FAQ

Why buy an electric car?

There are many benefits of buying an electric car (or EV).

  • You never have to stop at a gas station
  • It is cheaper and easier to fill up — just plug it in.
  • No oil changes. And, in general, much less to break or repair with so fewer parts than an internal combustion engine (ICE) car.  
  • With federal and local tax incentives, some electric cars can be comparable in price to a similar conventional car—maybe even less. Counting tax incentives in California and those from the IRS, the Nissan Leaf will cost some buyers only $20,280. And the state allows lone EV drivers access to carpool lanes even after that privilege has expired for hybrid drivers. 
  • Many EV drivers buy an electric car to make a statement about their environmental consciousness, to reduce foreign oil consumption, or to have the latest and greatest technology.

What companies are making EVs?

Tesla, Nissan, and Ford all offer pure electric cars for sale nationwide, the former two in sizable volumes. So does General Motors with its Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle, and Ford with its Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrids.

Why are automakers building them?

Automakers are investing in electric cars for a variety of reasons, including consumer demand, meeting new fuel-economy requirements, and zero-emissions mandates. Automakers have also found that some buyers want cars that express their social consciousness by symbolizing their reluctance to contribute to importing oil from unstable, unsympathetic regimes, anger over recent gasoline price spikes, and outrage over oil spills. In light of the success of the Toyota Prius with these buyers, electric cars and plug-in hybrids are a logical next step.

How efficient are they?

Electric cars are up to three times as efficient as gasoline-powered cars. That’s primarily because electric motors are 90-percent efficient at converting energy into motion, compared to 30 to 40 percent for conventional cars and hybrids. 

Don’t they just shift power production to dirty coal plants?

Power is never free. Today, almost half of America’s electricity comes from coal, which generates significantly more emissions than other sources. A 2005 joint study by an electric-utility industry organization and the National Resources Defense council estimates that introducing significant numbers of plug-in hybrids with a range of 20 miles of electric driving on American roads would cut global warming pollution by at least 163 million tons annually. Oil dependence is easier to gauge: An estimate by the Federal Highway Administration is a savings of 550 million gallons a year.  Also, EVs can and often are powered by alternative forms of energy — If you have solar panels on your house, you can power your vehicle by clean solar energy.  And, many utilities are moving toward adding more renewables to their mix of energy, in essence making your car cleaner to drive.

What types of electric cars are available?

There are primarily three types:

  • All-electric cars that run on batteries and have to be recharged.
  • Plug-in hybrids that rely on electricity from a wall outlet and a gasoline engine.
  • Extended-range electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt, that are a type of plug-in hybrid that runs purely on electricity, but when the battery runs out, an on-board engine recharges it. The gasoline engine acts only as a generator to provide electricity for longer trips, and it does not directly drive the wheels.

 

What models are available?

Currently, the Nissan LeafMitsubishi iMievFord Focus Electric, and Tesla Model S are available nationwide, as are plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Energi, and Ford C-Max Energi.  

Other electric cars, such as the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500eHonda Fit EV, the Volkswagen eGolf and Kia Soul EV, are available in limited numbers only in select other states states.

How much do they cost?

Prices range from under $23,000 for the Mitsubishi iMiev to over $100,000 for the Tesla Model S.  Most cost around $30,000. All pure EVs are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax rebate in addition to other state and local tax credits.

How far can I drive?

Most of the pure electric cars on the way have a range of about 100 miles between charges. Some models, such as the Tesla Model S have larger optional batteries that can go up to about 300 miles. Others, such as the Chevrolet Volt can only go short distances (less than 40 miles for the Volt) on electricity, but have gas engines that can carry them farther when the need arises.

How much will it cost to charge?

Electricity rates vary across the country, from a low of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour to a high of more than 29 cents in Hawaii. 

The cost to charge an electric car depends on your electric rates and the size of the batteries. For a Chevrolet Volt, which has relatively small battery capacity and doesn’t rely on them as its sole energy source, charging takes about 10 kWh. So a full charge would cost between 56 cents and $1.90 a day (or $2.90 in Hawaii), which would take you about 35 miles. A Nissan Leaf would cost between $1.25 and $4.50, which will carry you about 80 miles. Charging a Tesla costs much more: $2.65 to $9, but you can go about 200 miles on that charge.

Overall, you can expect an electric car to cost about 4 cents a mile to charge at national average electric rates. A conventional car that gets 30 mpg would cost about 9 cents a mile to fuel.

What type of charger do I need?

There are three levels of chargers:

  • Level 1 is a 110-volt charger that can charge a plug-in hybrid or extended-range electric vehicle overnight, but would take more than 24-hours to charge a pure electric vehicle. They will usually be built into the vehicle and can be used for “opportunity charging” when another type of charger isn’t available.
  • Level 2 is a 220-volt charger, which most electric-car owners will purchase to charge their cars overnight in their homes. A Level 2 charger can charge a pure electric car such as the Nissan Leaf, Mini-E, or the Ford Focus EV in 8 hours or less.
  • DC fast charging. These chargers will primarily provide direct current at up to 500 volts. These chargers are installed in public places and can provide an 80 percent charge to a full electric car in under a half hour.

What is an EVSE?

EVSE stands for Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment. Though not technically a charger, it is the box on the wall (or a post in a parking lot) that you plug an electric car into to recharge it. (Electric cars have appropriate chargers built into them.) The EVSE is the part that most people may call a “charger,” because it is an accessory that costs extra. For consumers considering an electric vehicle, a Level II EVSE for the garage should cost between $500 and $900, though prices are falling fast. Installation can more than double that amount, depending on the configuration of your house.

How much will a charger cost?

  • Level 1 chargers are included with all the cars on the market.
  • Level 2 chargers  cost $400 to $800, plus the cost of pulling a dedicated 220-volt outlet to your garage or driveway, which may be significant.
  • DC Fast chargers are expected to cost as much as $60,000 to install, and consequently will not be for home use. Malls, restaurants, or parking garages may install them, and they will probably charge by the hour for their use.

How big a circuit will I need?

While hybrid models such as the Chevrolet Volt and plug-in Toyota Prius have a built-in charger that can charge the battery overnight on a standard 110-volt household outlet, pure electric cars will require a separate charger that requires at least a 220-volt, 20-amp circuit. 30 or 40 amp circuits will charge faster. Any electric-car charger has to be on a dedicated circuit. Even plug-in hybrids will be much easier to live with if you have a 220-volt charger, which can cut your charge time in half.

Will electric cars work in the winter?

Using the heater, lights, and wiper (or to a lesser degree the air conditioner in the summer) can cut down on the battery’s charge. The batteries also have a little less energy in the winter.  

How long will the batteries last?

As batteries wear, their capacity to absorb a charge diminishes. So the range of electric cars will diminish with age. General Motors and Nissan, the first two companies to introduce electric cars in the United States, are providing battery warranties of eight years or 100,000 miles. 

Can the batteries catch fire?

They have in a couple of widely publicized cases in the Tesla Model S. But they don’t explode spontaneously and drivers have had plenty of warning and time to escape.  Lithium-ion batteries are a lot less volatile than gasoline. Tesla has addressed the battery-fire concerns with arecall.  

How large of a solar array would you need to power your car 100% on solar power

Most EV’s will get about 4 miles per kWh.   If you drive 20,000 miles per year, you would need about 5000 kWh per year.  To generate this amount from solar you would need about a 4 kw solar array, which would be 16 – 250w panels.  12 panels would get you 15,000 miles per year.  That would take up a space about 11′ by 20′ – the size of a single-car garage roof.  

* Information adapted from consumerreports.org and thank you to EVolve KY member Sam Avery for solar array information.