July 10th 2011

Electric car buying: 6 tips to know

Looking to buy an electric car? With the advent of many on the shelves in 2011, with more to come in 2012, prices are going down and popularity is going up. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, expects to sell 5,000 Model S electic cars by the end of 2012.

This year, the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Smart Electric Drive, and Coda Sedan were among the arrivals to our otherwise gas-driven fleet.

Here are our top 6 tips to keep in mind when purchasing an electric car.

There are two varieties of cars

Not all electric cars are of the 100 percent variety. There are all-electric cars, as well as plug-in hybrids. All-electric cars are powered only by large batteries charged from the grid; when they run out of battery power they can no longer move. Plug-in hybrids have a shorter all-electric driving range; they have a smaller battery pack, and once drained, they can either revert to being a normal fuel-fed hybrid, or they can use fuel to run a generator and recharge the batteries.

Take advantage of the incentives

The sticker prices for electric cars tends to be higher than conventional cars, but federal and state governments think they are worth offering some incentives for you to buy one. Excellent. All U.S. taxpayers are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit if you have a one-year tax liability that exceeds that amount. If you don’t, you can lease the car and use the $7,500 to pay down the lease. In addition, many states offer their own credits. Oregon, for example, offers $1,500 in savings; California has a $5,000 credit; the State of Washington waves the 6.5% sales tax charge.

There are different ways to charge them

Known as levels, there are three ways to charge your car, so you have options once you buy.

Level 1 charging works off of a standard three-prong household outlet. Every car comes with support for this. It is easy, but slow: about 5 miles of driving range for every hour of charging.

Level 2 charging uses special equipment unique to electric cars. It works a little faster, adding about 15-30 miles of driving range per hour of charging. This can charge a car overnight, but for installation, costs between $1,500 and $2,500. Don’t worry too much: the federal government offers a tax credit of 30% of the cost of purchase and installation, up to $1,000.

DC fast charging uses industrially-rated, gas pump-sized stations for high speed charging. It isn’t available for all cars, and usually costs extra. It add about 80 miles of driving range in a half hour of charging.

Public charging is few and far betwen

Yes, a home charging station is what you need, but having the convenience of one on the road–like a gas station– is even better, allowing more freedom when you’re out and about. Public charging provides drivers the ability to extend the electric car’s all-electric range. Right now, don’t expect it, but there is a $250 million joint federal-private program, called the EV Project, to install nearly 15,000 public charging stations around the United States over the course of 2011. This includes areas of Oregon, California, Washington, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Washington, D.C. Other areas, we’re sure, will be around soon.

Maintenance still applies

Sure, there won’t be as many maintenance costs, considering there is no combustion engine and many moving parts. But don’t assume that you’ll be free of all maintenance costs. Yes, don’t worry: say goodbye to oil changes, transmission fluid changes and random mechanical repairs. And even plug-in hybrids, which still have an engine and emissions equipment, are very low maintenance compared to conventional gasoline engines. Electric vehicles, however, have large, costly batteries that may need replacement after 8 years or so. The good thing is, since these are new in the auto front, by time you need the replacement, the prices will come down. And if you need one in the next 6 years or so, depending on the company, it’s covered by the warranty.

The car costs less, but your house will cost more

Sure, you can drive a new electric car for about 3 cents per mile. And maintenance is at a minimum (although we’ve went over that already). But you do have to charge it up when you aren’t driving it, and stats tell us that if you drive your electric car about 50 miles per  day,  your electricity bill to increase by half. Just keep in mind as those utilities increase, that you savings will probably decrease, but not as much as you might think.

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Andrew loves art and design, and pursues his studies in his final year at the Ontario College of Art and Design. He loves seeking out new artists and giving them their dues, and in his spare time, focuses on his own abstract sculpture.