Maybe it’s the record-high gas prices that made you do a triple-take last time you filled up at the pump. Maybe the effects of climate change are feeling a little too close to home. Or maybe it’s because Jim next door got one, and it’s really sleek, really zippy, and so, so new. (Probably it’s a mish-mash of all three.) Whatever the reason for your interest in electric vehicles, or EVs, you’re in good company—seven out of 10 American drivers say they’d consider one for their next vehicle, while Google searches for EVs jumped by 300 percent between February and March.
“Public awareness of EVs is broadening,” says Cem Ozturk, a marketing fellow with the Darla Moore School of Business who studies the behaviors, policies and other factors that drive EV adoption. “As public awareness has been one of the critical barriers for EV penetration in the US, that’s good news.”
To increase your own awareness, here are a few questions to consider when deciding if an EV is right for you. (Spoiler: It usually is!)
How much car do you need?
With over 20 models on the market last year (and dozens more on their way), there’s likely an EV out there for you, but the first step to eco-friendly (and budget-friendly) driving is to right-size your car—no matter what fuels it—to your needs. How many miles do you normally log per day? Are you zipping around town doing errands? Commuting an hour each way to work? Road-tripping every weekend?
Range anxiety—that angsty feeling of just not knowing for sure that you’ll get there—is a real thing. But last year, for the first time, the median average estimated range for all EV models topped 250 miles, and some premium models can go twice that. That should satisfy the needs, almost six times over, of the average consumer, who travels 39 miles by car each day. (But keep in mind that other factors, like meteorological conditions and your behind-the-wheel behavior, impact your range, too.)
And if you’re worried about longer hauls—and days where you just want to get in the car and drive—there are more and more on-the-fly options for keeping the tank “full.” (See below.)
Having said that, if you often clock over 200 miles per day, you might want to wait before making the switch. But it shouldn’t be long—carmakers are busy researching next-gen batteries, able to take you 500 miles or more on a single charge, with production starting as early as next year.
What’s your charging plan?
Eighty eight percent of owners charge their EVs at home—but that’s because 90 percent of EV owners have their own garages. What’s your situation? Do you live in an apartment, or a house? Do you have dedicated off-street parking? An external power source? Before you can kiss goodbye to gas pump madness, you need to figure your charging plan.
Cars are parked 95 percent of the time, so most EV owners recharge while they sleep, work or shop.
All EVs come with a 120 V-compatible cord set that you can use with a standard three-pronged wall outlet. This plug-and-play option (called Level 1) is by far the easiest, but also the slowest: a 10 hour-charge will get you a whopping 40 to 50 miles of range.
Level 2 requires access to a high-powered (240 V) circuit, like what your clothes dryer uses. Plugging into one of those bumps your charge rate up by a factor of five, to about 200 miles in a 10-hour span. You’ll need either a portable charger—handy for plugging into friends’ dryers when you’re on the road—or a dedicated station mounted to the wall (like what Teslas come with), which costs about $2,000, including installation. Level 2 charging is also available (sometimes for free!) in public and retail parking lots. Since cars are parked 95 percent of the time, most EV owners recharge while they sleep, work or shop.
But if you’re in a pinch, Level 3 charging will get you back in the fast lane. Available through a variety of networks, like Tesla Superchargers and Electrify America, DC fast chargers will get you 60 to 80 miles of range in 20 minutes. At the end of 2021, there were over 90,000 fast charge units available across the country, and with retail chains including 7-Eleven and Wal-Mart getting in on the action, that number is expected to jump by 30,000 this year.
Unsurprisingly, fast charging is also the costliest. Prices vary wildly by network and by region, but it cost one driver (and expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council) $30 to get about 200 miles of range out of her Chevy Bolt.
(Mathematics parenthetical: Right now, that’s actually $4.02 less than it would be to drive a gas-powered car the same distance, based on the latest nationwide record-setting average gas price of $4.32 per gallon and an average fuel economy of 25.4 miles per gallon. In January, a gas car would have been $3.40 cheaper to fuel for the same distance, using the US retail gas price, $3.38, from the beginning of the year.)
However, since most charging happens at home, EV drivers can save fast charging for emergencies and road trips. (And, no, you can’t install a level 3 system at home. The set-up would run you about $50,000 and very likely overload your local grid—not the neighborliest of moves.)
Overview of EV charging options
|Level||Set up considerations||What you get||Convenience factor||Best for|
|1||None! The charger comes with your EV, and you can plug into any wall outlet||2-5 miles per hour||Low, due to slow charge||Topping up EVs overnight, or fully charging plug-in hybrids|
|2||Variable, but you need either a portable ($) or wall-mounted ($$) charger||10-30 miles per hour||High, once you’re equipped (and even better if your workplace has level 2 chargers set up, too)||Most of your EV recharging needs|
|2.5||Some! This type of level 2 charging requires solar panels and a home energy system||1 mile per minute||High, like with regular level 2 charging||Most of your EV recharging needs|
|3||None, because you can’t set up a level 3 system at home||60-80 miles per 20 minutes||Medium, as though they’re fast, they’re not as fast as filling up at the pump||Road trips and emergencies|
What do you want to spend?
And how fast do you want—or need—to recoup your cash? According to vehicle valuation and automotive research company Kelly Blue Book new EVs cost about $10,000 more than the overall industry average. But there are ways to offset that higher upfront investment—if you can wait it out.
First, tax incentives. All newly purchased plug-in EVs are eligible for a one-time federal tax credit worth up to $7,500, depending on the make of your car and the size of its battery. There are credits and rebates at the state, county and city level, too, which can be worth up to an additional $7,000. And that’s on top of initiatives for chargers and charging stations, as well as those provided by many local electric utilities. That’s a lot of cash up for grabs, and Plug In America—a pro electric non-profit—has a handy interactive map to help you see what you can get your mitts on.
With fewer moving parts, EVs make fewer trips to the shop, and cost less to repair when they’re there, than gas guzzlers. According to a 2020 study by Consumer Reports, EV owners pay half as much in repairs and maintenance, saving around $4,600 over the lifespan (defined as 200,000 miles) of the vehicle.
A fuzzier aspect of EV ownership is just how much it costs to charge the thing, which depends on what car you have, how you use it and where you live. If, like most owners, you charge at home, then powering an EV is more affordable than refueling a car that uses gas. According to the Department of Energy, it costs on average twice as much to fill up a gas car as it does an EV. There are websites aplenty available to run the costs specific to your situation, including by battery size, by make and model and by miles travelled.
EVs going mainstream—a question of when, not if
According to Ozturk, “adoption will pick up as more EV models become available.” As several major manufacturers have already made all-electric pledges—GM by 2035, Volvo by 2030, Mercedes-Benz by 2025, among others—we’ll see dozens of new models on the market over the next few years. Market analysis site EVAdoption.com expects EVs to become mainstream in 2028—meaning there’s still time to be an early-ish adopter. Just make sure whatever you get is zippier, sleeker and eco-friendlier than what Jim has.