What You Need to Know about Electric Cars

bmw i3 electric cars

We are hearing more and more about electric cars these days.  Much of the buzz is due to Tesla that has caused a stir with its upcoming Model 3.  We have the new Chevy Bolt coming soon that has amazing range, and many other automakers will be debuting electrics in the next 24 months.  I am in fact reviewing the 2017 BMW i3 all-electric this week. Here are things you need to know to decide if an electric is right for you.

Don’t confuse electrics with hybrids.

Electric cars run strictly on battery power, where hybrids have gasoline engines to assist the batteries or to take over completely when the battery power is depleted.  Hybrids can be a good alternative to electrics if you drive more than the battery range of the vehicle you are looking at.

Know the warranty on the car and the batteries.

In every case I know of, the battery warranty is longer than the warranty on the rest of the vehicle.  The i3 I have this week has a battery warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles whichever comes first.  The same is true of Nissan Leaf.  Tesla warrants its batteries for 8 years with no mileage limits, and Hyundai warrants their batteries for life.  Be sure to ask the length of time and mileage limits of the battery warranty as well as the rest of the vehicle.

Compare the size of the battery.

I don’t mean the physical size of the battery, although generally the larger size of the battery can affect the weight of the vehicle and take away trunk space.  What you really want to look at is the power of the battery, which is measured in kilowatt-hours, which is abbreviated kWh.  When doing your research, know that the larger the kilowatt-hours, the more range the vehicle will have.

How do I charge my electric car? 

Most electric cars will charge from a standard 110-volt outlet, either outside or inside a building.  Just know that it will take longer to charge from a standard outlet.  Most automakers offer optional, more powerful and quicker chargers that run on 240-volt power.  Using 110-volt charging will give you roughly 50 miles of range after charging for 8 hours.  The more powerful charger will get you roughly 20 miles of range for each hour of charging.  The optional 240-volt charger usually costs around $750.

Consider the Federal Tax Credit when looking at the cost of an electric car.

The government offers electric car buyers a $7500 tax credit.  This is not a rebate that comes to you and it does not come in the form of a check.  Ask your CPA how it might affect you, but generally speaking, if you owe money when you figure your taxes, this can be a big help.  Some individual states also offer incentives.  The $7500 federal tax credit is limited the first 200,000 buyers of a specific electric car, then the amount goes down, so be sure to ask.  Beware that if you lease an electric car, odds are the lease company is using the tax credit to lower the monthly lease payments.  Remember, the lease company is the owner of the car, not you, and as such gets the tax credit.

Beware of range anxiety.

There is a certain uneasiness with electric cars in the beginning.  You learn quickly how to use your gauges to plan your trips and when to charge.  Know that running accessories can shorten your range and extreme hot and cold temperatures can as well.  If you are concerned about running out of power, a hybrid may be a better choice for you.  Most electric cars will show you on the navigation system where charging stations are, and many are free but have time limits.  There are also phone apps that will let you know where charging stations are.

Electricity cost should be calculated into the cost of ownership.

Although you don’t have to purchase gas, the electricity to charge your electric car comes at a cost.  First, you have to know the kWh for your electric provider. If electricity is 15 cents per kWh, which is the national average right now, calculate the hours to go 100 miles, which is on the window sticker of all electric cars.  For instance, the BMW i3 I am driving is rated at 30 kWh of usage for 100 miles, so take 30 hours times 15 cents per hour electric charge, and it will cost you $4.50 in electricity per 100 miles driven.

In conclusion…

Electric cars are not for everyone.  You can drive them cross-country, but it will be a long trip.  The perfect scenario for electric car ownership is people who drive from home to work and back, and can do that within the range of battery with no additional charging.  If that scenario works for you, you will never go to a gas station again.


Photo Credit: BMW
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