Autotrader: 7 tips for buying your first electric vehicle

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The idea of driving an electric vehicle that you plug into the wall rather than fill up with gas sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It sounds even better when you factor in the many other advantages that EVs have over traditional gas-powered cars, like lively acceleration and nearly nonexistent engine noise.

There are a lot of EVs on the market today from the likes of Tesla, TSLA, -0.52%   Chevrolet and Nissan NSANY, -1.30%   that are worth getting excited about, but there are a few things that first-time electric car buyers should ask themselves before making the switch from gas to electrons, so here are seven tips for first-time EV buyers.

Crunch the range numbers

An obvious limitation of electric vehicles is range. Every EV has a point where it runs out of juice, and refueling isn’t quite as simple as filling the gas tank. The national EV charging infrastructure is improving all the time, but the number of charging stations in America still isn’t close to the number of gas stations.

For this reason, range should be one of your top considerations when you go shopping for an EV. Most modern EVs have enough range to cover more than the average daily commute in America, which makes EVs good for folks who don’t do a whole lot of driving outside of their commute and regular errands. If you’re thinking about making an EV your daily driver, it’s a good idea to track how many miles you drive in an average day. If the range of the EV you have your eye on is well above that number, then you probably won’t have a hard time living with that electric car.

Look at your local charging infrastructure

Some parts of the country have EV charging stations on seemingly every corner, and other parts have none. If you want to charge away from the home, you’ll need to take a look at your local vehicle charging infrastructure.

Public charging stations are often located at places like grocery stores, so your car can charge up while it’s sitting in the parking lot. You might even be fortunate enough to have an employer that offers charging stations, in which case the numbers for your range limitations would be totally changed. If you’re not planning on running low between when you leave your house and when you come back, then public charging wouldn’t be a big concern, but if you tend to drive long distances at a time, then the issue could make or break the viability of an electric vehicle for your lifestyle. Consider also that EVs are often touted as great city cars, but if you don’t have a garage where you can charge your car every night, how would you fuel your car?

Check what incentives are available to you

The question of whether EVs are affordable can be difficult to answer because it largely depends on where you live. There are federal EV incentives, but those are starting to expire for some manufacturers who have already sold a lot of EVs and theoretically don’t need them anymore to help sell the cars. Many states offer EV incentives not only around the price of the car but also around taxes and registration.

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If you’re not sure what incentives are available to you, the U.S. Department of Energy has a handy website that shows you exactly what incentives and programs you would qualify for with an electric car in your area.

Consider the costs unique to EV ownership

It’s well established that it costs less money to make an EV move a mile than a gas-powered car, but there are still some costs unique to electric car ownership that you should consider. Owning an EV doesn’t mean that fueling your vehicle is free just because you’re no longer buying gas. You can expect your electric bill to go up, but the extra cost in electricity will still be less than what you would be spending on gas.

You also need to consider what kind of charging setup you need in your own home. Will a slow level-one charger that plugs into a regular outlet be good enough, or will you need to upgrade to a more expensive level-two charger that would become a semi-permanent part of your garage? Also, if you ever need to travel a greater distance than the range of your EV allows, will you need to rent a car?

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Depending on your driving needs, expenses like these can add up — not to mention that even after incentives, EVs are generally more expensive than similarly sized and equipped gas-powered cars. The question of whether you would save any money in the long run by springing for an EV will require some math that factors in your unique driving habits.

Look at the warranty

Electric cars have been on the mass market for about a decade now, but modern electric car technology is still in its infancy. To give drivers some peace of mind about this new propulsion technology, manufacturers are quite generous with warranties, not only on the cars themselves, but also for the batteries and electric drivetrains in EVs and plug-in hybrids.

For example, the warranties on the batteries for both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Bolt are 8-year/100,000 warranties, which exceed both the basic warranty and the powertrain warranty. This means that, whether you’re buying new or lightly-used, you won’t have to worry about costly battery issues for a while.


The Chevy Bolt

Does it fit your lifestyle?

The EV landscape is constantly growing, but in 2019 it’s still pretty limited to mostly small cars. Popular EVs include the Chevy Bolt, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model 3, all of which are compact cars. There’s no doubt that more utilitarian electric trucks and SUVs will come eventually, but if you need an affordable vehicle with three rows of seats or just want more utility than a compact car offers, an EV might not be a good fit for your lifestyle.

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Would a hybrid be better for you?

If you’ve considered all of the above and you’re still not sure whether an EV would be right for you, it might be time to consider a hybrid instead. The market for plug-in hybrids (cars that run on electricity with gas engines that kick in when they run out of juice) is quite a bit more diverse than the EV market, with offerings like the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan, the Subaru Crosstrek hybrid crossover (which is quite competent off-road), and SUVs like the Mitsubishi MSBHY, -0.10%   Outlander PHEV or the Kia Niro, which is available as a conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or EV. Vehicles like these can give you some of the perks of an EV without the range anxiety.

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