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Are You A First Time Electric Vehicle Buyer? Here’s A Primer

While there’s a lot to learn when making the switch to EVs, you can do it — especially if you have someone to give you helpful hints.

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I remember the first time I saw an electric vehicle (EV) up-front and in-person. I was a middle school teacher in the early 2000s, and a colleague and I had won a grant called Green and Clean. Because we needed to learn about clean energy, we attended a conference that showcased all kinds of cool, futuristic ideas 🙂 like solar panels and smart grids. At the time, there were some EVs being manufactured by the Norwegian company Th!nk, but the memorable and strange vehicle that day was a VW van that used batteries and had a washing machine motor — it was crude, but we rode in it. Fast forward to the mid-2010s, and I was ready to become a first time EV buyer. Much had evolved — what did I need to know?

I’ve learned a lot in the past 8 years about EVs. I’m hoping this primer will spark your curiosity and answer some questions, if you are a first time EV buyer. Here are some handy hints, based on my EV experiences with a 2014 Nissan Leaf and moving into a 2022 Tesla Model Y and a backup 2017 Chevy Bolt.

Vehicle purchase price: While the original EVs were premium, high end vehicles that cost about $100,000, there are many more options on the market today. A 2023 Chevy Bolt EV is about $26,500, and there are several other makes and models from which to choose. Sure, there are still pricey EVs available, and there are many mid-priced models as well.

How to charge an EV: You can charge your EV at your home, at public charging stations, or at private charging stations. Regardless of the site, they all work basically the same way. To start, you click open the charging port door. Your key fob will have a release button, and there’s also one available on your dash options. Next, grab the charging cable. If you have a private garage, your charging equipment is probably looped on a hook near the charger. If you have an outside plug, you probably store your charging equipment in your car’s trunk. Either way, one end gets plugged into the electrical source (whether it is an EV charger or just an electricity outlet) and the other gets pushed into the car’s charging port (often until you hear it click, but it depends on the model).

Three levels of charging: Think of an EV charging cable as if it were a garden hose. If the hose is quite narrow, only a little water spurts out. If the hose is wider, more water sprays out. If the hose is really wide, the water will burst out. The analogy holds for EVs. If you have a (narrow) Level 1 charger, you’re plugging into a regular household outlet. If you have a (wider) Level 2 charger, you’re plugging into a higher-rate AC charging through 240V for in residential applications, which is also found at some public chargers. You’ll find a (widest) Level 3/ DC Fast Charger at public locations.

How long does it take to charge an EV: The time it takes to charge an EV is associated with the level of charger. A household plug can take 40 hours from nearly no charge to 80% charge. A 240V plug can take anywhere from 4-10 hours. A fast charger takes about 30 minutes.

What’s a good pattern to charging? We always home charge overnight — it limits our effect on the grid, and we’re using very little other electricity at that time. If you’re commuting everyday or planning a trip, you’ll probably charge overnight, too. We charge when we use up most of charge level if we’re just running about-town errands, which could mean every 3 days or so. The majority of EV drivers charge at home.

Is range anxiety really a thing? When I talk to people about owning an EV, their eyes often widen in a kind of fear as they imagine being stranded as they run out of charge. They are used to traditional gasoline-powered cars that can go hundreds of miles on a single tank of gas. Range anxiety is a valid concern, but if you plan your charging methodically and keep your eye on the current charging level, you should be fine. Of course, more expensive vehicles tend to have higher range, but we really don’t need 300 mile range most days of the year. Most people drive 50 miles or less everyday.

Get thee thy charging apps: If you’ll be taking a trip away from home, you need to charge at public stations. You definitely need PlugShare, which allows you to enter in a destination and see where chargers are located in that area. Unlike gas stations, though, that take most major credit cards and have a gas nozzle that fits all vehicles, EVs are not standardized. That means you need to set up a bunch of apps ahead of time so you’ll be ready to charge regardless of the charging station: AmpUp, ChargePoint, Electrify America, and EVgo are good starting points. It’s worth the effort now, so that you don’t find yourself having to load an app on the road prior to charging.

How to use regen: Regenerative braking puts electricity back in the battery when the car is coasting or when the driver applies the brakes. That is one aspect of the EV experience that is different from driving a gas-powered car, and it takes some getting used to. Regen recaptures some of the kinetic energy in your car and puts it back into the battery, so that you can drive further before you need to recharge the battery. To me, it’s an extra road assist, as the car slows as soon as I take my foot off the accelerator.

Why EVs don’t need a lot of maintenance: EVs are cheaper to maintain, look after, and service than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts because EVs have half as many moving parts and require no regular oil changes. There aren’t all the belts, tubes, hoses, etc. that you find in a ICE vehicle.

What are over-the-air updates? In the US automotive world, a “recall” is issued when a manufacturer or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a vehicle or particular equipment creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards. Over-the-air (OTA) updates, though, are becoming more common as new vehicles increasingly feature built-in wireless connections. If your EV does need a software update, OTA updates are a practical method for manufacturers to rapidly deliver system fixes and improvements and draw upon a complex system architecture with connected control units and system functions. You’ll just accept the update when you’re stopped near WiFi, and it will be done.

I hope this has helped you to answer some basic EV questions, all in one place. Is there more to know? Sure there is. But having some preliminary information is a good starting point toward making the right decision for you and your family.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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