When I bought my car in 2019 I really wanted an electric car. Like many EV owners, I wanted to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I had resigned myself to waiting for the 2022 or 2023 models until I happened upon a listing for a Mercedes Benz B250 electric drive – I didn’t even know Mercedes made an EV! It was $15,999 and I discovered that was slightly less than the usual going rate of $20,000. Most of the other EVs for sale were Nissan Leafs, and this was a Mercedes for the same price.
And it was beautiful.
It had been leased and was 4 years old with only 27,000 miles on it. I drove it and I knew if I didn’t buy it I would regret it, so I snatched it up. I love my car but there were some things about owning an EV that I wish I had known, first: like how the range affected my habits, figuring out public charging, and getting it repaired.
Range can be overrated
Determining how much range you need before you buy is critical, especially if you’re looking for a used EV. While new, third generation EVs tend to have plenty of range and fast charging standard, the used EV market is filled with slightly older, second gen models that may come with compromises.
Before you buy, check your daily mileage for a couple of weeks. If you drive less than 40 miles per day like I do, a regular household 120V plug will likely cover 99% of your charging needs and you’ll be comfortable with 100 to 120 miles of range. If you drive more than 60 miles per day, you’ll need range in the neighborhood of 180 to 240 miles. If this is you, consider installing a 240V plug to get about 20 miles of range per hour. This means that basically all your battery can be recharged overnight.
At first, I assumed I would install a 240V charger (Level 2) in my garage. When I inquired about the Southern California Edison (SCE) credit available to me, I was told that the work had to be done by a licensed electrician, not my local handyman. Also, my home has older wiring so it needed a dedicated meter for the plug. Even with my generous SCE credit, my estimate was over $3,500 – which was a surprise to me. Then, in order for the 240V plug to work, I’d have to buy a level 2 charging station for another $700 to $1,200. All told: about $4,200. Luckily, with my short commute, I didn’t really need one, after all.
Figure out your range and charging situation before you buy
As a bonus FYI, check with your local electricity provider to see what type of rebate is available to charge at home.
Public charging is important - and improving
I wish I had known sooner how easy and affordable public charging is. Public charging has really opened up the use of my car and lets me travel far even though my range is only about 100 miles.
My first few tries at public charging did not go well. I used google maps to search for charging stations, but it steered me to chargers that didn’t work, weren’t compatible with my car, or were just nonexistent. I was frustrated and basically gave up.
Eventually, I discovered EVgo and Chargepoint, two of many charging networks. That really changed how I approach driving with limited range.
Since I started using these apps to search for public chargers, everything has worked perfectly. The apps prompt you to input your vehicle model and location and they find the nearest compatible chargers and show whether or not they are available. My car is older and the apps automatically know that it can’t use a DC fast charger, and they don’t show me those locations.
Using a public charger is not like filling up at Costco. It’s better. Charging stations tend to be placed in convenient areas like parks, supermarkets, museums, and parking garages - places where you will park, plug in, and come back in an hour. The apps will let you know right on your phone how much you have charged and when you are full.
Be aware that most apps will charge if you stay connected after you are full, or if you hog a charger spot once you’re unplugged. That gives you and others some incentive to move your car and let someone else charge.
The cost to use public chargers is also less than you might think. For my whole first year of EV driving, I avoided public charging, assuming it was too expensive. Once I started using it, I learned that sometimes it costs less to charge publicly than to charge at home. The level 2 chargers at my two closest stations cost $0.21 per kWh and $0.25 per kWh. My home rate is $0.25 per kWh, and if I go over my baseline it goes up to $0.34 per kWh. So, now I try to charge publicly as much as possible and top off at home. Your local public charging rates should be in line with the domestic rates in your area. Some utility companies offer reduced rate plans for EV drivers.
On the other hand, DC fast charging can be fairly pricey. The fast chargers I saw were $0.47 to $0.56 per kWh.
That translates to $4.70 to $5.60 for 30 miles of range, which is close to the going rate for a gallon of gas in Los Angeles. So while you can “fill your tank” in 20 minutes, you will have to pay for this convenience. At the other extreme the trickle charge stations (standard 120 volt plugs) are usually FREE!
Mechanics may be harder to find
I knew when I bought my car that EVs required very little scheduled maintenance. The owner’s manual for my car only listed brake inspection and tire wear. Then, after three years, I was jolted into reality by a light saying, ‘Visit Workshop’. EVs are still cars and have their share of problems. Mine ranged from not serious (a stuck AC valve) to very serious (a DC DC converter, which functions as an alternator). When you begin looking for your car, check blogs or online message boards for information about the problems that certain models tend to have. Online forums will help you identify potential issues before you buy.
With internal combustion cars, maintenance isn’t as big a concern because mechanics everywhere can fix your car. But, when you have an EV, it can be very hard to find a mechanic outside of the dealer. Before committing to a car, make sure that your closest dealership will be able to make any repairs. Ask the dealer about the potential problems you find out about on forms. Have they seen this issue, and are they able to repair it? Dealerships generally do not train every mechanic to fix EVs so it may be a wait for a specialized mechanic to get to it.
When my car had an issue, I had trouble getting Mercedes Benz to pay attention. It was out of warranty and no one wanted to take the time to diagnose the problem. Even in Los Angeles, quite possibly the EV capitol of the U.S., no one could help. I finally found a mechanic thanks to a forum. They were located in San Diego and had a month-long waiting list. When I arrived, I was shocked to see EVs from as far as Georgia and Canada.
Be aware that EV-qualified mechanics can be hard to find
Lastly, there is a lot of chat about tires on an EV. The thinking is that tires will wear out faster because EVs tend to be heavier and have more torque. I have not found that to be true. When I bought my vehicle it had 27,000 miles on it and I had to immediately replace the front tires. The rear tires were original equipment and still had plenty of tread. 30,000 miles later and I still have the rear tires. I rotate regularly and drive easy and my tires seem to incur normal wear.
If you’re looking to buy an EV, welcome to being part of the solution. They are awesome cars, but they do take some adjustment. Figure out how much range you need, where you can charge locally, and whether the car you’re looking at has any history of problems. If you do this, your transition to an EV should be as smooth as your electric ride.