You have decided to buy an electric car. (👋 Welcome!) We are excited to share the tips and tools that you need to find the right one. Let’s start with the basics before diving into the details of car shopping and electric vehicle ownership.
Here's what we will cover:
- What are electric vehicles?
- Why do people choose electric vehicles?
- What about charging?
- What about EV range and batteries? (With a free e-book!)
- Which EV brand and model?
- Best way to find a good used EV?
Ready to dive into the world of electric cars? Us too!
What are electric vehicles?
An electric vehicle (EV) is propelled by electric motors. The two most common types are battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).
A BEV is powered 100% by electric motors. A charging port is the only place to add fuel. For example, here are a couple popular BEV models:
A PHEV is fueled by a combination of batteries and gas tanks. Cars in this category have both a charging port and a gas cap. Here are a couple examples of popular PHEV models:
- Chevrolet Volt
- Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid
More on Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles
A PHEV may be a great solution for you if you have an unpredictable schedule and often make long trips. These cars have a battery capacity of 20-50 miles in range, complemented by a traditional gas engine that picks up when the battery has been drained. You can often accomplish daily errands on the battery alone, but have a backup in case you need it.
For reference, most US drivers travel around 30 miles per day.
Why do people choose electric vehicles?
The appetite for electric vehicles is increasing. By 2021, around 70% of US consumers would consider an EV.
Since price is a concern for so many potential EV buyers, used EVs are a great option, especially if you’re hesitant to buy with the promise of so many new options on the horizon. The market expectation is that the next few years will see an explosion of EV options with ranges above 150 miles and prices below that of Tesla.
There are a few big reasons that people are interested in going electric, and each shopper may have overlapping interests:
- Environmental 🌎
- Safety 🦺
- Performance 🏎️
- Savings 💰
Transportation makes up the biggest share of the US’s carbon emissions, and passenger cars are 59 % of that cateogry. Fully electric cars have no tailpipe emissions and hybrids often produce far less tailpipe pollution than a conventional car. Overall, an electric vehicle has around 54% less carbon impact over its lifetime than a gas burning car - including battery materials.
And even though some people note that electricity can be dirtier depending how it’s generated - an electric motor actually uses energy more efficiently than a combustion engine, so even coal powered electricity is cleaner.
EVs have shown to be as safe - or safer - than conventional cars, with 40% lower injury claims in accidents. This is partially due to the fact that EVs are much heavier than gas cars and absorb impact on collision.
Silent. Instant torque. Less braking. The latest Tesla Model S can clock 0-60 MPH in less than 2 seconds. Mustang Mach-E can have a whopping 429 horsepower and 512 lb-ft of torque. These are some of the reasons that EVs are fun to drive.
Studies show that an average EV driver who charges at home can save $800-1000 a year compared to a combustion engine vehicle. When you add in lower maintenance costs and possible incentives, getting an EV may be more affordable than you thought.
It will also save you an average of 50 trips to the gas station each year. Maybe you can take up a new hobby.
More on Upfront and Operational Costs
Today electric cars have a higher sticker price than their conventional counterparts. Their savings are realized over the lifetime of ownership. Reports have found that the upfront price of an electric car may be 10-40% higher than an internal combustion vehicle, but that the lifetime savings in terms of fuel and maintenance can be $6,000 - $10,000.
Electricity rates affect the cost of charging. Even in Hawaii, where electricity is the most expensive in the nation, an EV owner can expect modest savings over gasoline engines. It’s also a good idea to check if your local electric utility offers discounts for EV charging. For instance, several utility companies in New York state offer reduced time-of-use rates for common EV charging times such as evenings and nights or rebates for home chargers.
Insurance costs on electric cars can be higher than on conventional ones, a difference which is often due to the slightly higher purchase and repair price for EVs. Car & Driver reports that insurance prices might be 18-30% higher on an electric than a comparable gas powered car, but Forbes also points out that not all drivers see higher premiums on their EVs, and that some insurance companies offer rebates for EV drivers.
Registration fees are used by some states for EVs to help offset the cost of road and infrastructure maintenance that gas tax usually supports.
National incentives offset the first-year costs of EV ownership. You’ve probably heard about the federal EV tax credit of up to $7500 offered by the IRS. This can significantly reduce the purchase price of a new EV and was meant to stimulate the purchase and manufacture of electric vehicles. However, you can only get a credit up to the amount you owe. This means that if you only owe $6,000 in taxes, that’s how much your credit will be - you will not receive an additional $1500. Tax credits also don’t apply to leased or used vehicles. Also, these credits only last until a manufacturer sells 200,000 vehicles, so both Tesla and GM have used up theirs. The US Department of Energy maintains a list of vehicles and their maximum eligible credit.
Local incentives at the state level or local level can include free parking, rebates to install home charging, and use of HOV lanes. PlugShare provides a zip code search for these benefits and Plug in America has an interactive map.
What about charging?
Charging is a critical part of EV ownership. Before selecting a car, you should consider where you plan to charge. Most US electric vehicle drivers do charge at home, but some city or apartment dwellers may not have personal charging facilities available. In New York, for instance, there are local garages that offer charging, but potential owners need to find and cost in the price of such facilities.
There are three basic types of charging:
- Level 1: 110-120V (household) plug - this is the electric plug you know and love and use for household items like lamps, your computer, and video game systems. Level one chargers are a slow way to recharge your vehicle and are usually only used if you don’t have access to other charging. The reason that level one charging is not preferred is because of how long it can take to recharge an all electric car (battery electric vehicle, or “BEV”), usually around 3-5mi/hour. It may be more practical to recharge a PHEV using this sort of charger.
- Level 2: 220-240V plug - This is the same sort of plug that most people have for a washer/dryer hook up in the US. Typically, it is recommended that EV buyers hire an electrician to install a level two charger in their garage or near their home. Level two chargers can refill a vehicle overnight, and are the most common choice for owners. Depending on the vehicle you have, you will need to have enough dedicated amps available to charge your car and not short out your household energy supply.
- Level 3: Commercial DC fast charger - fast chargers, also known as DCFC, are most commonly found public chargers. They can power cars very quickly - typically 80% of full in around 30 minutes - but may also be expensive. Since DCFC can recharge a battery so quickly, they can potentially damage lithium ion batteries when used too frequently. Newer car models can handle fast charging better than older ones, but it is not recommended to rely solely on level three chargers. Hybrids generally can’t use DC chargers.
Public charging stations are owned and operated by private companies such as EVgo, ChargePoint, , and Electrify America, and may be supported by municipal or public initiatives. Apps such as PlugShare help you locate chargers based on your location. Depending on your vehicle and location, you may need to have an account with a charging company or pay for use.
The one last thing you may want to know is that there are different charging plugs for different vehicles, and different charging speeds.
- Non-Tesla vehicles come with a J-1772 plug used for AC charging.
- Tesla has its own, proprietary charging system and network of charging stations, but there are adaptors so Teslas can use the J-1772 when needed.
For DC charging, there are two plug options depending on whether or not you drive a Tesla. Unsurprisingly, Tesla has its own plug that works with its supercharging network. Most non-Tesla vehicles use CCS, the predominant charging standard in the US. CCS stands for “Combined Charging System” and it combines lower power level 2 chargers with DC chargers for a high speed charge between 25kW and 350kW. CCS has broad adoption and many cars use it. Teslas can also use an adaptor to connect to CCS chargers.
The other option that is more rare in the US is CHAdeMO: a charging standard developed by a consortium of carmakers and charging companies. It was developed in Japan and older NIssans, Toyotas, and Kias can use the plugs. For US production, many of these vehicles are being switched to CCS. CHAdeMO can give a vehicle between 6kW and 400kW with 900kW on the roadmap. Recent stats put the number of CHAdeMO chargers in the US around 4500.
It may seem like there’s a lot to think about when you’re switching to an EV, but it is really pretty simple once you get started. Recurrent is here with info, tips, and answers to your questions.
What about EV range?
Range is such an important topic that we created an entire guide to cover it. Get access to this free 13-page e-book on EV battery range and degradation.
What will you learn in from the e-book?
- What is an EV battery and why is it different?
- An intro to range and range loss
- What is short term range loss?
- What is long term range loss?
- How much range is lost over time?
Which EV brand and model?
There are more EV brands and models on the road today than you might realize and many more will be unveiled in the next two years. For a breakdown of cars different price points, check out our article on used EVs under $20,000.
For a view of every electric car that is eligible for free battery monitoring reports from Recurrent, see this complete list with new costs and average used EV prices.
Best way to find a good used EV?
People often call electric cars a battery on wheels because an EV battery is the most expensive part in a car. When searching for a used EV, you want to be sure that is has a battery that will last.
The problem: batteries are both literally and figuratively a black box. It can be difficult for used car shoppers to check the battery before buying a car. We are using machine learning -- comparing one vehicle to thousands of others -- to give EV shoppers better transparency into range over time. Recurrent has over 5,000 EV drivers who anonymously share a few data points each day and we aggregate that information to help all drivers understand electric cars when shopping.
Check out our shopping tool to learn more.