I wrote about electric cars for nearly a decade before I finally bought one. While my hesitancy was mostly for financial reasons, I wasn’t convinced that the first generation of EVs would work for my one-car-family lifestyle at the time. But luckily EV ownership has a short learning curve. After a few days, I adapted to the new normal of plugging in at night, found all the nearby (free) charging stations and ultimately forgot how to operate a gas pump. My closest call was pulling into my driveway with 8 miles of range left in the battery because a Tesla was camping in the charging station at Whole Foods. Unplugged.
But new EVs have more than double the driving distance of my old 2013 Nissan Leaf, which typically has an 84-mile range, and I also own a plug-in hybrid minivan that I use for longer trips. When it’s time to retire the hatchback, I’m replacing it with another EV. If you’re also thinking of making the switch from filling up to plugging in, here’s what you need to know.
How Far Can EVs Go?
Range anxiety—the fear of running out of battery before you reach a charging station—is real and one of the main reasons people feel like they’re not ready for an electric car. But most new EVs on the market have driving ranges of about 200 miles, and many can travel even farther, depending on the size of the battery and how “aggressively” they’re driven.
For example, the 2022 Nissan Leaf has an estimated range of 226 miles, while the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt and 2022 Volkswagen ID.4 can travel approximately 250 miles on a single charge. The Tesla Model 3 has a standard driving range of 263 miles and is offered in a Long Range version with a battery capability of 353 miles. But keep in mind, most people drive an average of less than 40 miles per day.
How Much Will It Cost to Charge the Vehicle?
Pricing for fast-charging stations will vary by network and state regulations—and some manufacturers are including several years of free charging with new vehicles. But if you know the price of the electricity you’re using, you can figure out how much it would cost to fill a vehicle with a depleted battery to 100% capacity by multiplying the size of the battery by the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
For example, my 2013 Nissan Leaf has a 24-kWh battery and most of the time I pay an average of $0.12 per kWh for electricity at home, which means it would cost me $2.88 to charge my car. Using a high estimate of $0.31 per kWh, charging a Chevy Bolt with a 65-kWh battery would cost $20.15. Charging at public stations is more expensive. Electrify America, for example, charges $0.31 per kWh for members, plus a $4 monthly fee.
Do I Need to Install an EV Charger at Home?
New EVs typically come with a portable Level 1 charger that can plug into a standard household outlet. These chargers provide approximately 5 range per hour (RPH), which is enough to recharge a plug-in vehicle overnight or during the day while you’re at work. But charging times will vary and depend on the size of the battery and the vehicle’s on-board charger. My Leaf, for example, took about 8 to 10 hours to charge (from empty) using a Level 1 charger.
Cars with bigger batteries, like a Tesla, could take around 60 hours. For these vehicles, you might consider getting a Level 2 charger with charging speeds netting 18-32 miles of RPH. A Level 2 charger requires a 240-volt electrical outlet, which some homes have already for clothes dryers. If not, installing one would most likely involve a visit from an electrician. The average cost to upgrade wiring to support a Level 2 charger in a detached house is $680, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Now, say you’re one of the 39 million people in the United States living in an apartment without easy access to an outdoor electrical outlet. It’s still possible to own an EV and rely on nearby fast-charging stations to “fill up”—like you would a gas-powered car.
How Long Will It Take to Charge at a Station?
Many public charging stations—along highways, in metro areas and often at car dealerships—have Level 3 chargers that deliver fast charging speeds of 50 kWh to 350 kWh. At these speeds, you can recharge a vehicle from zero to 80% capacity in 20 to 30 minutes.
Are There EV Chargers at Regular Gas Stations?
Yes, but not a lot. Some gas stations have installed Level 2 charging stations, but not many have invested in the faster Level 3 chargers, because those are more expensive and require coordination with the utility company responsible for the local power grid. However, 7-Eleven announced plans to install 500 Level 3 chargers at 250 locations in North America by the end of 2022.
How Do I Find a Charging Station on the Road?
There are nearly 50,000 public charging stations in the United States and Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and Electrify America, Blink and ChargePoint are just some of the companies building nationwide networks. Most EVs have charging station locations programmed into the navigation system, and many smartphone apps, such as PlugShare and A Better Routeplanner, can help you find nearby stations. If you want access to Tesla’s Supercharger network but can’t afford a Tesla, don’t worry—the automaker plans to open its global network of 2,700 stations to other vehicles starting in September 2022.
What If I Run Out of Battery While Driving?
EV drivers are two to three times less likely to run out of “fuel” than drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles, according to AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmonds, because they’re more aware of their energy usage and plan accordingly. However, if you do run out, you’ll need to be towed on a flatbed truck because it can be dangerous to tow an electric car with the wheels on the ground.
Can I Afford an EV?
EVs have a reputation for being more expensive than conventionally powered cars or SUVs, but tax credits, incentives and the rapidly falling price of batteries are leveling the playing field. In fact, the average transaction price of a new mainstream brand EV for the first half of 2021 was $39,010, which is on par with the average cost of a gasoline-only-powered vehicle. And buyers should look beyond the sticker price when comparing EVs and gas cars because EVs require fewer mechanical parts and service appointments and zero stops at the pump—making their cost of ownership much lower in general.
Consumer Reports estimates that EV owners who charge up at home can save $1,000 each year in fuel costs and spend between 10% and 40% less in maintenance over the lifetime of their vehicle compared with owning a gas-powered vehicle. Many states also allow EVs broader access to HOV lanes, reduced tolls or lower registration fees, which are time- and money-saving benefits that can pay dividends for years.
Can I Lease an EV?
If you’re on the fence about whether an electric car is right for you, it might make sense to lease one for a couple of years rather than buying. Most manufacturers have lease programs for their EVs, and although federal tax incentives apply only to people who purchase new electric vehicles, many brands will pass along the savings of the tax credit to the leaseholder in the form of smaller monthly payments.
What Are Plug-In Hybrids?
Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have dual power trains, which means they can operate using only battery power for about 15 to 60 miles, and the rest of the time drive like a Prius using a combination of gasoline and electricity to propel the vehicle. You still use gasoline, but PHEVs also have the option to charge the battery by plugging in the vehicle at home or a charging station. As a result, plug-in hybrids net higher fuel economy than their gasoline-only-powered equivalents, but can’t travel as far as EVs using only electricity.
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Liane Yvkoff is an automotive technology writer who covers alternative power trains, transportation startups and more.