If this is your first time considering an electric vehicle (EV), there sure seems like a lot of things to learn. The truth is there is a bit of a learning curve, but the good news is, unlike Elon Musk’s other venture, its not rocket science, and you have a great community and this handy dandy “owners manual” to help you get up to speed.
This first post is really for folks trying to figure out if an EV is right for them, but a worthwhile read for new owners too. The content is a bit Tesla-centric, but overall info is applicable regardless of the EV you are looking at.
Is an Electric Vehicle (EV) right for me?
The answer to this is an unequivocal “probably”. 🙂 There are two things to consider:
How much daily range do you need? These days an EV with 300 miles of EPA range if fairly common and we are starring to see EVs with 400 or even 500 miles of range. EPA range fro EVs is much like EPA range fro gasoline cars: it is a decent approximation, but you should expect to see something lower. For most folks, 200-300 miles is plenty of range to commute to work, take the kids to school and run errands. One of the benefits of an EV is that you plug your car in every night you start off the next day with a “full tank”. If you find yourself consistently putting 150+ miles on your car in a day, you may want to consider opting for a model with a bigger battery..
Do you have a place to charge? You will need a place to charge. If you are a homeowner, this tends to not be an issue and here is a post on what you need to do. However, if you rent or live in a condo, you do have some other options:
- Check with your landlord or condo association about getting a charger installed. You’ll probably have to cover the cost of the installation and the cost of the energy used, but this is probably a very workable solution
- If you have charging at work, then you can flip the typical charging pattern and charge all day at work instead at night at home. If you don’t have charing at work, consider asking your employer if they will install EV chargers, there is often tax benefits or other incentives for doing so
- Use nearby public chargers. There is a lot more public charing infrastructure out there than there used to be, so this can be viable for some folks. However, be honest with yourself, as this can turn into a long-term hassle
Bottom line, make sure you have a realistic charging strategy in place. EVs are a lot of fun, but if you have a daily struggle with charging, it’s going to sap some of that fun.
Where do you travel? To get a feel for charger coverage in the places you travel, go to the “Find Us” section of the Tesla website, Electrify America, and PlugShare. These sites are a quick way to figure out if there is charging infrastructure for the places you travel. If you check out the west coast, you will see there are lots of charging options, but heading to Montana might take a bit more planning. This doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but you should we aware of the state of things in the areas you like to travel. The good news is that as EVs gain momentum, the availability of charging infrastructure is only getting better.
How is EV Different than my Current Car?
As noted earlier, there is a bit of a learning curve and in a short time it will be second nature. So, what’s different?
- The car drives a bit differently–you’ll be introduced to the wonders of regeneration and one-pedal driving
- Fueling is different–you’ll do most of your charging at home and how/where you charge will change
- Road trips will initially require a bit more planning, until you get comfortable with your car’s range and finding chargers
- The impact of cold weather on range is more noticeable in an EV than in a gas car–you can see as much as a 30% hit to your range in cold winter weather
Luckily, we will have subsequent sections that dig into each of these topics.
What About Other Costs?
As you try and figure out if an EV fits in your budget, there are a couple of other costs you should work into your calculations.
Fuel (electricity) is likely your biggest cost. Visit the website for you electric utility and find what programs they have for EV owners. Typically, the programs are designed to incent you to charge your car during off-peak hours and can significantly lower your cost to charge your car. To get an idea of fuel costs, use this formula:
rate X efficiency X distance X 1.1
- rate = the rate per killowatt-hour your utility charges you
- efficiency is how much electricity the EV uses to go a certain distance. It is expressed at watts/mile (Wh/mi) or watts/kilometer (Wh/km).
- To resources for finding the efficiency are the EPA website, the Electric Vehicle Database, or InsideEVs.
- For the formula below, you need kW/mi or kW/km so divide that number by 1000. Note: the EPA provide efficiency numbers expressed as kW/100 miles so just need to divide that number by to reach kWh/mi).
- If you don’t feel like digging that deeply into things right now, use 300 as a starting point
- distance = typical miles or kilometers you drive per month
- 1.1 represents 10% losses from the charging equipment
My utility charges me $0.09/kWh to charge during off-peak hours and I drive about 2,200 miles per month with 300Wh/mi efficiency, my monthly fuel costs are:
$0.09 X 0.300 X 2,200 X 1.1 = $65.34
Your actual cost will vary based on your driving efficiency, but this calculation should give you a good idea what your fuel costs will be. To put cost into perspective, Most folks tend to think of electricity as “expensive” and are surprised by actual fuel costs for an EV.
Fuel costs will to be higher on road trips than charging at home, but still less expensive than the same trip in most gas cars when comparing the same type of vehicle. The Tesla, Electrify America and Plugshare sites can give you an idea what charging costs while you travel.
A EV has a few dozen moving parts compared to the hundreds of moving parts in the typical internal combustion car. As a result, the maintenance is a lot simpler–no oil changes, timing belts, etc. You should check the manufacturer site for maintenance recommendation, but they tend to be modest compared to regular cars. For Tesla, maintenance recommendations can be found on the Support site.
For owners new to performance cars, the cost of tires can be a bit of a shock, even for owners on non-performance models. The reason comes down to three factors:
- The larger the wheel, the more expensive the tire
- Performance tires (aka “summer tires”) use softer rubber that wears more quickly
- The suspension set-up on the car can exacerbate wear
As Elon has said, “Tesla does not make slow cars”, and the cars are engineered to go fast and look fast. However, there are thing you can do to lower tire costs:
- Go with smaller wheel sizes. Smaller tires cost less. As an added benefit you will see improved ride comfort, greater resistance to pothole damage and improved range.
- Pick all-season tires with higher UTQG treadwear numbers. The rubber compound is harder, so wears more slowly. It also reduces rolling resistance so also helps increase range.
- Be religious about keeping tires at proper inflation and rotate them regularly. The standard suspension setup give you great handling but does cause tires to wear unevenly. Rotating them every 5K-6K miles evens out the wear. Keeping tire at proper pressure also help tire wear and (you guessed it) improve range.
Please note, picking tires is all about trade-offs. There is no perfect tire, you end up balancing cost, traction/handling, noise and ride comfort amongst other things.
Most manufactures have good warranty protection for their battery packs with coverage typically in the 100K-150K mile range and some explicit protections against pack degradation. For Tesla, the battery warranty is 8 years, minimum of 70% of original capacity and between 100L and 150K miles depending on the model. The latest details can be found here.
The best advice is to shop around a bit–reports from the owner community is the there is a wide variance on insurance costs.
Tax Rebates, Credits and Other Benefits
Most counties and their governments are doing their best to drive adoption of EVs as a tool to fight climate change. As you research an EV purchase, check out the following:
- Federal/National government–check for rebates and tax incentives at the national level
- State and local government–there are often rebate programs, tax benefits or other enticements from regional governments
- Utilities–local power utilities often offer rebates on EV purchases, home charger installations along with discounted power rates
So…Back to the Original Question
Back in the old days, say 5 years ago, the two barriers to buying an EV were cost and range. Today that is no longer the case–there are a number of solid EVs in the $30K-$40K range and 300 miles of range is pretty typical now. EVs are a good fit for many more people these days. There are still going to be scenarios were an EV is not a good fit, but that list of scenarios is shrinking daily. Hopefully this post has given you the information you need to make an informed choice that meets your needs.