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 environment
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.
Minimal maintenance requirements
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 cornering capabilities.
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 incentives
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 your EV.
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 buyer.
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 long
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 be built.
No electricity, no driving
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 problem.
Electricity costs 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 high-income people
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.