You've heard about electric cars.
You've seen the memes that make fun of them...
But you've also heard some good arguments why they make sense.
Can an electric car be right for you? Is now the time to buy, or should you wait? Looking for someone to break it down?
Let's start with the basics. Feel free to jump ahead if you think you've got this covered!
What are electric cars (or electric vehicles, if you're fancy)?
An electric car (or EV, which is shorthand for electric vehicle) is propelled by electric motors, instead of gas or hydrogen or nuclear power. 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
Tip 1: if you know electric is right for you, but are still anxious...
A PHEV may be a great solution for you! They are recommended for people with an unpredictable schedule and frequent long trips, too. 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, and our community of PHEV drivers report that they fill up their gas tank only a few times a year.
Why do other people choose electric vehicles?
Sometimes it helps to know why other people make their decisions, to help you make yours. Luckily, lots of other drivers are choosing to go electric - around 70% of US shoppers are considering it - so there is a lot of data to work with.
There are a few big reasons that people are interested in going electric, and each shopper may have overlapping interests:
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 yes, that's true even if your electricity comes from coal (which honestly, it probably doesn't).
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. In case you've read some bad press about fires in EVs, you oughta know that they actually happen less often than in gas cars.
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. In fact, the biggest predictor of drivers switching to an electric is...being in an electric car. They are just. that. fun.
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.
Let's be real about costs
Upfront costs are the most important factor to buyers, so, we're not trying to lie. New and used electric cars cost more upfront than their conventional counterparts, even once you factor in incentives. But, the savings happens 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.
Here are some of the details to consider and investigate before you make up your mind:
Electricity rates affect the cost of charging, but it's always cheaper than gas. 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 might can be higher than on conventional ones, but this is often due to the higher purchase and repair price for EVs (think: Tesla repairs vs. Toyota Corolla). While Car & Driver reports that insurance prices might be 18-30% higher on an electric than a comparable gas powered car, 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 is meant to stimulate the purchase and manufacture of electric vehicles. However, there are some significant requirements for a new EV to be eligible. Also new in 2023 is the first ever used EV tax credit, offering up to $4000 back on eligible (inexpensive) used EVs. Since Recurrent is all about used EVs, we're particularly excited about this one, and can give you the run down on whether a cheap used EV will work for you.
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.
Do you have a place to charge?
If you own your own home, or rent from a place that has (or will let you install) an EV charger, this one is easy. More than 70% of EV owners charge at home, and it is cheap, convenient, and way better than ever going to a gas station again. If, on the other hand, you live in an apartment, condo, or rental situation without an easy solution for charging, you have a few more questions to ask yourself. Do you have a garage, driveway, or dedicated parking spot? Can you run an extension cord to where your car sleeps every night? Do you commute to a workplace with free EV chargers? If any of these are a "yes," an EV may still be very do-able.
On the other hand, if you have to fight for street parking every day, or never know which spot in your condo will be open, this may be a bigger issue. It's not a deal breaker, but you should scope out where public chargers are located, think about how busy they get, when you will be able to get to them, and what charge level they provide. If you have ample Level 2 charging, which offers around 20 miles of charge an hour, but they are located on a street where everything closes at 6pm, it may be hard to fully charge your EV with them. If your local supermarket has DC fast charging, though, it's easy to recharge your car while you do weekly grocery shopping.
Another consideration if you don't have easy charger access is the car's range. If you get an EV that has 300 miles of range, but you only drive 20 miles a day, you may only have to plan a recharge stop once a week. If you opt for an inexpensive but range limited vehicle, you will have to find a plug more frequently. A hybrid may also be a nice compromise for shoppers without a home charger, since they can often be fully charged using a standard home plug (110 volts).
What is your daily drive like?
We're thinking less about how far you drive and more about how consistent your daily habits are. If you always drive to and from work, with a stop at yoga on Wednesday and groceries on Friday, then it should be pretty easy to figure out how much range you need per week. However, if you run around all day as a messenger and sometimes go five miles, sometimes 150 - it may be harder to accurately gauge what your EV range should be. Contrary to popular opinion, you don't always want, or need, the highest possible range. More range generally means a bigger battery which means it takes longer to recharge. Some families have also had great success with an EV as a second car for daily commutes and errands, while keeping a gas or hybrid for weekend ski trips and camping. Finally, we have at least one coworker at Recurrent who uses the money he saves on gas to rent a gas car for occasional road trips.
What's your up-front budget (and how much can you spread the savings over the life of the car)?
Again, it's true that EVs are pricey. But, they aren't all high end and luxury, anymore. While the average price of a new EV is $65K, which is 37% higher than the average new gas car price of $48K, used electric cars can be a great, budget friendly option. As of October 2022, the average price of a used EV is $42K, and that includes many "new used" cars from 2022 and 2023.
Once you have an EV, though, you can expect to save: on fuel and on maintenance. It still may a close call (Car&Driver does a great comparison) but the costs may be more similar than you'd think. Federal and state incentives, as well as an enjoyable ride, might tip the scale in favor of the electric.
How much do you care about maintenance?
Do you live for oil changes? Looove refilling transmission fluids?
Yeah, us neither.
Electric cars happen to be very low maintenance (and 40% cheaper). Other than tire rotations and things like changing the air filters, which you can do at home, they require very little upkeep. That's because there are only a handful of moving parts in an electric car. However, if you love getting your ride up on some blocks to tinker with thousands of knobs and gears, a gas car may be better for you.
Buy now or wait?
EV technology is changing at a super fast rate. There is talk of solid state batteries, vehicle to grid, and improved charging infrastructure. On the other hand - unprecedented prices. So, is now the time to buy, or should you wait a year or two?
Off the bat, if you read everything above and don't feel overwhelmed, it may be a sign that you're ready. Many national car rentals now offer EVs so you can try before you buy. The number one predictor of buying an EV is...driving one.
If you read everything on this page and it makes you confused, we suggest reading some of our other great content. Then, shoot us an email with any questions. We will always be honest and transparent. You should also ask around your community to see if there are any EV drivers you can speak to. Forums on Reddit, Facebook, and other sites are also great resources to find out if an EV may work for you.
Lastly, if you're sure that even better tech is right around the corner but you need a car now, an inexpensive EV may tide you over until you're ready to take a bigger leap.
What about EV range?
Range - and how it changes with time - is such an important topic that we created an entire guide to cover it. The tl;dr -- yes, range (and battery health) change over time. No, it's not like your cellphone.
Get access to this free 13-page e-book on EV battery range and degradation.
Get the (free) download and learn:
- 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.