You’ve been hearing about them for years. Many people are saying electric vehicles are the future. Nearly every major manufacturer either has at least one electric model available or has made an announcement about producing one or more in the near future. If you’re thinking about purchasing a new or used car, you may want to consider going electric.
Full disclosure, I have been driving electric cars for several years now. I may be a bit biased but I can also serve as a good reference for what it’s like driving an electric car day-to-day.
When I first became interested in electric cars, there weren’t any options available for purchase. It was a bunch of DIYers doing conversions of gas cars to electric. I considered this for awhile but my time and mechanical expertise are limited and I didn’t like the prospect of a half-finished project taking up a garage stall for several years.
Eventually, the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf became available in a price range I could afford and I purchased a used Volt. The EV industry has evolved extensively over the last 10 years and there are now dozens of options. The Volt is a great car but I eventually upgraded to a used Tesla and gave the Volt to my wife. She loves it.
Let me make a distinction here between two types of EVs: Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) and Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV). A BEV only has the battery as its fuel source. A PHEV is a hopped-up hybrid that has been given a slightly larger battery so it can drive some distance on just the battery before the gas engine kicks in.
The idea with a PHEV is that since many of us don’t drive long distances on a given day, it’s possible to go several days without ever starting up that gas engine. Since electricity is much cheaper than gas, you save money. The Volt is a PHEV and my experience was that, in the summer, I had about a 40-mile range on a full charge. I sometimes went two or three months before having to stop for gas.
In the winter, battery range drops with the temperature so I had to buy gas more often. Typically once a month. The Tesla is a BEV with a much larger battery and a range of around 250 miles in the summer, and slightly less than 200 in winter.
One question people ask is, “What do you do when the battery runs down?” True, we don’t yet have charging stations everywhere like we do gas stations. PHEVs are one answer to that problem. Since they have a gas backup, you can keep driving and fill up at a gas station as needed for longer trips.
For BEVs, you have to plan ahead for longer trips. For most people, the car will be sitting in the garage, plugged in overnight. This means you start everyday with a “full tank.” If your daily driving never exceeds the range of your battery, it’s just not a problem.
In most households, there is usually more than one car. So maybe you have one EV and one gas car that can be used for the occasional road trip. There are lots of EV owners who do long trips with their cars but it does require some planning and a bit of a pioneer spirit. PlugShare is an app that lets you use your smart phone to find one of the 20,000 charging locations that exist today.
Another factor to consider with EVs is maintenance. An electric drive system is much simpler than a gas engine and thus the maintenance is next to nothing. With a PHEV you have both the electric drive and a gas motor so you still need to maintain that gas motor.
In my Volt, the computer keeps track of how much the gas motor ran and gives me a readout of how much life I have left in the motor oil. Since the gas motor was used so little, I found I went about two years before I did an oil change. I know there are some mechanics out there who would shake their heads reading this. But if the manufacturer tells me I still have lots of life left in the oil, why should I change it? The takeaway is that your maintenance costs in time and dollars are much less with an EV.
OK so I’m saving money at the pump and on maintenance. But what about performance? Aren’t these things just glorified golf carts? Far from it. That’s another huge benefit of electric drives. A gas motor has its maximum power or torque in a narrow range of RPM. That’s why gas cars need several gears to keep the motor running in the range where its power output is best.
By contrast, an electric motor has a nearly flat torque curve. In simple terms, this means you have lots of get-up-and-go right from the get-go. I have not driven every EV out there but the ones I have fall in the range of pretty peppy to downright scary for acceleration. My wife has threatened to wear her neck brace whenever we take the Tesla. I am working on my impulse control.
If you’re curious and have more questions about your electric vehicle options, you may want to check out a display of EVs at the Prior Lake Farmers Market on June 22. Local EV owners (no sales people) will be on hand to answer your questions. This event will be presented by the Scott County chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. I hope to see you there.