Sunday, March 22, 2015

Six Questions to Ask Before You Buy an Electric Car



Our family has had our Electric Vehicle (EV) for almost two years. It has over 30K miles and is the only car our family of two adults, two kids and two dogs has (we drive a Ford Focus Electric, in case you’re wondering). If you’re in the market for a fuel efficient car or looking for something that gets the best MPG’s, make sure you check out electric cars in your search for your next vehicle.

Not sure if an electric car is for you? Ask yourself these six questions to find out:


Can its “cold weather” range get me to and from work?
EVs excel as commuter vehicles. They are quiet, accelerate well, and save lots of money on fuel and maintenance. When we got ours, we immediately started saving $260 in just commuting gas costs. Just don’t base your decision on its mild weather range. For example, I commute 25 miles each way to work - 50 miles total. In the summer, the Ford Focus Electric’s (FFE) 76 mile range is even higher, closer to 80-85 miles. The FFE handles my 50 mile commute in stride and even allows for an out of the way errand on the way home. But in the winter with the defroster on, I’m limited to 50-55 miles and pretty much have to come straight home. 

I used to work 35 miles away. During the summer, this was a non-issue. In the dead of winter, though, I had to “trickle charge” on a standard (120 volt) electric outlet on the outside of the building at work to top it off. If your commute is pushing the boundaries for your car's range, check out Plug Share, an EV charging station map (it has a smart phone app, too) to see if there is a charge nearby or check out the building you work at. Your manager might not mind letting you plug into the standard outlet that's on the side of the building or in the parking garage.


How often will I need a back up traditional gas vehicle?
Those who already own a gas-powered car as a second vehicle won’t need to worry about this. Although, if you can afford a Tesla Model S, you won't need to worry about it then, either. If you're looking at going all-electric for your family's only vehicle, you'll need to be more like us.

Since we were going all-electric for our only car, we had to consider carefully. Our minimum criteria was that we wanted to be able to make it to the airport and back (a 71 mile trip) without charging or renting a car. We also visit my wife’s parent about once a month - a 50 minute drive away. Both are very doable with our 76 mile average range. It’s even doable in the winter because we have become just that skilled in our driving habits. Not only is it doable, but we know that there are charging stations at the airport if necessary, and an outlet in my father-in-law’s garage. 


People often write off the possibility of an electric car due to "lack of infrastructure." In reality, there are electrical outlets everywhere! Every house, every business, usually has an outlet of some kind somewhere. Remember, etiquette is to ask before plugging in and offer to compensate for electricity used. 

That left us with needing to rent a car about four times a year for longer trips. Renting for longer trips is nice because all those miles go on a rental rather than your bread-n-butter vehicle (if you have a limit to how many miles you can use on your lease, this is a bigger deal). The way we calculate, the money saved on oil changes alone pays for the few times a year we need a rental car. Now, if your EV has DC quick charging, you could go on a longer trip up or down a major highway and charge your battery to about 80% capacity in 20 minutes. Ours does not. The truth is, we didn’t need it and loved the car so much that we didn't let it hold us back. But we certainly want it in our next EV mostly because its a nice perk.


Will it fit our family?
Trips to Ikea, and Christmas trees we handle soundly with a roof rack. No problems there. The real issue is internal storage. If you have small kids, I recommend bringing the family stroller with you to the dealership to see if it fits. Our first mammoth stroller would not, but our current stroller: a Bumbleride Indie 4 does fine- even with the reduced trunk space in the Electric version of the Ford Focus. 
Just one more reason to love our Bumbleride Indie 4 stroller: It fits in the trunk with room to spare.
The Leaf would have even more room. We are Costco members and routinely bring both our children, both of us, and fill the shopping cart with groceries. We can fit everything and everyone in the car with no problem. 

If we were to have a third kid, though, that would be tough, unless one of them were big enough to no longer need a car seat. Now, we have fit three children in the car, all correctly fastened in their car seats - but to be honest it's a huge pain and not something we would want to do every day. Most sedans/hatchbacks are going to be the same. I wish Ford would make a plug-in version of its spacious Edge. By the time our kids are both long legged teenagers, we will have outgrown our FFE, but that's still 10 years away. We are hoping for a plug-in SUV in our price range to be available ASAP as our family’s needs slowly change and grow.


To lease or buy?
In this unique situation - for a few more years at least, I recommend leasing your electric car for three reasons. 
  1. There is a DC quick charge format war, Chademo vs Combo vs Tesla Super Charger. Remember when Blu-ray and HD DVD were competing to be the standard? Yeah, exactly. 
  2. Technology is changing fast. If there is a bigger battery in just a few years, you may want to trade out without risking the extra depreciation. 
  3. If you purchase outright, you will not get your federal incentive ($7500) until your next tax return - and only as long as you get taxed at least that much each year. But if you lease, the credit is rolled into the lease (although only part of it in the case of the Chevy Volt). If you still want to keep the car at the end of the lease, just purchase it at its used price. Eventually that tax credit will be done, but for now you can drive an EV for the price you would normally pay in gas each month.

Do I have to get a home charging station (EVSE)?
No, but most people will want one. You’ll need at least a normal electrical outlet near your parking space. Apartments and condos may have issues here. We went a full six months “trickle charging” each night on a normal 120 volt outlet in our garage (at the rate of about ~4 miles/hour). The reason we upgraded to a level 2 EVSE (240 volt outlet) was to guarantee a full battery by morning if we got back home after midnight. 

The other issue we ran into was when we needed to rapidly charge (at a rate of about ~17 miles/hour or 4.8 kWh) between morning errands and afternoon errands. There are lots of fancy cords and stations on the market upwards of $2000. We got ours from Clipper Creek for just $550. It just plugs into a clothes dryer style outlet. The only installation required was to install the 240 volt outlet next to our electrical panel (which cost less than $100). The only thing I would have done differently is to get this version so we could take it with us and plug in at RV sites across the country.


If I am keeping the EV long term, am I financially prepared to replace the battery?
There are no oil changes, no gears to switch in the transmission, and the brakes are used less due to regenerative braking. Be wise. Save this maintenance money for the big unknown: the longevity of the battery. This isn’t really an unknown, since there are pioneers in this area with concrete data

If you are going to keep your EV long term (for 100,000 miles or more) you have to purchase it knowing that eventually it may need a new battery. Now, if 80% capacity is still good for you 100,000 miles later - and depending on your driving habits, it just might be- you may not have to spend the money. Nissan is the first company to publish replacement cost for its battery, $5499 plus labor. While prices are expected to come down over the next few years, batteries also will be getting bigger. A half price battery that’s double the size may still cost $6K and up. For us, it is worth it and we went in emotionally prepared for the commitment.


I hope this helped you!

As the newest member of the Creative Green Living team, I'm excited to talk more about electric cars with you. 

If you have a general question about electric cars, my personal experience with our Ford Focus Electric or are considering purchasing an electric car, please ask a question in the comments. I'll be sure to answer, and if the answer is long enough, I might even make your question the topic of my next article!



About the Author: 
Joe describes himself as a skeptical researcher and a hesitant convert to an eco-friendly lifestyle. An accidental electric car enthusiast, Joe has fallen in love with both the money-saving and planet-saving powers of electric vehicles and wants to empower as many families as possible to make the switch to electric car technology. Interested in having Joe test drive your electric car or write about your brand? Contact us here.


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35 comments:

  1. These are really good things to consider. I will probably never own one in my lifetime, but I am sure many people will :)

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  2. I have thought about one of these cars but these are all great questions to consider! It makes me rethink the idea of having one.

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  3. Actually the cold weather range is something a lot of people don't think to ask about because people don't know that batteries don't do well in cold weather. Good points all around

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  4. Wow. We've been also researching for one. Thanks for all your research and good points

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  5. Great questions, thank you! I don't know a whole lot about electric cars, so this helps a lot!

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  6. These are great questions. I am not sure we will be in the market for one anytime soon but this is the way of the future.

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  7. Such good points to consider. The stroller idea is perfect. I'm so interested in an electric vehicle and it's almost time for us to buy. You've covered all the questions I'd be asking! Pinned to save for when it's car shopping time.

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  8. I have never even thought about purchasing an electric car. We just bought a Kia that is good on gas!

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  9. I never thought about an electric car but this is very eye opening - ty!

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  10. These are all great Tips especially the one relating to lease or Buy. Too often people get Cars they can't afford and put themselves in more Debt

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  11. Good questions. I wouldn't have thought to ask some of these.

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  12. I have always wondered how this would work for real people on a daily basis. Thanks for the great info.

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  13. What informative information. I do not have an electric car, but this is all good to know!

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  14. Such great information! The cold weather part is important to remember if you already have an electric car and are thinking of moving too. I know someone that didn't consider it when moving from CA to CO and had to buy a new car when he got there. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Thanks for all this great information. We've been considering an electric car and have had a lot of questions. Sharing this with my husband.

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    1. I'm willing to bet that your questions are the same ones that a lot of people have. Feel free to hit me with any questions you might have. Each EV also tends to have its own online owners forum where they discuss every little detail, quirk, and bug. I decided on a roof rack based on one of these forums.

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  16. I can honestly say that I have never thought about purchasing or leasing an Electric Car. I just don't know enough about them in general so before reading your post I would not have even known what questions I needed to have answers to. Maybe when they come out with an Electric Mini Cooper I will start to think about it?

    My parents have a friend with a Tesla which I have seen but have never been inside. My parents on the other hand have been in the car.

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    1. They have a plug in hybrid version of the mini cooper in the works! Check out an article about it here

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  17. This is all great information to have! I would never have thought to ask these questions before buying an electric car!

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  18. I have only seen one charging station. That map you mentioned is def. a good resource to know about for those driving the car!

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    1. There's probably a lot more than you realize. What area are you from? Here in Portland you almost trip over charging stations, but we didn't notice them until we were looking for them. You might be surprised where they might be hiding. It's a lot like "seeing" a lot more deaf people once you learn sign language.

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  19. These are really, really good questions. I think I would be too stressed out about charging it, so it's not for me but the questions helped me realize that.

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    1. 99% of our charging happens at home in the convenience of our garage. In the same way that you wouldn't let a lack of public cell phone charging stations prevent you from taking a cell phone with you, don't let a lack of infrustructure hold you back from getting an EV. There's just not a huge demand for public charging around town, when I'm within my 70 mile range. This is why many charing station companies are struggling to stay in business. The only real place you need them, in the long term, is between cities along major interstates. Tesla is one of the few companies that is thinking smart and long term about the location of its chargers.

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  20. Lots of good information here. My husband has been talking about getting an electric car when we purchase our next vehicle. That will most likely be within the next year. I will make sure he reads this info too.

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    1. Hope it helps you decide between them! :)

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  21. Thanks for the breakdown Joe! This was super helpful answering many of the questions we have!

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  22. living in the country I drive way to far to get to everything. I am noticing they have electric stations at the main storesin our area.

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  23. great info here. we have looked at electric but it's hard to figure out if it would work for us

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  24. This really helped me out. I have gone back and forth considering it, and have been trying to get the hubby on board. This gives us some discussion points!

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  25. My husband has been dying for one. Great things to consider. Thanks!

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  26. Great info! I will have to pin it in case we are ever considering an electric car.

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  27. We keep looking these. However, my hubby drives a lot of miles a day and wouldn't be able to recharge.

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  28. Great information. I've wanted an electric car since they came out, but had a couple of concerns that kept me from really getting serious about it. You answered those, though!

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  29. My dad bought a Leaf when they first came out. We have learned a lot about electric cars from him. Pretty fun!

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  30. I didn't know a THING about electric cars until this article. I have seen more charging stations pop up around town though.

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