How is an EV different than a regular car?
Electric vehicles (EV) use an electric motor to propel a car forward instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE) or gas powered vehicle. The benefits are plentiful and the technology is actually quite old (many of the first cars ever made were actually electric ). Today I want to help you understand what an EV is, what it is not, and why you should consider one as you decide on your next vehicle. I have been an EV owner for the past 5 years and honestly, making the switch to EV has been an incredibly easy and positive decision. The instant torque you get when you step on the accelerator (not a gas pedal) is always a thrill and usually a surprise for those drivers alongside you or passengers who haven’t experienced an EV before. I’ve saved a significant amount of money by not buying gas and having next to nothing in maintenance costs. I saved this money on gas while driving almost completely clean (I’ll cover the “but you use coal” and other fallacies later on).
What is an EV?
Let’s start off by defining the various types of vehicles in this group. Strictly speaking, EV stands for Electric Vehicle and is a category of vehicle that uses an electric motor for propulsion. However, there are a number of different types of vehicles on the market now which either have an electric motor as their main drive or as part of their overall system. Cars such as the Kia Soul EV, Nissan Leaf, all Teslas and Mitsubishi i-MIEV (and coming in the Fall Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and the Chevy Bolt) are all plug-in full electric and use only an electric motor to power the car. These cars have no way to run on gasoline. When you run out of electric charge, the car will stop until you charge it again. Your range (the full distance you can drive) is entirely dependent on the size of the battery which is generally between 80-110 miles on a full charge (although most Teslas give you up to 200 miles as will the Chevy Bolt). For most people this is enough range to get you to work and back, even if you can’t charge in between.
Currently, the Chevy Volt is the only extended range EV car on the market with a total range of over 400 miles on a full charge and a full tank of gas (which can be refilled at any time). While the Volt only uses the electric motor to drive the car it has a gas powered electric generator which replenishes the battery while you are driving. The Volt is unique in the market today, and has the same range as any ICE vehicle. Hybrids are the most well known in this class and have both an ICE and an EV engine to power the vehicle. The Prius is a good example of a hybrid vehicle and generally these are designed to give you better gas mileage (over 60 mpg in some cases).
Range anxiety is a term that has been used to describe the feeling of not wanting to drive an EV because you might run out of power and get stranded somewhere. This is a legitimate concern if you drive an EV only car. The new generation of EVs are making changes such as batteries with longer charges to alleviate those fears. There is also an ever growing network of charging stations in places where people regularly park which allow you to recharge. Since most EVs currently have batteries that will give you around 80 miles on a full charge you need to be aware of your normal commute or daily driving activities. Also, this becomes a moot point in a Chevy Volt where you have a gas generator onboard to continue charging your battery if it fully depletes. With a Volt you essentially have the same range as any other car on the road. As batteries give EVs more range (Chevy is launching the Bolt in late 2016 that has over 200 mile range and Tesla already has that range) and charging stations become more commonplace, you will see this no longer as a reason against owning an EV. Some of the EV cars can also be driven in regenerate mode so you can gain back some of the miles you lost by normal driving, using heat/AC or driving too fast. What that means is that the car uses a special braking system to slow the car down which also functions as a battery recharger of sorts, you can recharge your batter just a little bit while driving (which is so much fun to do). One of the interesting things that happens as you get more comfortable with features like this, is that it will change the way you drive.
Driving an EV will change the way you drive
Driving an EV is a lot of fun and it will change how you drive. With the built-in technology you can see how efficiently you are driving. After your first few days of driving, you will begin to change how you drive to try to achieve better efficiency. Slowly you will get more miles out of each subsequent charge. In some ways it is almost like a real life video game, how efficiently can you drive the kids to school and how few miles will you use up? The more efficiently you drive, the higher the number of miles you will be able to use for each charge. There are people on EV forums that tout their ability to use their regenerative brakes to literally recharge their vehicles while driving. Coasting to a red light while your ICE road neighbors are rushing up and slamming on their brakes will have you shaking your head at their wastefulness. Many EVs now have different steering wheel paddles, shifting options or other mechanisms to help you in your quest to go just a little farther on that full charge. To many, it really has turned a boring daily drive into a real-life video game and helped them to unlock all of the benefits of owning an EV.
Saves money by using no (or very little) gas
Electric vehicles use little to no gas. Instead, you plug in your car and charge it up with electricity which can come right out of a normal electric outlet. Yes, the same plug that you can plug your toaster into can also charge up your electric car. Cool huh? I’m not going to compare the costs of the car itself right now, let’s look at only the operational costs of running an EV versus an ICE. Generally, my Chevy Volt costs me about 3.5 cents per mile to run based on how much it costs me in electricity to fill the battery completely and how far I can travel on that full charge. To figure out a comparable cost for your ICE you can divide the MPG by the cost per gallon of gas. So, if your car gets 20 miles per gallon and gas costs $3.00 per gallon you are paying 15 cents per mile or close to 5 times what I pay. Also, an electric engine is almost completely maintenance free which means ongoing operational savings are significant as well. I’ve only changed my oil twice and have had no other maintenance costs in 5 years.
When you charge, as in what time of day or night, can also have an impact on your savings. Every EV I have tested has the ability to set the time when it starts charging to allow you to take advantage of lower off-peak electric rates (generally weekends and overnight 7PM – 6AM). These rates can be significantly lower than the rates you pay during the day, sometimes as much as 90% lower. If you can plan your charging to occur at these times, you can almost charge for free. Speaking of charging for free, I do it all the time – at the train station, the airport, MOM’s Market, Whole Foods, the mall. the movie theater, and plenty of other places. These different methods for charging your vehicle give you plenty of options to cut your costs even more. If your company has a charger or access to an electrical outlet you can charge your car while you work for little to no cost as well. You can find where charging stations are by using a variety of apps/websites including Plugshare and Carstations
Don’t forget about the rebates!
Currently, there is a $7500 federal tax rebate on the purchase of almost any EV. As with any tax rebate you’ll have to jump through some hoops, but it’s well worth it. Many states also have additional incentives such as no sales tax on certain EVs. Georgia and California also have between $2000 and $5000 extra tax rebates when you buy an electric car. These rebates help to offset the higher costs of either a purchase or lease of an EV.
It drives smooooth
An electric engine propulsion system is different from the ICE engines you are used to driving. When you step on the accelerator, the acceleration is instant and immediate. There is very little sound and no gears shifting as you continue to accelerate. The ride is very unique. The only way I can describe it is that it is smoooooth. You’ll have to test drive one for yourself to get the full effect.
Acceleration is amazing
Electric vehicles such as the Tesla, are known for being fast and having great acceleration, but that is true of almost all of the EVs I have driven. One of the nice features on my Chevy Volt is something called Sport Mode. In standard mode the acceleration is held back so that it feels like most ICE vehicles. When you switch to Sport mode it allows you to access more of the full acceleration and when you step on the accelerator you can FEEL it take off. It is so much fun to be at a stop light knowing that you can absolutely get past anyone you need to. Its surprising to most people when they experience it for the first time. Of course, the above video of the INSANE mode on the new Teslas takes that to an entirely different place.
At home: Your EV doesn’t need to go to the gas station, but it does need to get filled up (with electrons). So how does that work and how can I charge it everyday or as often as I need? Every EV comes with a portable charger that will plug into any electric outlet. These charge your car at a slower rate and can take up to 10 hours to charge your vehicle depending on a number of factors. These portable chargers are easy to use, plug into any outlet and are essential for your ability to charge up your car. The next step up you can make is to get a Level 2 charger. These higher level chargers will charge your vehicle much faster (sometimes as fast as a few hours for a full charge) but they do require a 220v outlet. This is the same type of outlet you would have for your washer or dryer or your refrigerator. It’s not difficult to install one, but unless you know what you are doing, you can have an electrician install the 220v outlet and even mount the level 2 charger on the wall. There are a number of choices for Level 2 charging and you can do some research on how to get the right one for you. There may also be tax incentives to purchase one of these depending on where you live. The main benefit of having a Level 2 charger installed is convenience and time.
On the road: You can also find a growing number of public charging stations at all kinds of places now including the airport, train stations, shopping, malls, etc. Some cars have built in NAV alerts to show you all the charging stations nearby. Or you can use apps like plugshare to find local stations. These apps will also have reviews from users telling you where in the garage you will find a specific charging station or if it has a specific account you need (Blink and Chargepoint are two), and even if they are currently being used by another car. These charging stations allow you to top off when you are out, charge completely if you stay for a while, or just get a little more charge while you get something quick to eat. Tesla has its own network of proprietary charging stations throughout the country that will allow you to drive nearly anywhere while having access to a super fast charging station.
Charging at work has become much more common as electric vehicles have become more popular. If you have a daily commute you should investigate where you might be able to charge your car while at work all day. Do they have charging stations at your company? Are there any outlets in the garage which you might be able to use with your portable charger? (I would always make a point of asking your company about this and even obtaining permission). If you can charge at work, it makes getting an EV a no brainer.
Notice I didn’t mention the environment:
There are plenty of good arguments about how driving an EV will help the environment and reduce carbon emissions, etc. Those are all great points and are countered by the oil industry who put out articles saying things like, “EVs run on coal”. These types of articles are obviously silly and designed to confuse people who want to consider electric vehicles. While I am certainly thrilled that I can drive a zero emissions vehicle, it is only one of many reason why I chose the Volt. In the interest of full disclosure, we have purchased our electrical service from a provider that uses 100% wind energy for years now. It’s very marginally more expensive, but worth it to us. There are many people who have gone with solar panels for their homes and use that electricity to power their EVs. They are literally driving on sunshine.
- Is Range important to you?
- How far is your commute?
- Can you charge your car at work or school?
- How many miles do you drive on an average day?
- Do you need 5 seats? 7 seats? Or can you live with a 4 seater?
One of the calculations we needed to make was to determine how often we actually had more than 4 (of our 7 total family members) in the car at the same time. The answer was – not very often – which meant we could make a decision on which car was right for us without having to worry about that aspect of it.
Depending on how you answer these questions you may be perfectly fine with an EV with a shorter range or you may want to consider a Chevy Bolt which gives you over 200 miles of pure EV range. If range anxiety is a real thing for you, then consider the Chevy Volt.
There are so many new options to choose from in this range of vehicles now from BMW to Mitsubishi to Chevy to Kia and on and on. Like their ICE counterparts there are plenty of differences between the prices, options, styles and other reasons why you would choose one vehicle over another. My suggestion is to go test drive a bunch of them and see which ones make the most sense for you. You can also look up events like Drive Electric Week which host events nationwide where you can see dozens of different types of EVs and talk to their owners about what they like and don’t like. Also, feel free to leave a question in the comments section which we will answer as quickly as possible.