Goldilocks and the electric vehicle

With electric vehicles being newer to the mass market, it’s understandable that one might have reservations about making the switch to a completely different paradigm. After all, there are a number of things to take into consideration, including charging, price, utility and range.

Alongside the many testimonials from happy EV owners, we also hear from drivers who are holding out for something better before making the switch. All too often, it appears some are waiting for the perfect EV before converting – and this may be unrealistic. 

I once read about someone who said they were holding out for an EV that can tow 12,000 pounds at least 600 miles between charges, all because their dual-tank diesel super-duty pickup can do that now. Given the state of the industry, that might be a bit of a wait. But what about their second car, used primarily for around-town driving? Since most American households own two or more cars – and most people drive around 35 miles a day – an EV for a second car is a viable option for millions. 

An 80/20 Approach to EVs

A second car is not on the table for many of us, especially these days. But what about this very common example: the Robinsons are a one-vehicle family and currently, it’s an SUV that averages 20 miles per gallon. This family mostly uses the car around town, but makes a 2,000-mile road trip once a year to visit family a few states away and likes to go 300 miles upstate to ski over the winter holidays. 

Group of men carrying skis in the woods

The remaining 10,000 miles per year are spread out over a series of short commutes, school runs, and grocery trips which don’t necessitate a large (or long-range) vehicle.

I propose a solution: utilize an EV for 80-90% of those yearly miles and rent a larger vehicle for the remaining miles. It can be practical and save the Robinsons a lot of money.

This idea isn’t just a hypothetical: I did exactly this for a couple of years. For a period of time, we had a 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf (125 mi range; no DC Fast Charging; $133/mo on lease) and then a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV (238 mi range; slow DC Fast Charging; $25,000 after incentives). 

A red Chevy Bolt
A Chevy Bolt just like this met my family's needs for several years

Each of these cars easily handled our daily commutes and errands with very low operating, maintenance, and fuel costs. When we planned longer trips and worried about the charging infrastructure (especially in 2017!), we rented a gas SUV. Fortunately for us, there was a closeby car rental place.

Creative Thinking Meant Thousands in Savings

Without getting too far into the weeds, we saved a ton of money doing this. It cost us about $80 per month to charge both EVs. Our previous gas cars were both decently economical, getting 30-35 mpg, but we were nonetheless saving about $250 per month on gas. With our annual $3,000 savings, there was plenty of wiggle room to occasionally rent and fuel a gas car for road trips. Technically, we could have rented a car most months and broken even on cost. 

I understand that everyone’s situation is different and there are a lot of variables from household to household. If you’re considering this path, here are some questions to ask yourself about what you typically need your vehicle for:

  • How many miles do I drive every day? Modern EVs easily get 250 miles per range, and used EVs from 2018 generally get at least 150 miles per charge. Considering the national daily mileage is around 35 miles, this gives a lot of options. 
  • How often do I fill all the seats in my car? This can decrease an EV’s range for daily driving (to be fair, it will also reduce your gas mileage in a conventional car)
  • How often do I use the utility features of my vehicle (e.g., size, third row seating, towing capability)? Unfortunately, these options may still be limited in many EVs, or priced at a premium. 
  • How many times per year do I drive outside practical limits for EV road ripping?
  • How efficient is my current vehicle? The fuel efficiency of a gas car will impact how much you’ll save by going electric. It’s also worth looking into time of use plans with your utility company to see if the offer reduced rates for EV owners. 
  • How often do I replace my vehicles? If you plan to hold on to a car for ten years, you may want to invest more in a longer range EV and trade in on the lower lifetime fuel and maintenance costs. Also, monthly car payments are an easy way to calculate savings. 
  • How easy is it to rent a car near me?

Depending on the answers, it might make sense to own an EV – even with a higher monthly payment than a gas car – and rent a gas car as needed. See our buying guides to learn which EV might be a good fit for you!

Still hesitant? Consider the flexibility of a plug-in hybrid, too!