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What to Look for When Buying an Electric Car


White Hyundai Kona EVs on dealer lot

Have you decided the time is right to put an electric vehicle (EV) on your new car shopping list, but you’re confused about where to start your search? Don’t worry. There’s a lot to consider when switching to an EV, and this guide is here to help prioritize what you want in your purchase.

Your checklist likely includes having as much driving range as possible, an affordable base price, or plenty of passenger and cargo space for your daily driving tasks. We’ve broken EV shopping advice into manageable bites to make the experience something that will leave you feeling charged up regarding your new-car purchase.

RELATED ARTICLE: Electric Cars 101: What You Need to Know About EVs

Know Your Budget

Unless you’ve hit the lottery jackpot, you’ll want to start your electric car shopping with a realistic budget range in mind. There are plenty of models on the less expensive side of the spectrum. For example, the Volkswagen ID.4 and Kia EV6 start at around $41,000. Shoppers wanting to keep the price as low as possible can take notice of Chevrolet’s recent price drops. Its Bolt hatchback and Bolt EUV have positioned their starting prices well below $30,000.

At the upper end of the market, models like the Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+ and Lucid Air luxury sedans have six-figure starting prices. Those vehicles also have impressive performance stats to shame many of the best sports cars.

Check for EV Incentives

If the price of an EV seems out of reach, look for tax breaks. There may be federal tax credits, state rebates, and local incentives to lower the purchase price and make recharging less expensive. For example, your utility company might have deals for home charging stations and low-cost off-peak electricity plans for overnight charging.

Federal tax credits for EVs were recently extended as part of the Biden administration’s $7.5 billion EV infrastructure package. The plan also removed a limit of 200,000 vehicles for any automaker producing EVs. This means such car companies that previously hit the cap — such as Tesla and General Motors — will again be eligible for these credits.

Remember that potential tax credit eligibility involves many factors, including your adjusted gross income, the EV’s price, where it’s made, and the EV’s make and model.

Many electric vehicle manufacturers also include handy extras like free recharging at a preferred charging network for a specific period or up to a certain amount of energy. For example, the Ford F-150 Lightning truck and Hyundai Ioniq 5 compact SUV come with 250 kWh of free charging provided by Electrify America. Generally, this should equate to about 1,000 miles of charge.

Ask the dealership if the electric car you’re considering has similar charging discounts or special membership rates to join networks such as Electrify America and EVgo.

How Much Electric Car Range Do You Need?

Electric cars often provide a minimum of 200 miles of driving range for every charge. Some of the most popular crack the 300-mile barrier, such as the Tesla Model 3 sedan and Tesla Model Y crossover SUV. The Model Y was the best-selling EV in the U.S. in 2021.

The Lucid Air Dream Edition is the current king of electric car range. The luxury EV has a maximum range of 520 miles. That impressive figure is tempered by the Air Dream’s hefty asking price of more than $160,000. Remember earlier when we were discussing your electric car budgets? More range and bigger battery packs often cost extra money.

There are options if you don’t need the long legs and luxury trimmings of a vehicle like the Lucid Air. Far more affordable models like the Chevrolet Bolt EUV and Kia Niro EV deliver about 240 miles of charge and cost a fraction of the price.

Research All Your Charging Options

Recharging your electric car is more than connecting a plug and outlet. There are different types of chargers — Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 — with vastly different rates of charge times. Level 3 chargers are known as DC fast chargers, though not all EVs have the capability to receive high output from some stations.

  • If you need an electric car that will stay on the road for long stretches away from home, consider limiting your search to EVs with acceptance rates higher than 50 kW. Higher acceptance rates and higher output from some Level 3 chargers mean you’ll spend less time charging on road trips. You might want to limit your search to EVs capable of using Level 3 fast-charging stations. Generally speaking, these chargers can feed about 80% of a battery’s capacity in roughly 30 minutes. Charging time depends on many factors, including the output of the charging station and limitations on how much energy the EV can receive.
  • A Level 2 charger is more common, though it doesn’t have the speed of fast charge technology. Budget about 20 miles of added range for every hour plugged into a Level 2 charging station.
  • If you’re in no hurry to get back on the road, plugging an EV into a regular 110-volt outlet could take up to 24 hours or longer to fully charge the battery. You won’t have to rely on this degree of Level 1 charging unless absolutely necessary. Some owners who use their EVs for short trips around town find Level 1 charging is adequate for replenishing the car’s battery overnight at home.

When it comes to pricing, the cost to charge an EV depends on where and when you’re recharging. Some public stations might be free to use at shopping centers or other establishments. Others may offer free charging for a set period or during specific times of the day. Be sure to read the fine print before plugging in for the first time, as parking your EV at a station might incur regular parking rates applied in that lot or penalties if you exceed a permissible charging time.

Regarding general pricing to recharge at home, a U.S. household typically pays 15 cents for every kWh of electricity. Electric cars often get about 3-4 miles of range for every kWh. As you’d expect, public stations operated by charging networks typically cost more.

Are There Charging Stations Where You Live?

If you don’t charge at home, check for a reliable charging network nearby to keep your EV on the road. That might sound like obvious advice. However, it’s worth pointing out even the best EV could turn into a four-wheeled paperweight if you can’t plug it in.

A home charging station makes a lot of sense and is a smart investment. Check to see if there are any charging incentives in your region or if your workplace has chargers available for employees. We suggest downloading apps like PlugShare and ChargePoint, particularly if you’ll be driving in unfamiliar surroundings and know you’ll need to rely on public charging stations.

These apps have filters that allow you to zero in on specific outlets suitable for your car, along with current rates for charging at a given location and whether the station is in good operating order. The last thing you want to do is pull into a station with little battery charge remaining, only to discover the charger isn’t functioning.

When in doubt, have a backup plan if you’re concerned a specific charging station might not be available.

EV Maintenance

Electric cars don’t just save you money by never requiring a single drop of gasoline or an oil change. They also cost less to maintain than a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. That’s because there are fewer moving parts in the powertrain of an electric car.

The mechanical recipe of an electric car is pretty much the automotive equivalent of a bowl of cereal. There’s a minimum of one electric motor, a battery pack, and a single-speed transmission that sends power to the wheels. Depending on your chosen make and model, EVs come in front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive configurations.

EVs do require maintenance at some point. Tires, brake pads, suspension components, and other items will need attention. Yet, minus the churning pistons of a traditional gas-fed engine, electric motors have fewer moving parts that could go wrong and require an expensive fix.

Battery packs and electric motors eventually need replacement, though this shouldn’t be necessary for at least 10 or more years, depending on your driving habits.

Do You Need Extra Cargo Space?

Will you be spending your electric driving time solo, or do you plan on shuttling a full complement of friends and family? Just as you would when considering a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, one of the biggest considerations with EV shopping is how much space you need for passengers and cargo.

Thankfully, electric vehicles are available in various shapes and sizes. Models like the Rivian R1S sport utility and Ford F-150 Lightning pickup have cabins with loads of stretch-out space and room for just about anything you want to bring along for the ride.

On the other hand, make sure you don’t pay for more electric car than you need. If you want a simple means of getting from Point A to Point B and something small enough to make curbside parking a breeze, models like the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Bolt could be a much better fit.

Should You Wait to Buy an Electric Car?

If you’re hesitating because you’re not sure an electric car meets your budget or needs, then take some time and do more research. Don’t be afraid to test drive a variety of makes and models, too. As with any car search, getting behind the wheel and experiencing a vehicle first-hand can help seal the deal or make you realize it isn’t the car for you.

The average price of a new car hit a record high this summer, which might factor into whether you want to buy now or wait to see if prices cool in the months ahead. Automakers are rolling out more and more EVs with every model year. This will lead to an even wider variety of electric models, ranging from small sedans and hatchbacks to full-size trucks and SUVs with three rows of seating.

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