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What You Should Know Before You Buy an Electric Car

What you should know before you buy an electric car header

By Jessica Bennett on October 6, 2020 in life hacks

For years, experts in the car industry have claimed that electric vehicles (EVs) are the future, but is that future finally here? Signs point to yes. Research suggests more Americans than ever are ready to slide into the driver’s seat of an electric car. In a 2019 Consumer Reports survey, 63% of respondents were interested in buying an electric car. Perhaps that’s why Volvo has announced that all their new cars will be hybrid or electric models, and why JP Morgan predicts EVs will represent 30% of vehicle sales by 2025.

Are you thinking of purchasing an electric vehicle for your next ride? Electric vehicles are exciting, but many drivers worry about what it may mean to trade in a combustion engine for a battery pack. How do you take EV on a road trip, and will the battery conk out at 65,000 miles? Are EVs more expensive than their oil-sipping cousins, and is it a good idea to buy a used electric vehicle? You ask, and we answer. Here’s everything you need to know before shopping for an electric vehicle.

Let’s Talk About Range Anxiety

No one wants to cruise down the highway belting out the latest Taylor Swift song (no judgments), only to run out of battery power and get stuck. This fear is so common among drivers that it has a name — range anxiety. In a survey by AAA, 57% of respondents cited range anxiety as a reason they weren’t ready to buy an electric vehicle.

Range anxiety makes sense because early electric cars offered less-than-impressive ranges. The 2013 Nissan Leaf, for example, could only drive 75 miles on a full battery. EVs have come a long way since 2013. The majority of today’s EVs hit a range of 200 miles on a single battery charge in ideal conditions, and the 2020 Tesla Model S clocks in at an impressive 373-mile range. That’s more than enough to cover the 29 miles per day the average American drives when they’re not on road trips. (Keep reading to learn more about charging stations.)

Is range anxiety something that should hold you back from buying an EV? Not according to most EV drivers. According to the AAA survey, 95% of EV owners report that they’ve never run out of battery while driving.

How to Get a Charge

One of the most significant benefits of owning an electric car is that you won’t need to hit the gas station every week. Instead, EV owners can plug their car into a standard 110-volt wall outlet for Level 1 (L1) charging. L1 is the slowest form of charging, but if you plug in your car each night, you’ll get a good charge by morning.

Those who want a faster charge at home can install a wall-mounted Level 2 (L2) charging outlet. L2 outlets typically charge a battery in four to six hours. You’ll probably want to hire a professional electrician to install the charging outlet. Their services, along with the outlet, will typically set you back $1,200 to $2,000, according to Consumer Reports.

What happens if you can’t get home to charge your car or want to go on a road trip that exceeds your battery range? The U.S. is slowly building an EV charging infrastructure. EV drivers can access 63,000 public charging stations throughout the country, according to EV Adoption. In some cities, it isn’t uncommon to find EV charging stations in the parking lots of grocery stores, office buildings, and college campuses.

While most public charging stations are of the L2 variety, which isn’t convenient for filling up during a long road trip, more cities are beginning to install DC Level 3 (L3) charging stations. DC L3 stations can charge most batteries up to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes. Additionally, Tesla has currently installed more than 1900 Tesla-specific charging stations across the U.S.

Drivers planning road trips should carefully map their journeys to ensure access to charging stations. Websites such as PlugShare.com and PlugInAmerica.org can help you find nearby charging stations. You may need to join a charging network or download an app to use certain chargers, so do some research before you head out on your first trip.


Yeah, but How Long Will My Battery Last?

There is a persistent rumor that EV batteries will die somewhere around 65,000 miles, leaving drivers with no choice but to sell their cars for scrap or slap down $5,000 to $15,000 for a new battery. The truth is far different.

First, the U.S. government requires car companies to cover EV batteries for at least eight years or 100,000 miles, though the nature of this coverage varies by manufacturer. Some manufacturers only cover the battery in the event of total failure, which is uncommon. Other companies such as BMW, Chevrolet, Nissan, Tesla, and Volkswagen will replace the battery if it falls below a certain capacity, according to MyEv.com.

However, drivers shouldn’t worry too much about cars outlasting batteries. Except in rare cases, batteries don’t just die. Instead, they slowly degrade over time. (If you’ve owned a smartphone for more than a year, you’re acquainted with this bitter reality.) The company Geotab collected data on more than 6,000 electric vehicles and found that battery degradation averaged about 2.3% a year. As they explain it, “This means that if you purchase an EV today with a 150-mile range, losing about 17 miles of accessible range after five years is unlikely to impact your day-to-day needs.” Geotab determined that “if the observed degradation rates are maintained, the vast majority of batteries will outlast the usable life of the vehicle.”

How Will My EV Hold Up in a Blizzard?

Electric vehicles do best in moderate climates. Their charging speeds and mileage ranges depend on ideal weather conditions. When the temperature rises or drops too much, an EV loses notable battery performance and charging capability.

AAA researched this topic and discovered that when the temperature drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and a driver cranks the heat, an EV’s range drops an average of 41%. That means a car such as the Nissan Leaf with a range of 150 miles will only get about 88 miles on a full charge. Keep in mind that cold weather slows charging, so it will take longer to recharge your car, too.

It’s important to keep performance declines in mind if you live in a place with high heat or bone-chilling cold. You won’t be able to rely on your car’s top mileage reports during much of the year.

How Much Will It Cost to Charge an EV?

EV drivers love to crow about all the money they save by plugging instead of gassing up, but how much change can you keep in your pocket? It depends on how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) it takes to charge your vehicle and the electricity cost in your area. If you have a tiered energy plan, electricity costs vary by state and can change depending on when you charge your car. (You can find your state’s average electricity cost here.)

Prospective EV drivers should also calculate the cost of a charging station and installation if they plan to get an L2 charger. Additionally, some EV drivers choose to invest in solar panels, which, on the surface, may seem to offer free car charging power. In reality, however, charging an electric car daily requires a more extensive solar array. Solar panels cost money, which you should add to the overall charging calculation for an EV.

Do EVs Offer a Good Driving Experience?

Forget everything you thought you knew about the look, feel, and driving experience of electric vehicles. The first EVs and hybrid vehicles to come off the production line in the early 2000s were notable for their clunky appearance and less-than-stellar performance. They appealed to drivers who cared more about lowering their environmental footprint than winning a red-light drag race.

That changed when Tesla launched its luxury Roadster in 2008. In a moment, EVs became cool. Many of today’s growing fleet of EVs look and drive great. In their comprehensive 2019 review of EVs, Consumer Reports wrote, “We’ve found most electric cars deliver instant power from a stop, and they are both smooth and quiet when underway. … Most electric vehicles we’ve tested ride comfortably. Despite their heavy batteries, they typically handle well …”

If you want to see what’s possible with an EV, take a look at luxury models such as the Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-PACE, or Tesla Model X, which can each hit 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds.

Are Used EVs a Good Deal?

Since EVs can be a little pricey (depending on the model), you may be interested in buying a used model. Some drivers may feel concerned about purchasing a used EV due to worries about the car’s battery. However, as mentioned, most EV batteries outlive cars. Additionally, if you purchase a car with under 100,000 miles on it that’s under eight years old, your battery will likely still be under warranty.

With that problem out of the way, the only question is how to find an EV to purchase. Hop onto any used car website, such as Kelly Blue Book or CarMax, or a specialty EV site, such as MyEV.com, to find a range of used EVs.

You may be surprised at the good deals you can find. Many used Nissan Leafs, for example, sell for under $10,000. Keep in mind that you can’t expect the same mileage range from a used EV.

Can I Still Get a Tax Credit for Buying an EV?

Want to purchase a new EV? Get ready for sticker shock. EVs are more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts, but this extra cost can be offset, at least in part, by a $7,500 federal tax credit. Not bad! However, whether you qualify for the tax credit depends on which car model you choose. (Hint: Sorry future Tesla owners.)

In a nutshell, the more EV cars the manufacturer sells, the lower the tax credit. As the manufacturer sells EVs, they move through tiers of lower tax credits (from $7,500 down to $2,500) until they sell 200,000 EVs, at which point the tax credit disappears.

Most car manufacturers have not yet reached these sales numbers, but Tesla has. So has General Motors, with its popular Chevy Volt and Chevy Bolt. That means if you’ve been hankering for a Chevy Bolt or a Tesla Model Y, you won’t be able to count on a tax credit, at least not from the federal government. You can check the government’s list to see how much of a tax credit, if any, you can receive for the EV you plan to purchase.

Many states also help offset the cost of your EV with rebates and tax credits. The following states offer some form of credit for investing in an EV. (Check with your state for details):

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Texas
  • Vermont

Additionally, until December 2020, EV purchasers can enjoy a tax credit of up to $1,000 on installing a fuel charger into their home.

Let’s Talk About Price

On the surface, EVs are more expensive than their gas-sipping counterparts, but does that hold over a vehicle’s life? After all, EV owners may enjoy a hefty tax credit of $7,500, and they save every time they plug in rather than heading to the pump. Additionally, EVs have fewer moving parts than vehicles with a combustion engine, so EV drivers don’t have to pay for oil changes or replace broken timing belts.

Do EVs add up? It depends on each driver. In areas where gasoline is expensive and the weather is temperate, such as California, EV owners get more bang for every kWh they use. In the end, however, most EV drivers pay a little more for the privilege of going electric. According to AAA, over five years and 75,000 miles, EVs cost about $600 more per year than their gas-powered counterparts.

Skipping the gas station and the mechanic may be worth the extra cost, though. And the price of car batteries – the most expensive part of EVs – is falling rapidly. According to JP Morgan, battery prices dropped from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $210 to $230 per kWh in 2017. If that trend continues, EVs may soon be on par or cheaper than gas cars.

Ready to Buy?

Is an EV the right choice for you? If you have a few worries, you aren’t alone. The AAA survey of electric vehicle owners found that 91% of EV owners had at least one big concern before purchasing their car, whether it was range anxiety, concerns over battery life, or questions about finding charging stations. However, after owning their EV, 96% of respondents said they would buy or lease another.

Of course, only you can decide if an electric vehicle is the right choice for you. Whatever car you get — electric, hybrid, gas, diesel, or horse-drawn carriage — we welcome the chance to insure your ride. (Except, we won’t insure the horse-drawn carriage. Sorry.)

Looking for coverage for your electric vehicle?


Jessica Bennett is a consultant for Say Insurance. She's a writer, editor, and novelist. Her clients span a number of industries, and she's written blog posts, product descriptions, articles, white papers, and press releases — all in the name of inbound marketing. She's proud to be In bound Certified, but her VP of M orale, Avalon , doesn't quite get what all the fuss is about. But he's a rabbit, so you can't really blame him.

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