There’s never been a better time to buy an electric car. Modern EVs have evolved beyond eco-conscious style statements and they really can serve all of your needs these days. At the same time, the infrastructure has caught up and most of us can run an EV if we really want to.
But at the same time that the EV world is getting more accessible, it has never been more confusing. There are a vast array of electric cars and if you get the wrong one then you could have a disaster on your hands. Some of today’s EVs will be scrap metal in a matter of years, while others are wildly expensive and might be just too much car for you.
So, what do you really need to know before you buy an electric car? Here is a handy guide to get you started.
1. How much will your EV cost?
This is a much more complex question than it first looks, thanks to Federal and State level grants that could slash more than $15,000 off the sticker price of your new EV. Then there are the fuel savings to consider if you’re thinking about jumping from an ICE-powered car.
The Federal tax benefit is a complex beast, too, as both Tesla and GM are set to hit 200,000 EV sales in the third or fourth quarter of 2018. That seems a long way off, but nobody is sure whether you’ll get that incentive if you order a Tesla Model 3 right now. The Bolt seems safe as it has a much shorter wait list.
State level incentives can cut thousands more from the price of your car. Colorado, Illinois, Maryland and California have the best tax breaks and you should check this handy guide to figure out just how much your EV will actually cost.
Some cities and buildings even offer free parking. If you pay for that privilege right now, then you should factor that into your figures too.
2. Should you buy a used EV?
There are some really tempting deals out there and the likes of the Nissan LEAF and BMW i3 are relative bargains now when you see them in the classifieds. So if you just need a city car then this can be a brilliant way to own an EV that skirts congestion and pollution charges.
But this is cutting edge technology and it moves fast. That means that a three-year-old car can be a dinosaur and it will be relatively limited unless you spend much more money on a used, high-end Tesla.
On the upside, there’s a lot less to go wrong on an EV. So, mechanically speaking, you should just have to the basic checks. If it’s out of warranty, though, it might be a good idea to get the battery pack properly checked out. A replacement will cost you thousands.
3. Will an EV work for you?
Technically you can drive right across America in a machine like the Tesla Model S and if you spend most of your time in built-up areas then you’ll never run into any issues whatsoever when it comes to the range.
Tesla and now GM have produced cars with increasingly usable ranges and the infrastructure is growing exponentially. Tesla has even committed to doubling its own charging network to more than 5,200 Superchargers at more than 750 location by the end of 2017. It might not hit that ambitious target, but the message is clear that charging points are coming to a place near you.
Inevitably, though, Elon Musk’s outfit, EVGo, and the government-backed supercharger network have to focus on built-up areas and freeways. That’s great for the vast majority of the population. But if you do big miles on rural roads then an EV might come with too many sacrifices. So, you might be better off with a plug-in hybrid that can run on old-fashioned gas when the electric juice runs dry.
An EV might sound like a great plan, and it is, but if you’re stranded by the roadside then you could regret that choice.
Even the Tesla Model S 100D comes with a range of 335 miles, which should be enough for most major journeys. But even with this expensive and range-topping car, in rural areas then you’ll be forced to charge when you can, rather than when you want to. That’s a major inconvenience.
4. Where do you live?
EVs are getting better, but in cold conditions then the battery won’t give you the same returns. In fact, when the weather is really bad, AAA claims that an EV can lose a massive 57% of its range.
That’s an inconvenience the range topping Tesla Model S, but in an EV with a smaller battery then it could make the car borderline unusable in the winter months.
A 2013 Nissan Leaf, for instance, has an 84-mile range on a full charge in perfect conditions. According to AAA’s numbers that could drop to as little as 36 miles in adverse weather and that just isn’t a car you would want to rely on. So if you’re living in Alaska, a plug-in hybrid might be a safer option.
Depending on your needs, an electric motorcycle might actually be a better choice for you. Here are some of the best available.
5. What range do you really need in your EV?
Let’s say you live in an urban environment, you don’t cover huge distances to the back end of beyond on a routine basis and you don’t live in the Arctic Circle. So, you’re the ideal customer for an EV.
But which one?
As with ICE cars, the price difference between the bottom and top end is eye watering, so you really need to nail down your priorities and get a car you can afford that does the job you need.
Tesla’s Model 3 will drive a stake through this whole point when it arrives and GM has arguably beaten it to the punch with the 238-mile Chevy Bolt. Some EVs, though, are still stuck with a relatively pitiful range. The BMWi3 EV covers just 114 miles between charges and the VW eGolf does just 84.
So, before you settle on a specific brand, then you really need to analyze your own specific needs. If you use a car for a short daily commute and nothing more, then you don’t need to worry about the range.
If you have longer trips in the mix or even if charging at work is an issue then you really need to put range at the top of the list of priorities. That might mean crossing some of your favorite models off the list.
6. Can you charge your EV at home?
A lot of people overlook this, but it can be a painful and costly mistake.
If you have a house with a driveway then you can install your own three-phase, Level 2 Charging system that should give you a full charge overnight.
If you live in an apartment block, though, you might want to check how far the nearest Supercharger is. A full charge will still take a while and it’s slower than filling up with gas, but that’s something most of us can live with.
Public charging ports are an increasingly common sight in the city, so you should be able to charge at most malls and parking lots before too long. But figure out how you’re going to charge your car, whether it’s worth the installation cost of a Level 2 charger at home and what kind of EV infrastructure you have in your locale.
7. Is it better to lease your EV?
Current leasing deals have never been more attractive and you can still get a number of incentives to help cover the cost, depending on which state you live in.
You can have a Tesla Model S 60D on your drive for approximately $986 a month. Alternatively, you can have a Kia Soul EV for just $199 a month. It’s a $32,000 car although you’d get incentives on the purchase, so the lease deal is mighty tempting.
This technology moves so fast that owning a used EV in five years might not be the blessing you might think. The next generation will all have advanced self-driving technology and that means an EV that sells without it right now might be borderline worthless in three years.
It might be far less painful to hand back a leased car and sign a new deal designed to snag you in to re-signing. If your car has depreciated heavily then the leasing company will undoubtedly share your pain, or even offer a guaranteed buyback price that cuts your risk to pretty much nothing.
So, before you finance a purchase, consider the lease options available.