Don’t be afraid to ask. We’re here for you.
I first learned about electric vehicles in the Wired magazine article about the GM EV1 project. In 2011 when Chevrolet debuted their first electric option, the Volt, I quickly visited our local dealership to check it out. I purchased the first generation Chevy Volt and have never looked back.
A few months ago I bought our third Chevy Volt and cannot imagine life without an electric car. But making the leap isn’t easy, and asking isn’t always easy, either. So here are the top 6 things you need to know about owning an electric vehicle (EV).
1. Worried an EV will run out of juice and leave you stuck? Don’t be. Here’s how to plan.
One thing that you need to consider when looking at an electric vehicle is how far the battery will take you. All electric vehicles have different battery ranges. Most EVs have ranges between 80 and 250 miles with a full charge. The Chevy Bolt (coming out later this fall) as well as the Teslas, have a range of 238-250 miles on a full charge. The Nissan Leaf has a range of about 100 miles which is also the same range as the Kia Soul EV. Nissan actually has a calculator on their website to help you determine how far you drive regularly and whether the Leaf would be a good choice for you.
“Range anxiety” is a term you might hear from some people when talking about EVs. Range anxiety occurs when you are driving a 100% electric vehicle and you worry that you might not have enough battery power to make it to your next charge. With some good planning you can figure out your driving plans by determining your commuting distance, other regular trips, errands you run, and determining your daily overall mileage. Once you calculate how many miles you drive per day, you can better understand whether the range of any specific vehicle will meet your needs.
2. Forget range anxiety with a gas/electric hybrid
If you just can’t overcome the range anxiety, consider a plug in/gas hybrid which has a smaller EV range but a gas engine which gives it as much range and power as ANY other vehicle on the road.
Most of these cars have a smaller electric range than a pure electric car but a huge bonus: If you charge it daily and drive less than 25 or 30 miles a day, you can go for months between gas fill ups.
Gas/Plug in hybrids include:
- Chevy Volt (53 electric range )
- Ford CMax Energi (19 electric range )
- Ford Fusion Energi (19 electric range )
- Kia Optima (2 electric range )
- Toyota Prius Prime (22 electric range )
- Hyundai Sonata (27 electric range )
- Mercedes-Benz C 350 (20 electric range )
- Volvo XC90 T8 (17 electric range )
- Chrysler Pacifica (30 electric range )
- Audi eTron (16 electric range )
- BMW 330e (14 electric range )
- Honorable mention is the BMW i3, which is a pure electric car but has an option of a small gas engine “range extender” that will add about 60 miles to the range so you’re never stuck.
3. How does charging work and where can I charge?
Every EV comes with its own charger (which usually stores in the trunk of the car) and can be plugged into any standard electrical outlet. These are called Level 1 chargers and will recharge your car at a fairly slow rate. A full recharge can take up to 6-14 hours.
A faster charge comes from Level 2 charging. These chargers can be purchased online or even at your local Home Depot. Since they require more voltage (220v instead of the normal 110v in your average socket) you will need to have an outlet installed that can accommodate that type of plug. This is the same type of outlet that you would have for your washer or dryer. It’s an easy job for an electrician and installation shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars. Having a level 2 charger at home really changes how you drive your EV since you can recharge your vehicle much faster.
You can also find places to charge when you are out and about. There are a growing network of chargers you can find at grocery stores, malls, airports, train stations, parking garages and rest stops. Tesla has created a network of these stations across the country for their cars which allow you to literally drive across the country and recharge for free. There are also some online resources you can use to find charging stations. I often use plugshare to plan my charge stops if I know I will need to charge my car in an unfamiliar area.
4. Will there be enough room for my family in an EV? And will it be comfortable?
Weight is an issue when determining how far your car will be able to travel on a full battery charge. Most of the current EVs tend to be small (typically holding 4-5 people). When I was making a decision on our first EV I was upset that there were no larger sized options. What I quickly realized was that over 95% of our driving was with 4 or less people in the vehicle, which meant that every EV would usually work for our 7 person family. There are a few EVs that hold more than 5 people, including Teslas, but the 6th and 7th seats aren’t really usable for any passengers over 4 feet tall. Chrysler’s new Pacifica minivan has seating for 7 or 8 and I cannot wait to test drive it.
Driving an EV is just as comfortable as a regular gas car. You will not have to give up any of the features or comforts you are accustomed to.
5. How does an EV perform on the road?
When most people think about EVs they have two thoughts: glorified golf carts or Tesla in Ludicrous mode. The reality is that most EVs tend to perform very well in the acceleration category. Many EVs have a “sport” mode which will allow you to have much stronger acceleration than most ICE (Internal Combustion Engine, or very likely what you currently drive) vehicles. And, being electric, EVs have more torque, or power, so they accelerate faster than gas engine cars (some of the fastest cars on the planet are EVs). It’s always fun to take off from a red light without even having to go over the speed limit.
Driving an EV is also fun in many ways. I’ve found that it has changed how I drive and has made me more aware of my efficiency when driving. Most EVs have monitors and systems that allow you to keep track of your battery, how many miles you have left, your usage of internal systems (heat, AC, etc) and how efficiently you are driving at that specific moment.
Most electric vehicles I have tested also have some form of regenerative braking which recharges your battery as you decelerate to a stop. Instead of braking, you can hold down a paddle (located on the back of the steering wheel). This feature helps you slow down while recharging slightly without using your brakes. All of these features allow you, as the driver, to better understand how much energy you are using when driving and to adjust your driving habits to drive more efficiently.
6. What are the maintenance costs for an EV?
One of the often overlooked benefits of driving an EV is the very low maintenance required. Since they are not ICE they don’t require an oil change. With fewer moving parts to wear out or replace, you will find that you will rarely need to be at the dealership. On all three Volts I have owned I only had to rotate the tires once a year. Many estimates state that maintenance costs can be 35 – 50% lower than a comparable ICE vehicle.
And one of the best benefits is in regenerative braking: your brakes aren’t used as often, and you’ll get 2-4 times longer life from your brakes. A common question is, “What about the batteries? Aren’t they really expensive and I’ve heard they wear out.” Completely untrue. The types of batteries that are used in EVs are unlike anything else. There are many people who have driven over 100,000-300,000 miles on their EVs with little to no degradation to the batteries. If you are considering buying a used EV and are concerned that you might have to replace the battery, you can stop worrying. And right now, there are actually some great deals on used Volts available, so maybe it’s time for you to give it a try.