Blog Electric Cars: Questions to Ask Before Buying One

Electric Cars: Questions to Ask Before Buying One

Looking for a mechanic near you for maintenance or repair? AutoNation Mobile Service brings the shop to you. Get a free instant quote today.
Get a Quote

In 2018 Americans bought more new electric cars than ever before. Battery technology is advancing quickly and electric cars are getting more popular. With the popularity of Tesla and many new electric models from other brands, the news media is predicting even higher sales in the electric vehicle market in 2019. With more people buying electric cars, they are getting cheaper and have more range so they can be driven more miles than before. As the battery tech advances new EV models also charge more quickly and there are more places to charge the cars batteries in both our cities and out on the open road.

As the global sales of electric vehicles increase, more car companies are offering car buyers electric vehicles. These brands now include Nissan, Volkswagen and luxury brands from Europe like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. And more EVs are coming in the future. Check our article on electric cars for sale for how and where you can find the best or our article on Used Electric Cars (What to Check Before Buying) if you decide to go the used car route. Although there are now more than 2.5 million electric cars around the world, there are still many questions car buyers should ask before buying a new electric car. Questions ranging from the vehicle’s emissions into the air to their top features, charging time and cost.

Here’s a list of the important questions about EVs we’ll answer here:

The answers to these questions and others could determine if an electric car is right for you.

How do electric cars work?

Normal cars are powered by an engine fueled by a tank of gas. In an electric car that engine and gas tank are replaced by an electric motor and a battery pack. How far you can drive an electric car is its range and its basically determined by the size of its battery pack. Generally, the more battery capacity an electric vehicle has the more miles it can be driven between charges. Most electric cars are front-wheel drive, but many, including many Tesla models, are all-wheel drive. From the driver’s seat, electric cars operate and feel very much like regular cars. Push the gas pedal to go, push the brake to stop and turn the steering wheel to turn. The biggest difference is the silence. Electric cars are very quiet because the noise of the internal combustion engine is no longer part of the experience.

What’s the difference between an electric car and a plug-in hybrid?

Consumers shouldn’t confuse full electric cars with plug-in hybrids. Both are powered by electric motors fueled by a battery pack, however, plug-in hybrids or PHEVs, are also equipped with a small engine that runs on gasoline. That engine charges the vehicle’s battery pack as you drive and extends the cars total possible range. Most plug-in hybrids have more range than pure electric vehicles, however, most of those miles will be driven with the car’s engine running on gasoline. Like a full electric vehicle, a Plug-in Hybrid can be driven on electricity alone, but the all-electric range of most models is usually limited to between 25 and 50 miles. After that distance is driven, the PHEV’s battery pack will be out of charge and its gas engine will turn on to help power the car as it burns gasoline from its gas tank. Most PHEVs offer between 45 and 55 mpg and they have a total range between 340 and 620 miles depending on the brand and model. In other words, plug-in hybrids are a combination of a hybrid and a full electric car. And the benefits of a PHEV are a sizable increase in the vehicle’s total possible fuel range, which is a combination of its use of electricity and gasoline. A PHEV can also be driven when the charge of its battery pack used up completely, while EVs cannot.

How do you charge electric cars?

Charging an electric car is just like charging your phone or iPad. It really is that simple. EVs charge more quickly when plugged into a 240V outlet, which is used in most homes for clothes dryers. But all electric vehicles can also be charged like a phone when plugged into a common 120V household outlet. EV owners can charge at home or at public charging stations at malls, offices, parks and other facilities. Some chargers are free, while others are not, and all public charging stations are of the more powerful 240V variety. It is also possible to have a dedicated 240V EV charger installed in your home garage. This usually costs about $2000. All EVs come with a 120V charging cord, which allows you to charge at home or on the road if you have access to a common 120V household outlet. To plug-in the vehicle you must first open an access panel usually found on the car’s front fender. It’ll be obvious which end of the cord goes into the wall outlet and which end is plugged into the car. The end of the cord that gets connected to the car usually looks like a small hair dryer. This process can be done indoors or outdoors and in any weather. EV owners just have to remember to unplug the car before jumping in and driving to work. Although many manufacturers are talking about wireless car charging, and it will be available in the future, it’s not yet common. This technology will charge the electric car’s battery pack when the car is parked on a charging pad. No plugging in required.

Are electric cars bad for the environment?

It’s undeniable that driving an electric car is better for the environment than driving a conventional car with a gas burning engine. When you drive a car powered by gasoline, its exhaust sends pollutants into the air. This is not the case with EVs, which are zero emissions vehicles. When driven, electric vehicles produce no harmful pollutants and send no greenhouse gases into the air. EVs don’t even have tailpipes. It may be hard to believe, but electric cars have been around since the 1800s. The popularity of EVs, however, has taken off over the past decade as citizens and governments around the world, including the United States, Europe and China, search for cleaner energy and power to improve the air quality in their cities. That being said, some studies and data do question whether or not electric cars do benefit the environment once their production, disposal and other factors are taken into account. The truth is that the building of electric cars still has a significant impact on the environment. Some say a greater impact than building gas powered cars. This is mostly due to the production of the cars battery packs, which requires an increase in mining for raw materials like cobalt and graphite. There’s also the recycling of the vehicle at the end of its life to be calculated and the fuels used by the power-plants to create the electricity to power the cars. The energy has to come from somewhere, and the nation’s electrical grid still runs mostly on fossil fuels and coal. EVs are certainly better for the environment in areas of the country that rely more heavily on natural gas, nuclear and wind for the generation of electricity.

How long do electric cars last?

Electric cars can last a long time. Fears of their short life spans are not supported by data. Today, if well cared for, the electric motors and battery packs in most EVs will perform for well over 100,000 miles, and over 200,000 miles is getting much more common. For example, the Toyota Prius Hybrid, which has an electric motor and a battery pack similar to an EV, has become a favorite vehicle of New York City’s taxi cab companies. And their durability is large part of their popularity, as they can be driven trouble free for over 200,000 miles. Heat is known to shorten the life of a battery and in 2016, Bill Wallace, Director of Global Battery Systems Engineering at General Motors said this about the battery life and durability of EVs. “In extreme hot climates such as Phoenix, the Chevy Volt will last at least 10 years, 150,000 miles, and 6,000 cycles.” When an electric vehicle’s battery pack wears out, it can be replaced. And in many cases it’s less expensive than rebuilding or replacing a tired internal combustion engine, however, in most cases it costs more. A replacement battery pack for an older Nissan Leaf costs about $7000 with installation. On new electric car models most automakers include an 8-year or 100,000-mile warranties for the vehicle’s batteries. And on the 2019 Nissan Leaf, Nissan is providing additional coverage for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

How long do electric cars take to charge?

All electric cars charge more quickly when plugged into a more powerful 220V outlet. When plugged into a conventional 120V household outlet, charging times can take much longer. Times to charge a completely depleted battery pack usually range from 4 hours to 35 hours depending on the size of the battery pack and the type of outlet used. In the industry, 120V charging is often referred to as Level 1 charging. And the rule of thumb is that it provides about 3-5 miles of range per hour of charging. Level 2 refers to 240V. Level 3 chargers are sometimes referred to as fast chargers. These 440V chargers can provide 80 percent of charge as quickly as 30 minutes, but Level 3 equipment is not compatible with all EVs. Teslas network of superchargers, which are located all over the country, are an example of Level 3 chargers. It takes 7.5-hours at 240V and 35 hours at 120V to charge the depleted battery pack of a 2019 Nissan Leaf and 6.5 hours to charge a BMW i3 EV at 240V. A 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf takes 26 hours to charge at 120V, 3.7 hours at 240V and just 30 minutes at 440V. The battery pack of a Tesla Model 3 is much larger than the unit in the Leaf, the BMW or the Volkswagen. Its larger size adds driving range but it also means the battery pack takes significantly longer to charge. Fully charging the Tesla’s batteries takes 12 hours at 240V and almost 77 hours at 120V. Of course, once it’s charged the Tesla offers significantly more driving range miles than the Nissan, the BMW, or the VW, so you would theoretically have to charge it less often. EV buyers should keep in mind that the car’s battery pack does not need to be fully charged for you to drive the car. If your destination is close enough and within the range of the batteries current charge you can unplug the car and drive it as you normally would.

How much do electric cars cost?

The prices of electric cars vary greatly just like the price of gasoline-powered cars. EVs can be purchased or leased, and there are enough EV models available that there’s a new electric car out there to fit any budget. To make sure to find that right-price car it’s important to study up on how to find the best model for you. Plus, all EVs qualify for a Federal Tax Credit of $3,750. And there’s an additional incentive in nine states including California, Pennsylvania and New York. These state incentives vary between $1,750 and $5,000, but are only for new car purchases. For 2019, one of the least expensive electric vehicles is the Nissan Leaf. The four-door hatchback has a base price of $29,990. And Nissan is quick to remind buyers that the price of the Leaf drops significantly after the Federal Tax Credit. The Volkswagen e-Golf costs about the same as the Nissan, while the BMW i3 costs about $45,000 before the Federal Tax Credit. Teslas are among the most expensive electric vehicles. The brand now offers three models; the Model 3 sedan, the Model S sedan and the Model X, which is an SUV. Model 3 prices start right around $40,000, while the Model S has a base price nearing $76,000 and can easily cost more than $100,000 with options. The Tesla Model X, with its cool “Gullwing” back doors that rise up dramatically, is the brand’s most expensive model. It starts just under $80,000 and can easily top $150,000 with options.

How far can electric cars go?

There are several factors that determine how many miles an electric car can be driven. These factors include the capacity of the car’s battery pack, the vehicle’s aerodynamics and the driving habits of its owner. EVs usually have a maximum driving range between 110 and 320 miles depending on the model. Usually models with more miles of range have larger batteries, which means they cost more. While the less expensive Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf have a range of about 110 miles, the Tesla Model 3 with the less expensive mid range battery has a range of 264 miles. But more money doesn’t always add up to more range. The BMW i3 costs about $8,000 more than the Tesla Model 3 but has a maximum range of only 153 miles. In any EV, driving aggressively will decrease your range by burning through the batteries charge more quickly. Driving smoother and with as little application of the throttle as possible, however, can extend the cars range and give you more miles of driving per battery charge.

Are electric cars fun to drive?

If you think electric cars are slow and aren’t fun to drive, think again. Electric cars are some of the quickest accelerating machines on our roads and their handling can be world class. Unlike the engines in conventional cars, which have to rev up to make more power, the electric motors in electric cars make all of their available power immediately. This makes electric cars very quick off the line and very fun to drive. For instance, the Nissan Leaf can run from 0-60 mph in just 7.4 seconds. That’s about two seconds quicker than the similarly sized gas-powered Nissan Sentra. Also, more expensive EVs like Teslas are quicker than some supercars. The media has reported that the all-wheel drive Tesla Model S P100D can hit 60 mph in just 2.28 seconds. Electric cars also usually have a very low center of gravity, which improves their handling over gas-powered cars. This is usually achieved by mounting the EV’s battery pack, which is the heaviest component of the car, beneath the car’s floor. This makes EVs very agile, and gives them quick response, which can be enjoyed by the driver. Its lower center of gravity can also make the electric car safer by making it more difficult for it to roll over. So, is a new electric car right for you? For many Americans the answer is yes. Despite low gas prices, sales of electric cars continue to rise and more and more Americans are considering new electric cars more than ever before. This interest is advancing the technology quickly and EVs are just getting better and better.