Are You Ready to Buy an EV? | Edmunds

Here are nine things to consider before bringing home an EV or plug-in car.

1. Research the cars
2. Understand that electric car range will vary
3. Find the incentives for the vehicles on your list
4. Learn about the kilowatt-hour
5. Get familiar with the basics of plug-in car chargers
6. Know your charger choices
7. Get up to speed on on-the-go charging
8. Pay close attention to the ‘info’ part of the infotainment system
9. Use these electric test-drive tips

1. Research the cars

The first thing in shopping for a plug-in car, as in shopping for any car, is to know what you want, or to at least have a couple of candidates on your shopping list. If you haven’t already decided whether a plug-in electric car will work for you, this Edmunds article on making the right plug-in vehicle choice is the place to start.

Take a look at our vehicle rankings pages to find a list of the best electric cars and plug-in hybrids chosen by the Edmunds editors. Other good sources include the federal Energy Department’s interactive Advanced Cars and Fuels tool, which lets you do side-by-side comparisons of the various plug-in electric cars. And the PlugStar Shopping Assistant allows you to do a very deep dive into plug-in vehicles.

2. Understand that electric car range will vary

The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates electric car range, and the all-electric range of plug-in hybrid and pure electric cars is widely used to help advertise the cars. But high-speed driving or extreme cold or heat can significantly reduce the touted range.

You need to know how and where you drive to know what range you can realistically expect. In describing the car to you, the salesperson might simply rely on the federal estimates or manufacturer’s claims and nothing more.

All-electric range for plug-in hybrid cars varies by model. Currently it is from 15 miles to about 42 miles on a single charge before the internal combustion engine or generator takes over. All then revert to conventional hybrid mode, with the electric drive assisting the gasoline engine.

Pure electric cars in the market also have varying range, which has improved in the last couple years. The figures vary from 170 miles per charge in the Hyundai Ioniq Electric to 239 miles in the Kia Niro EV to 353 miles in the Tesla Model 3 Long Range. At the top is the latest Tesla Models S, with an estimated range of around 400-500 miles depending on the trim level. Most EVs, though, are in the 150- to 250-mile range category, though it is rapidly getting better as technology advances.

Commuters who spend most of their drive at highway speeds, however, typically will realize only 80%-90% of the estimated range. It takes a lot of energy to move a car at high speeds as wind resistance increases. And unless you have a charger at your destination, you have to figure that your effective range is roughly half the total miles that the vehicle is estimated to have.

If you routinely drive in extreme heat or cold, you’ll also see an impact on range. The ambient temperature can affect the battery’s ability to store and release energy. Testing by the AAA showed that a battery good for 105 miles of range at a steady 75 degrees Fahrenheit delivered only 43 miles at 20 degrees. At 95 degrees, range was 69 miles.

3. Find the incentives for the vehicles on your list

There are three types of incentives that can apply to your plug-in vehicle: federal, state and manufacturer. It’s possible that the salesperson you’ll be dealing with won’t know about all of the available incentives for a plug-in electric car. So you should.

The basic rule of thumb for EV federal tax credits is that all-electric vehicles have large enough batteries to qualify for the maximum benefit, which is a tax credit of up to $7,500. Plug-in hybrids have a tax credit that varies based on the size of the battery. It is applicable only in the year in which you buy and can only be used to offset your federal income taxes. The Department of Energy’s site carries a fairly up-to-date list of which plug-in electric cars qualify for what. It is important to note that these federal funds are tax credits, not discounts or rebates. This means you will have to qualify for a car loan and make payments on the full price of the vehicle. You won’t see the $7,500 credit until the end of the tax year following the purchase, when you file your taxes. Even then, the actual amount might be smaller than $7,500 since whatever taxes you owe that year will be deducted from the credit. If you choose to lease, the automaker gets the credit and may choose to factor it into the monthly payment.

State and local incentives include reduced electricity rates, free parking, carpool lane use, help buying home chargers, and cash rebates and tax credits for vehicles. But not all states and communities offer incentives. They also change frequently. A good source is Plug In America’s easy-to-use interactive state and federal incentives map.

If the EV model has been out for a while, there may be manufacturer incentives that can bring the price down. Your car salesperson should be able to tell you about any applicable manufacturer incentives. But you also can find them for yourself by checking out Edmunds’ incentives and rebates center or by visiting the manufacturer’s website for the model you’re considering. Note that Tesla does not offer incentives or discounts on any of its vehicles.

As a bonus, you should check with your local electric company to see what kinds of help it might be offering. Utility company websites often list special-rate programs for people who own an EV.