Buying an Electric Car: Everything You Need to Know

By Nicole Powers | Car

Mar 18

Tesla Model 3 is a lot in the headlines these days and has been tipped as the vehicle that makes electric cars mainstream. The high-tech and beautiful model may be the linchpin that stumps out greenhouse gases from the traffic. Unfortunately, the 500,000-reservation-list may prove a hurdle to acquiring a model 3 anytime soon, unless you are on the list.

The automotive industry is moving toward electric. Volvo planned to stop selling gas-powered vehicles by 2019, and Mercedes already has four electric vehicles (EVs) in the works. Ford is scheduled to release it’s an all-electric automobile by 2020. Also, Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf are other revelations that are ready to populate the local streets in Europe and the USA. 

There are a handful of perks associated with owning an EV. For starters, they are an environmental statement and may prove budget-friendly in the long run. Developments such as Model 3 and the new GM battery, Ultium, are expected to bring down the initial cost of electric vehicles. And thanks to Elon Musk, electric cars are set to become a tech status symbol. If you are ready to dip your feet into the electric vehicle market, the following considerations may prove helpful.

Considerations for buying an electric car

1. The Why

Perhaps your goal is to save the plant? Or at least decrease your contribution to the damage caused by CO2 emissions. It’s as important of a reason to go for an electric vehicle as ever. The thing to keep in mind is that the source of your electricity matters greatly in your effort to be more environmentally considerate. If you live in a region where electricity is generated from sources that result in low-pollution, and not the likes of coal-fire power, then that’ll get you closer to your zero-emissions goal. Do some research and digging on the sources of electricity in your region to guide your understanding of the impact of your purchase.

2. Purpose

Before you can decide to go all-electric, think about what you intend to use the vehicle for? Will you be using your Model 3 to commute to your place of work or for road trips? Traditionally, motor vehicles were either status symbols or tools. Even though not much has changed, automobiles now reflect our values. Whatever the case, make sure that it fits your lifestyle. 

3. All-Electric vs. Hybrids

Electric vehicles are not all the same. Some are hybrids. All-electric cars are only powered by electricity. On the other hand, plug-in hybrid vehicles run on a combination of fossil fuels and electricity. Typically, the range for electric power is around 40 miles and then switches over to gas. 

Hybrids are a good choice if you belong to the group of those constantly worried about the range. This is where you dread getting stuck in the middle of nowhere when the battery runs out of power. Still, the gas engine in hybrids can kick in during rapid acceleration and to power air conditioning. 

4. Budget 

Switching to an electric vehicle can have significant cost savings. But you have to realize that the most influential models can cost an arm and leg, and even an eye. For example, Tesla Model S and Model X are the most popular, but they are still out of reach for many people. Model 3, with basic features, is affordable. But if you throw in the bells and whistles such as the autopilot system, Model 3 will take you back $50000.

But the prices will soon come down with the introduction of Ultium batteries by General Motors and the large automakers throwing their hat into the ring. For example, Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt have somehow brought affordability into the fray. Tax credits on buying an electric vehicle can also bring the cost down significantly. If you buy a new EV, you can qualify for a one-time $7,500 tax credit, and if you’re leasing it, a tax break will help lower the monthly payments when applied to the total cost of leasing. These credits do phase out for automakers after they reach certain milestones: e.g. when they sell 200,000 EVs and/or plug-in hybrids. Both Tesla and General Motors have achieved these milestones so the tax credits for those automakers are a lot lower than you’re probably used to hearing or seeing. In addition to tax credits, there are other incentive programs out there including cash rebates. Be sure you read up on the caveats and determine whether you are eligible.

5. Buy vs. Lease

With lower monthly payments and promotional offers, it’s not too surprising that 80% of electric vehicles are leased. Most people prefer leasing versus buying for a variety of reasons:

  • A short term lease means to get access to the latest and greatest models every few years, with the most up to date technology, including increased operating range
  • Leasing a new electric vehicle gives you access to tax credits and other incentives that used car buyers don’t qualify for

The downsides to leasing an electric vehicle include the standard you would expect when deciding to lease or buy a car:

  • Having a perpetual car payment
  • Keeping the car in pristine condition until your lease ends, or otherwise incur costs associated with any damage to the car

6. Insurance Costs

Insurance costs for electric vehicles are generally higher than gas-powered vehicles. Most EV owners will pay 21 percent more than normal. These higher premiums are due to the higher cost of fixing electric cars, specifically their expensive battery packs. Don’t worry, the high cost is unrelated to insurance company safety concerns surrounding electric cars, but this should be considered when planning financially for an EV purchase.

7. Range 

Range is the distance an electric car can travel in between charging sessions. The longer the range, the better and more practical for you. The range is the distance that the electric vehicle can travel before a recharge. EVs have a range of up to 100 miles, with some newer entries cracking the 200-mile range. Tesla Model S can reach 335 miles, and model X, 295 miles. Chevy Bolt can manage 238 miles and Nissan Leaf, 107 miles. BMW i3 is around 114 miles. Range will be one of the most important factors in making your EV purchase so be sure to pay attention to this.

8. Availability of Charging Stations 

The safest bet for electric vehicle owners is charging at home by plugging in into a regular AC outlet. By morning, the car should be ready for the next adventure. The problem of charging at your garage is that it may take quite a significant amount of time to juice up properly. The wallbox charging station, an alternative, does not come cheap. Charging-on-the-go may prove a considerable challenge, especially if your location does not have one.

The charging stations in the US are not very many, at least at the moment. The US Department of Energy lists around 24,609 charging outlets in the US, and that may not be quite enough with increasing demand and adoption of electric vehicles. 

If you don’t have a garage for overnight charging and you’re not anywhere near a charging station, then you may need to consider a plug-in hybrid. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.