Your First Electric Vehicle?

If this is your first time shopping or owning an electric vehicle, 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.

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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?  All current Teslas have 200+ miles and while the EPA rating is not perfect, its actually pretty reasonable guide.  For most folks, 200 miles is plenty of range to commute to work, take the kids to school and run errands.  The thing to remember is that if you plug your car in every night you start of 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 bigger battery or perhaps considering a hybrid.

Where do you travel?  Go to the “Find Us” section of the Tesla website and check out PlugShare.  These two 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.  Its also fair to point out that as EVs gain momentum, the availability of charging infrastructure is only getting better.

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.  However, if you rent or live in a condo, you should do your homework and check with your landlord or condo association about getting a charger installed.  For more info about charging at home, check out this post.

So, for most people the EV is a viable choice, or at least worth serious consideration.  Even if you do have a annual trek to into the backwoods with your crew, it might make sense to rent a car for that week and enjoy your EV the rest of the year.

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 one 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 require a bit more planning, at least until you get comfortable with your car’s range and finding chargers

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

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 0.350 X miles X 1.1

  • rate = the rate per killowatt-hour your utility charges you
  • 0.350 represents you driving efficiency — 350 Watts per mile, is a good conservative number for modeling costs. Efficient drivers are closer to 300W per mile and lead-footed drivers are closer to 400W per mile
  •  miles = typical miles you drive per month
  • 1.1 represents 10% losses from the charging equipment

My utility charges me $0.06/kWh to charge during off-peak hours and I drive about 2,200 miles per month, my monthly fuel costs are:

$0.06 X 0.350 X 2,200 X 1.1 = $50.82

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, I am driving 2,200 miles for less the the cost of a tank of gas for either of our two prior cars.

Maintenance

A Tesla has a couple of 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, new brake pads, etc.  Maintenance costs basically come down to the annual service (which are found under Support on the Tesla website) and tires. Annual maintenance is not required to maintain warranty coverage, but I highly recommended it.

Tires

For owners new to performance cars, the cost of tires can be a bit of a shock, even for owners on non-performancd models.  The reason comes down to three factors:

  1. The larger the wheel, the more expensive the tire
  2. Performance tires (aka “summer tires”) use softer rubber that wears more quickly
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 not perfect tire, you end up balancing cost, traction/handling, noise and ride comfort amongst other things.

Battery Pack

The battery pack itself is covered with a 8 year warranty and currently, not owners is outside of that window.  There are a number of cars that are well over the 100,000 mile mark and Plug-In America has been running a longitudinal survey and the long-term data is promising.  Personally, I am over 100,000 miles on my 2013 P86 and have ~6% battery degradation.

Insurance

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 and Credits

There are a number of credits and rebates associated with EVs in California:

Federal Taxes — There is the infamous $7,500 tax credit that causes all sorts of confusion.  The thing to bear in mind is that this is a tax credit and not a rebate.  When you do your taxes, whatever you owe to the IRS, you can subtract up to $7,500 from that amount, so, if you would have owed $10,000 in federal taxes, you now owe $2,500.  If you owed $4,000 you now owe $0.  Any unused amount is lost, it does not get rolled over or get turned into a refund.  The credit is designed to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 vehicles so expect this one to go away in the next couple of years unless Congress does something.  There is also a $1,250 tax credit for installing a home EV charger but that may be impacted by whether you have to pay AMT or not.  I am not a tax professional, so consult with someone who is if you want to understand how a Tesla purchase will impact your specific taxes.

California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project — the state may send you a check for helping to keep the air clean. The amount of the check depends on the care you buy and how much money you make but it can be up to $2,500 for the Model S and Model X.  For more details, head over to their website.

Utility Rebates — Your electric utility may be offering rebates for owning an EV.  The programs come and go, so give your utility a call to.  At the same time, you can ask them about the various rate programs they have for EV owners.

 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.  Luckily, for buyers today, both of those are much less of an issue for most buyers:

  • The Model 3 starts at $35K which is about the average price for a new car in the US. This makes a premium EV much more affordable for many more people.
  • The range of the Tesla is more than sufficient for local driving and the Supercharger and Destination charging network make road trips much more doable

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.

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