Kent Crabtree owns an electric vehicle (EV), and relishes a recent memory of his college-age son calling him from a gas station. “Mid-February, his teeth are chattering, and he says, ‘You can’t believe how easy you have it. Your car is always ready in the morning, and I’m out here freezing my tail off,’” recalls Crabtree.
“I think that’s the biggest advantage of owning any electric car,” says Crabtree, a software developer from suburban Dayton, Ohio. “It charges while you sleep, just like my phone. It’s ready when you are.” Wryly alluding to his vehicle’s more obvious benefit, Crabtree notes, “my son was feeling only half of the effect of pumping gas when it’s 10 below zero. He was using my credit card to pay for the gas.”
Crabtree isn’t the only EV driver happy to crow about the benefits of ownership. Here, EV experts and drivers break down what they think are the key perks of owning an electric vehicle.
EV technology keeps getting better
Crabtree’s electric car can travel up to 295 miles on a single charge and hustle from zero to 60 mph in under four seconds. A high-priced luxury sedan, his EV represents what’s possible in a class where buyers aren’t too sensitive about price. But that level of technology has started to flow down market.
One new EV on the market in 2017 delivers 238 miles of range and starts at $36,620, or $29,120 after the available $7,500 federal tax credit. “Ranges are increasing all the time, and it’s happening faster and more cheaply than we expected,” says attorney and self-described car guy Max Baumhefner, who leads the Clean Vehicles and Fuels program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
These gains are apparent even among lower-priced electric vehicles. According to the EPA, the standard range has risen from 84 to 107 miles for 2017. One new EV on the market priced around $29,120 has a range up to 100 miles, up from 76 last year. Another car manufacturer is promising one model, priced around $28,995 will be capable of 124 miles by next spring, a hefty improvement over this EV’s current 83 miles. (All pricing noted here is approximate, based MSRP before application of $7,500 tax credit.)
The EPA offers an online efficiency and range estimating tool for every electric vehicle on the market. Keep in mind: the reality of a car’s efficiency is based heavily on how and where you drive. The EPA cautions that its estimates are based on “typical driving conditions and driver behavior.” Things like extreme temperatures and aggressive driving can lower ratings significantly. The EPA provides several tips on how to get the most range from your battery.
Cons? EVs generally provide enough range for most drivers most of the time, but there may be little room for spontaneity in your travels. That means no unplanned or lengthy diversions from your daily routine and remembering to recharge faithfully. Buyers used to refilling their tanks on any street corner in a matter of minutes might find EVs restrictive, as well. If this is a concern, there are a handful of EV models that are able to provide extended range through a gas engine that kicks in when the battery is depleted; another option for drivers with range anxiety and short commutes is a plug-in hybrid that can operate in electric-only mode for limited distances.
Federal and state tax credits, rebates and assorted perks mean business
As of April 2016, buyers of electric vehicles anywhere in the U.S. are eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. This credit can be combined with various state incentives, ranging from $2,500 rebates in California and Rhode Island to feel-good measures like half-price vehicle registration in the District of Columbia (a benefit worth $36). Crabtree didn’t get any perks from Ohio when he bought his electric vehicle, but when he travels an hour south to downtown Cincinnati, he gets free parking at city-owned meters and garages.
Baumhefner expects to see more robust incentives in the future because eight additional states — representing one-third of the automotive market — recently adopted California’s stringent clean air standards. The Department of Energy keeps tabs on all federal and state incentives. Visit the DOE’s website to find out what’s available where you live.
The raft of incentives helps compensate for the fact that EVs can be more expensive than comparable gas-powered cars. Automakers have attempted to justify the price gap by adding standard luxury and convenience features that typically cost extra. But after all the dust settles, consumers may still pay more for an EV.
EVs are immune to common car diseases
Crabtree is now on his third electric vehicle and has used the factory warranty only once to have the headlights realigned on his first EV, which currently has 70,000 miles on the odometer and still has its original brake pads thanks to a feature called regenerative braking, which uses the motor combined with traditional friction braking to slow the car. This type of braking system is used to some extent on most EVs, as well as hybrid vehicles.
Baumhefner believes EVs are inherently more reliable because they’re simpler than conventional cars. “There’s no oil to leak, no head gasket to fail, no clutch to replace. Currently, EVs use a single-speed transmission, so there are no gears either,” says Baumhefner.
One downside? EVs are not suited for regular garage tinkerers or DIY repairs because they’re so advanced, says Baumhefner. “You can change the wiper blades and keep the tires inflated — that’s about it. Most people don’t work on their own vehicles these days, and doing so could void the factory warranty,” he notes.
Of course, all of this so-called simplicity means you don’t have much of a choice when it comes to equipment. Like to shift yourself? Forget it. Want to tow a boat or camper? Not recommended for most EV models on the market for 2017, which take the form of smallish hatchbacks and sedans. That’s understandable from an efficiency perspective, but it could leave most families and driving enthusiasts out of the picture.
Chargers are convenient, but not necessary
Home chargers (also called Level 2 chargers) are available through most car dealers, usually at a discount when you buy an electric vehicle. They’re unobtrusive, wall-mounted affairs (think 1980s landline with a long cord), but they also require a 240-volt outlet — the type used for large appliances like dryers or ovens. A dedicated charger should return a fully depleted battery to full charge in as few as four hours. According to Consumer Reports, most home chargers fall in the $400–$700 range. A survey from HomeAdvisor.com puts the average cost of professional installation at $601.
Although Baumhefner believes the market will eventually migrate to home chargers, he believes most EV owners plug into a regular household outlet using the charging cable that comes standard with every EV. This is known as Level 1 or “trickle” charging, and provides about five miles of range for each hour of charging. “You only need 240 volts if you come home close to empty and need to go far the next day,” says Baumhefner.
The reality of a gas-free future
Coal-fired power plants provide about 33 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The rest comes from a mix of cleaner sources like natural gas, nuclear and renewables like wind and solar. “When you take electricity generation into account, environmental assessments and air quality modeling indicate that EVs currently produce half the pollutants of gas-powered cars,” says Baumhefner. He also notes that the grid is getting cleaner all the time as new technologies come online. That means today’s EV will pollute less down the road, unlike conventional cars, which tend to use more fuel and emit more pollutants as they age.
At least one fact of life isn’t likely to change as transportation goes green. Even the most technically advanced cars will get handed down to the kids. Crabtree’s son no longer freezes at gas stations because he’s now driving dad’s first EV.
Research state and
local EV incentives or
buyers may get more
than the $7,500 max.
federal income tax
credit in return.
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