There is a great deal of buzz around electric vehicles
(EVs). They are being promoted as the wave of the future – a more efficient,
lower-cost, and cleaner way to drive. EVs are predicted to greatly increase
their numbers among the automotive population, eventually replacing all
vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.
There are some EVs that you may have already seen on the
roads, like the Nissan Leaf and the Teslas. While electric vehicles are
becoming more visible on the roads (especially in EV-friendly states like
California), they are still a tiny part of total car sales – only 2% of all
cars sold in 2018 were electric vehicles.
Does it make sense for you to consider an electric vehicle
for your next car? Is it more or less expensive than a traditional gas-fueled
car? What would it be like to live with an EV?
Here are the pros and cons of owning an electric vehicle at
the current moment.
What is an EV?
An electric vehicle, for the purposes of this discussion, is
one that derives all of its power from an internal battery that drives an
electric motor. When the battery gets low, it must be recharged by being
connected to an external power source.
Do not confuse an EV with a plug-in hybrid, which can go
limited distances on a smaller battery, and then switch over to a conventional
gasoline engine to keep going. Plug-in hybrid vehicles are called “electrified”
vehicles, but they do not run solely on battery power.
What are the pros of driving and owning an EV?
There are many benefits that can be yours when you drive an
electric vehicle. These are the things that you will hear EV owners telling
anyone who will listen:
Never having to go to
a gas station again
Homeowners who have chargers at their residences can plug in
and charge their EVs every night, and then leave with a “full tank” in the
morning! For most people’s daily local needs, an EV will get them where they
need to go, and back home with plenty of charge left. Not having to stop for
gas can save drivers a lot of time and hassle.
Benefits to the
Because EVs do not directly burn fossil fuels and have no
tailpipe emissions (because they have no tailpipes!), air quality will improve
as more electric vehicles take to the roads. The cleaner that your sources of
electricity are (wind and solar are cleanest, followed by nuclear, natural gas,
oil, and coal) the better the results are for the planet overall.
You save money
In most places in the US, a “full tank” of electricity
currently costs much less than a tank of gas, on a per mile basis. This can add
up to large savings on “fuel” costs over the life of your EV.
AN EV is a much simpler device than a gasoline-powered
vehicle. It has no oil, no radiator, no spark plugs, no exhaust system, and
usually no transmission. That means that your overall maintenance costs go way
down, compared to a conventional vehicle.
EVs are fun to drive
Because electric motors provide maximum torque (twisting
power at the wheels) from a standstill, EVs have truly impressive acceleration.
This responsiveness makes driving fun, and lets you more easily fit into gaps
in traffic when you need to merge or change lanes. And because the heavy
battery is mounted low in the car, a typical EV also has excellent handling and
EVs are quieter
EVs eliminate all of the noise and vibration of an internal
combustion engine, from the intake air rushing in, to the ignition of the
fuel-air mixture in the cylinders, to the exhaust coming out the tailpipe. When
all of these sounds are absent, you get a much quieter driving experience.
You get tax
Depending on which EV you buy, and which state you live in,
you may be eligible for both federal and state incentives for the purchase of
an electric vehicle. These incentives can lower the effective purchase price of
What are the cons of driving and owning an EV?
Unfortunately, owning and driving an EV at this point in
time is not all butterflies and rainbows. There are some hard realities facing
you as an EV owner, so let’s go through the list:
EVs are expensive
Batteries are very expensive, and they make EVs expensive.
An EV costs at least $10,000 more than an equivalent gasoline-powered vehicle.
Then you have to add the cost of installing a home charger on top of the
purchase price. This can make an EV too expensive for the average new car
Range anxiety is real
When you run low on gas, you don’t worry. You know that
there will be a gas station nearby, wherever you are. But things are quite
different for most drivers of EVs. Unless you own a Tesla (which has its own
dedicated charging network), electric vehicle charging stations are relatively few
in number, and they can be much harder to find.
There are many different charging networks, and each one usually
requires you to sign up in advance. Most do not allow you to simply drive up
and swipe your credit card to charge your EV. Planning a long road trip in an
electric vehicle requires you to know in advance where you can charge along
your route, and what network each of the chargers belongs to. Running out of
charge in the middle of your trip will definitely ruin your day!
Charging times are
Drivers of gasoline-powered cars are used to short refueling
times. EV drivers are not so fortunate. Even the fastest currently available public
chargers take around a half-hour to provide enough charge for an hour or so of
driving. While it may not be a problem to leave your car plugged in overnight
at home, this becomes a big issue when travelling long distances. Depending on
the location of the charging station, you will definitely have time to visit a
restaurant, or do some shopping. You may have to wait even longer if another EV
is using the charger ahead of you!
A large number of EVs
may overload the power grid
Drivers will charge their EVs when they need to charge them.
When the numbers of electric vehicles on the road increases significantly, all
of that charging activity will overtax our current marginal electric grid. Even
if most EVs charge overnight at off-peak times, this will still eventually
happen. This situation will be even more acute in large cities that have to
deal with brownouts when electricity use peaks. More powerplants will need to
No electricity, no
The recent wildfire-related power outages that have been
imposed throughout California highlight the vulnerability of the EV fleet. When
there’s no power to charge your electric vehicle, what do you do? This is a big
will rise, eroding the cost savings
In many places, electricity prices increase when you use
more power. Charging your EV every night will increase your household’s power
consumption, and this may move you into a higher price bracket per
kilowatt-hour. Many electric utilities are building their own EV charging
networks, which sounds good – until you realize that the costs of building them
will be passed on to all of the utility’s customers, who may or may not own
EVs. Everyone’s electricity costs will rise, possibly to the point where
charging an EV costs more than putting gas in a conventional car.
EV subsidies benefit
Most EVs are purchased by households with incomes of over
$100,000. This means that most of the EV subsidies are going to wealthier
people, who don’t really need financial help to buy an electric vehicle.
Apartment and city
dwellers can’t charge at home
Where do you charge your EV if you don’t own a home? Most
apartment dwellers and condo owners are unable to install a home charger. And
what if you live in a big city? All of these people will have to hunt for
public charging stations to charge their electric vehicles.
EVs will be taxed to
make up for lost fuel taxes
Taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel are what funds the upkeep
of our roads and highways. If and when EVs replace petroleum-fueled vehicles and
become a larger part of the vehicle fleet, these road funds will be reduced.
The federal government and the states will need to find a way to make up the
difference, and they will charge electric vehicles for their wear and tear on
the road system. This has already started in some states, and it will likely
take the form of a per-mile tax on EVs across the country.
Batteries are very
expensive to replace
No one really knows how long an EV’s battery pack will last,
but it will be very expensive to replace when it happens! This is one of the
great unknowns of owning an electric vehicle, and accounts for why EVs
depreciate much faster than gas-powered cars.
EV materials come
from some bad places
The dark side of the EV story can be found in the
underdeveloped countries where some of the key raw materials for electric
vehicles are sourced. Let’s take cobalt, for example. Cobalt is a key material
for EV batteries. Unfortunately, most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic
Republic of Congo, where much of it is mined by children, in appalling
conditions, and with no protective gear. Health problems and environmental
degradation in Africa and other places around the world are a legacy of the march
to popularize EVs.
Is an electric vehicle right for you?
The truth is, electric vehicles are a luxury. You need a lot
of resources to start with to be able keep on. If you can afford one, if you
can install a charger at home, if you can avoid relying on public charging
networks, if you can benefit from the tax incentives, and if you can live with
the ethical dilemmas, then there’s no reason not to try the EV experience. But
if you can’t check all of those boxes, you will be much better off with a
conventional, gasoline-powered vehicle, whether it is new or used.
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