Electric Car FAQs

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 07, 2014

Where can I recharge my EV?

There are more than 14,500 public EV chargers in the U.S. That may sound like a lot, but scatter them over the country, and they can be challenging to find. (By comparison, there are over 120,000 gas stations in the U.S.) California has the best EV infrastructure, with 26.6 percent of the country’s recharging stations at the end of 2013. California also leads in EV sales, with approximately 40 percent of all EV registrations. Charging stations are starting to pop up, especially at government buildings, transit stations, and private businesses that see an advantage in captive customers who are waiting for their cars to top off. Look for a close-by station here.

Free public charging station in DC. (Flickr/DDOT DC)
Free public charging station in DC. (Flickr/DDOT DC)

Can I recharge an EV at a regular home, AC outlet?

Yes, most EVs come with a 110-volt charging cord. Here’s the hitch, though—it’s very slow—12 hours all the way up to 21 for a Nissan Leaf with a battery that’s totally drained. One Leaf-owning California owner charges on a conventional AC outlet and writes, “Takes all night to charge but it’s ready for me in the morning.” There are faster ways to charge your EV at home, including a “Level II” charger, but those come with an additional installation cost.

How many EVs are on the road now?

Automakers sold approximately 100,000 plug-in cars in the U.S. in 2013, which is double the results in 2012. In 2014, some 65,000 were sold to American customers through July. That’s a tiny amount compared to the 15.6 million cars sold nationally in 2013, but it’s evidence of a growing market. We expect EV use to continue to grow, as charging infrastructure gets better and drivers become more familiar with EVs as an option.

Are EV owners happy with their cars?

Owner satisfaction with EVs is extraordinarily high, which you could argue is to be expected of enthusiastic early adopters-- they're a group that are enthusiastic about the technology. Tesla drivers, for instance, gave their cars a 99 out of 100 rating in a satisfaction survey released late in 2013. That’s the highest rating the magazine has seen in years. The Chevrolet Volt has consistently rated at the top of Consumer Reports satisfaction survey. And Nissan claims that 93 percent of Leaf owners are either “very satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with their cars.

The Infiniti LE is an upmarket version of the Nissan. If they're right about that 93% approval rating, why turn over a new Leaf? (Jim Motavalli photo)
The Infiniti LE is an upmarket version of the Nissan. If they're right about that 93% approval rating, why turn over a new Leaf? (Jim Motavalli photo)

What about those federal tax credits?

EVs are expensive, but the high retail price is made a bit less painful with a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, plus assorted state incentives. Plug In America has an updated list of all available state subsidies here.

How much longer will the tax credits be around?

The tax credits for electric cars will last until each manufacturer has sold 200,000 of them, which isn’t likely anytime soon. (Hybrid car subsidies are capped at 60,000 per carmaker, which is why you can’t get one for a new Toyota Prius.) Once manufacturers reach 200k in sales, the credits start to phase out. Our informal count shows that Nissan sold 57,861 Leafs in the U.S. from the end of 2010 through July of 2014.

Are there other benefits to owning an EV?

There are a variety of benefits for EV owners, mostly in large urban areas. The perks are wide-ranging and evolving rapidly. These include:


  • Some cities provide access to HOV lanes (very valuable in Los Angeles) for solo drivers who are in an EV.
  • A number of cities provide free or preferred parking downtown.
  • Some cities have excluded battery-powered cars from sales taxes.
  • One of the big benefits of EVs is that they’re much cheaper to operate than a conventional car. (See below for more info.)
  • We haven’t banned gas burners from central cities, as has happened in Europe, but urban EV owners in the U.S. may find preferred parking in downtown areas, and free municipal chargers. The best example is probably Electric Avenue in Portland, Oregon, which concentrates both 240-volt Level II and 480-volt fast chargers on a conveniently located block at Portland State University.
(Image by Floydian. CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Image by Floydian. CC BY-SA 3.0)

Are they as safe as gas-powered cars? They seem very small.

Not all electric cars have been rated by either of the two agencies that perform the tests, but those that have did very well considering their small size and light weight, with four- or five-star ratings. You can see the results here.

Also, is there a risk during an accident from the batteries?

Two Tesla Model S EVs caught fire after the cars hit big objects in the road, and another one after a horrendous crash in Mexico. A stolen Tesla was later dramatically crashed and ignited in Los Angeles. None of these accidents killed anybody, however, and a federal investigation was closed after four months, concluding that improvements the company made reduced fire risk, and flaming cars was not likely to become a trend for the company.

What about risk of electrocution after an accident, to me or others, from all that electricity?

There is a risk, but it's mainly to first responders. A recent report from SAE International says that hybrids and battery EVs need both global safety standards and clear warnings so rescue workers will be up to speed about the dangers posed by high-voltage batteries.



We hope safety training for first responders will leave them well grounded. (Image via http://bit.ly/1kH7J3n)
We hope safety training for first responders will leave them well grounded. (Image via http://bit.ly/1kH7J3n)
Will I need to replace the batteries over the life of the car?

Until we get a number of years more experience with EVs, the jury is still out on that question. Let’s take the 85-kilowatt-hour battery that’s the top offering for the Tesla Model S. The battery is warranted for eight years with unlimited mileage, and the quoted replacement cost is a whopping $12,000. If current trends continue, however, it’s unlikely that the pack will cost that much eight years from now. Hans Streng of EV company ABB says battery costs are coming down 20 to 30 percent annually.

How much will I really save?

Check on what an EV would cost to run here, but in general and on average it’s three times less per-mile than a gas car. Over time, that savings will begin to defray the high purchase price. Will you make up the difference—aside from the other pros and cons of owning an EV? Estimate the miles you drive annually, and the cost per mile based on current gas prices, and you’ll start to see whether an EV makes financial sense for you.

Do I need to worry about how many people I can carry in it?

Most EVs will carry at least four people, though the passenger compartments tend to be less roomy than conventional vehicles, as manufacturers work to keep the EV small and, therefore, as light as possible. A few EVs—such as the Smart Electric Drive and the Wheego LiFe—just have room for two. On the larger end, the Tesla Model S is available with two extra jump seats that give it SUV-like seven passenger capacity. (Some readers will remember the “way back” in dad’s wood-paneled Ford Country Squire. It works something like that, with the rear-facing extra passengers facing the rear window.)



At least your freeloading friends won't be asking for rides. Pictured, the Smart Electric Drive two-seater. (Jim Motavalli photo)
At least your freeloading friends won't be asking for rides. Pictured, the Smart Electric Drive two-seater. (Jim Motavalli photo)
Can I tow something with an EV?

In a word, no. Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and GM have all advised against towing with their EVs. There are some aftermarket accessories for light towing, despite the recommendation against it. (For the record, it’s not something we recommend. Your available distance will be substantially reduced, and you’re operating the EV in what is currently uncharted territory.) The only exception to this is Tesla’s Model X. A Tesla spokesperson was eager to proclaim the Model X’s towing ability, when we spoke with him: “Model X will have towing capability exceeding most SUVs in its class. With all-wheel drive, incredible torque and sophisticated traction control, it will be an excellent towing machine.” How will it actually fare? Time will tell!

How likely am I to have more repair or maintenance issues compared to a regular gas car?

We’ll know once more EVs have been on the road. On the upside, EVs are simpler than gas cars, with many fewer moving parts: there’s no fuel injection, spark plugs, radiator, pistons, or fuel tank, to name a few gas-engine components. So, there’s less to break. Electric motors have a long and proven track record in other uses, and we expect them to be generally very reliable. One uncertainty is the longevity of the battery pack. They are getting better year-by-year, but we simply don’t have a lot of data on battery packs with, say, well over 100,000 miles.

Will EVs continue to become more popular?

We think so, yes. It may take a very long time to retire the gas-powered car, but the combination of the need to reduce greenhouse emissions and continuous technological progress, it’s very likely that EV use is only going to continue to grow.

So… Should I wait?

Waiting a year or two might not be a bad idea, if you can. EVs are improving rapidly at this point, as manufacturers learn from their mistakes and integrate new technology. Over time, however, as EVs become more common it will get harder to get great discounts from dealers. On the other hand, the battery pack is the biggest single cost of an EV, and if prices really do drop 20 to 30 percent annually (see above) next year’s model could be certainly be more affordable. 
This FAQ will be updated regularly. Have a suggestion? Great! Let us know.

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