While they still account for a slim percentage of the new-vehicle market in the U.S., sales of electric cars, led by the top-selling Tesla Model 3, are rising steadily. And with several new models being released in coming months and additional off-lease electric cars headed to used-vehicle lots, 2020 could well be the year you take the proverbial plunge and buy an electric car. But shopping for a battery-powered vehicle is somewhat different process than it is with a conventional gas-fueled model. Here are five prime variables to consider when buying either a new or used electric car:
This is arguably an electric-car shopper’s most important concern. Today’s electric cars cut a wide swath is this regard, with driving capacities that run from around 100 miles to more than 300 miles, with the sweet spot being the mid-200-mile range. Do you even need that much? According to ABC News the average commute in the U.S. is 32 miles round trip, though those living in distant suburbs and rural areas tend to clock a higher-than-average number of miles each day.
It pays to pick a model with an operating range that exceeds your expected needs, and here’s why: Estimated ranges for electric cars are just that – estimated – and will vary based on a number of factors. For starters, you’ll drain the battery quicker while driving on the highway than you will around town. That’s because it takes more energy to propel an electric car at higher speeds. Also, you’ll burn more kilowatts of power driving in extreme temperatures. Research conducted by the AAA found that when the mercury dips to 20°F and the vehicle’s heater is in use, an average electric car’s range will be an average 41 percent shorter than when the mercury is at 70°F. When the thermometer hits 90°F, an electric car’s range drops by an average 17 percent with the air conditioning running. And you’ll want to be prepared for the possibility that at some point during your ownership period you may take on a new job that requires a longer commute.
Next to an electric car’s operating range, the sticker price is its next most important consideration. The least expensive electric cars for 2020 are priced in the $30,000 range, though some luxury-minded models run from around $70,000 to more than $100,000. The new-for-2020 Porsche Taycan starts at around $151,000. Needless to say, you should buy or lease an electric car that’s well within your financial reach. Always research prices for any vehicles you’re considering, including options, via an Internet source like Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) or NADAGuides.com to see what you can afford. Also consider the manufacturer’s mandatory delivery charge, registration costs, and state and local taxes that will be tacked onto the vehicle’s transaction price.
Keep in mind that most electric cars sold in the U.S. are eligible for a one-time $7,500 federal tax credit that effectively cuts the price by that amount. (The exceptions are Tesla vehicles and the Chevrolet Bolt EV, for which the credits are being phased out; they're currently at $1,850). Unfortunately you’ll have to wait until you file income taxes the following year to realize the credit, and you won’t get the full amount if you wind up paying less than $7,500 in federal income taxes. Those who lease an electric car, on the other hand, can get the full benefit of this incentive immediately, as the credit is usually wrapped into the deal, with the leasing company being the owner of record. A number of states offer their own tax breaks or cash rebates to help promote electric car sales.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider choosing a used model, like any of those listed for sale here on MyEV.com. With the exception of Tesla models, which hold onto their resale values tenaciously, electric cars are extremely affordable in the pre-owned market. They tend to have below-average resale values because of the aforementioned federal tax credit, still limited demand, and other factors. The trade-off is that most three-year-old or older electric cars tend to deliver fewer miles on a charge than many of the latest models.
Aside from paying attention to an electric car’s price and range, you’ll want to choose a model you can live with as a daily driver. For example, a subcompact model’s interior may be too cramped for taller motorists. Some electric cars are inherently easy to enter and exit for some drivers than others. Back seat leg and headroom would be a concern or if you regularly carry multiple passengers. If you have small children, you’ll want to determine how easy or difficult it might be to get them in and out of their car seats. You’ll also want to make sure the cargo room in the trunk (if it’s a sedan) or behind the back seats (if it’s a hatchback or crossover sport-utility vehicle) can hold a sufficient number of grocery bags or cover your typical warehouse-store purchases. Also check the cargo volume with the rear seatbacks folded flat, and make note of how easy or difficult it is to load and unload bulky items.
No matter what type of vehicle you’re looking for, new or used, gas or electric, you’ll want to take a thorough test drive before signing a bill of sale. It’s essential to ensure the vehicle is acceptably comfortable, and with all accessories easily operated and in good working order. Importantly for those who have never driven an electric car, you’ll notice there’s a somewhat different driving experience involved.
Since there’s no engine or exhaust, an electric car is whisper quiet, which can be off-putting to some motorists. An electric car delivers 100 percent of its available power immediately, which can make higher-powered models feel twitchy until you learn how to modulate the accelerator. Electric cars use one-speed transmissions, so there’s no sensation of gearshifts. Also, the vehicle’s regenerative braking function, which helps recover energy that would otherwise be lost through decelerating and braking, can be quite pronounced depending on the model. What amounts to a high level of engine braking may feel unnatural. Some electric cars allow the driver to choose more or less regenerative braking as desired, and even enable so-called “one pedal” driving that will all but bring the car to a complete stop without having to use the brake pedal.
Even if you have a standard power outlet in your garage, you’ll want to spend the money to have an electrician install a 240-volt line and perhaps a wall mounted charger to take advantage of quicker “Level 2” charging times. While it can take as long as 24 hours to fully charge a given battery-powered vehicle on house current (Level 1), most models can reach full capacity overnight via a Level 2 circuit. Check with your local utility company to see if they offer a discount for electricity during off-peak hours.
You’ll also want to make note of where public charging stations are located near where you live, work, and shop, in case your car is running low on kilowatts while away from home. Look for “Level 3” DC Fast Charge installations that can bring an electric car’s battery pack up to 80 percent of its capacity in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the vehicle. Public charging is neither as convenient, nor as economical as charging at home, however.
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