of questions and make sure you’re getting the credit you expect. Don’t sign anything until all the details are sorted out and to your liking.
States, cities, local utilities, various EV-related companies and even some automakers also offer credits and incentives on top of 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 a used model could certainly save you money. However, since EVs are now in higher demand than ever before, and new inventory is scarce, used versions tend to sell at a premium. In fact, some EV owners are making money by selling their used EVs for more than they paid for them when there were new.
Many used EVs on the market today will be relatively new and have lower mileage. While this keeps the price high, it also helps with peace of mind. EVs haven’t been around as long as gas cars, and thanks to their range limitations, there’s a good chance their owners haven’t yet racked up a ton of miles.
Buying a new EV guarantees your car will have a full warranty, the longest electric range currently available and the most up-to-date tech and safety features. And while batteries don’t degrade quickly, buying a new model ensures that your battery is in tip-top condition from day one. Finally, many electric car incentives aren’t available on the purchase of a used EV.
Many of the same pros and cons of buying a new or used gas-only vehicle apply 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. Since many EVs are priced more like luxury cars, leasing is preferable to buying for many people. While buying a car, especially with a low interest rate, is generally the soundest 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, and 0% financing is almost unheard of these days, especially for EVs. You can often lease that same EV with a monthly payment that’s half that, and it seems manufacturers are sponsoring more appealing incentives on leases.
New electric cars are coming to market often, and current models are getting better every year. Many EVs get new technology and more range with each new model year. Leasing ensures that you can take advantage of the newest technology or swap your car for an even better EV every few years.
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, will it attract the high prices we’re seeing on the used market today or depreciate more quickly once more rival EVs come to market? However, if you lease, you’re locked into a monthly car payment and mileage restrictions. Plus, when it comes time to return your lease, you may have to pay for wear and tear and damage.
Choosing to buy or lease an EV is similar to any vehicle. Our article on buying versus leasing an EV 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 up to $30,000, though some battery pack replacements could cost less than $5,000. 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 that 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. Insurance companies also 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 25% more to insure an electric car than a comparable 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. Tesla offers its own insurance that undercuts most rivals, but it’s only available in some states, at least for now.
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.