With record-high gas prices that are here to stay, the climate crisis more pressing than ever, and loads of EV incentives being made available at the federal, state, and local level, plenty of people have been asking themselves if it’s finally time to make the switch to an electric vehicle (EV).
Buying a car, however, is a big investment, and making the switch to an EV can be a big leap. There are many factors to consider, such as vehicle range and which model and type of EV (plug-in hybrid or all-battery) best meets your driving needs, the implications of charging, and how financial incentives work toward reducing the cost of your EV purchase.
If you are ready to buy an EV, here is a helpful guide to make sure you get the best bang for your buck!
Step One: What Type of Electric Vehicle Best Fits My Needs?
To answer that question, you first need to understand the difference between the two main categories of EVs: battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)
BEVs are fully electric cars that can only be charged and do not use any gas. They tend to have a range of 100–400 miles depending on make and model, with this year’s average range being about 250 miles.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)
PHEVs have both a battery-powered electric motor as well as an internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline. Essentially, the car functions like a BEV for the first couple dozen miles, and once its battery is depleted, it switches over to its gas-powered hybrid engine. This means you can charge it at home and add gas on the go, but you are burning gas and contributing to GHG emissions as soon as the battery runs out of charge. PHEVs currently offer 15–80 miles of all-electric range, with most PHEVs offering between 25 and 40 miles.
Finally, just like gasoline-powered vehicles, EVs come in all shapes and sizes! Depending on your needs, you may want an SUV, compact car, truck, or sedan. A great place to start looking at different EV offerings is Veloz’s Electric For All website.
STEP TWO: How Much Can I Afford?
Before you start shopping, consider whether you qualify to receive any federal, state, local, or utility incentives for buying an electric vehicle. A quick and easy way to get a clear picture of how much you qualify for in grants, rebates, and incentives is to use the Access Clean California (ACC) Benefits Finder. To begin, fill out their simple Benefits Finder questionnaire.
State, local, and utility incentives vary dramatically based on where you live. Some give you a break at the time of purchase, while the federal government makes you wait until you file your taxes. Most incentives are available on new or leased electric cars, and some apply to the purchase of used EVs.
The big one is the Federal Electric Car Tax Credit, which can provide a credit of up to $7,500 off your federal tax liability in the year you purchase an EV. It’s not available for every EV model, and you must owe taxes in the year you qualify in order to see a benefit.
It’s worth noting that most incentive programs offer increased rebates, which are incentives for lower-income qualified consumers. Increased incentives have a greater value than standard ones and add up to more money back in your pocket. If you’re wondering if you are lower-income qualified, a useful benchmark to reference is this chart representing 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL).
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If your household makes less than these listed amounts, you might qualify for a $5,000 grant that can be put toward your down payment at the point of purchase! Plus, grants do not need to be repaid.
Tip: Knowing the incentives you qualify to receive can help you set the right car-buying budget.
STEP THREE: It’s Time to Buy!
The more options, the better, but in this market, that can be a challenge. However, being a diligent shopper will give you a better idea of what the market looks like and the range of prices it includes. With inventory shortages, it’s not unusual for dealers to add $3,000–$10,000 to the sticker price.
Important Questions to Ask Yourself
- What features do you need to have? Modern EVs have a smorgasbord of new and exciting technology, but it does cost extra.
- How much range do you need? Batteries are expensive, so make the best use of your money by paying for the range you’re going to use on a regular basis. The Nissan Leaf, for example, starts with 149 miles of range and a manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of $27,400, while the Tesla Model S can go over 400 miles on a single charge but has an MSRP starting at $99,990.
- Where are you going to charge your EV? Most people charge at home, but if you can’t charge at home, you will need to use public charging stations. A must-have app to download when it comes to charging out and about is PlugShare.com. This free and easy-to-use resource shows you all the publicly available charging stations near you.
- Set your price limits. Determine your budget by establishing a maximum vehicle price you are willing to pay, along with maximum down payment and monthly loan payments if you plan to get an auto loan.
- If you plan to use outside financing (i.e., an auto loan from your local credit union), be ready prior to negotiating a price with the dealership and get pre-approved by your loan provider.
- Reach out to as many different dealerships as you can for test drives and price quotes.
- Focus on two or three car models you’re interested in buying to help narrow down your search.
- Make sure to schedule your test-drive appointment in advance, and call to confirm before you head out. Electric cars are in such high demand that few dealers are keeping vehicles around for test drives.
- If you’re looking to buy used, browse the many used car websites
- Check inventory and pricing with out-of-state dealerships. Delivery fees can range from $1,000–$2,000. But if you can find the ideal car at a lower price, it might be worth it.
Finally, patience is key! Try not to feel rushed, and keep your maximum price in mind so you know when to walk away. Buying a car, just like any other major purchase, takes time.
STEP FOUR: EV Ownership—Saving More Money with Rebates, Charging, Maintenance, and More!
Now that you’ve bought your EV, it’s time to enjoy your new ride, drive safe, and save more money!
First, apply for all the rebates you are eligible for. At the statewide level, there is the California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP). At the local level here in the Monterey Bay Region, Central Coast Community Energy (CCCE) and Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) each offer their own stackable rebates, too. Once received, these rebates are for you to spend as you please—so you can use them to pay off your auto loans or treat yourself to a vacation!
Next, it’s time to install a charger, and renters, do not fret: Thanks to a new California law, landlords must grant tenants permission to install a charger if they have parking included in their lease.
There are three main categories of EV chargers (also known as electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE):
- Level 1 – This charger can plug into any 120V outlet just like your smartphone and has no installation costs but charges VERY slowly (at about 3–5 miles of range per hour).
- Level 2 – This charger uses a 240V outlet, like your washer and dryer unit, so depending on your parking spot’s proximity to outlets and your home’s electric capacity, the installation costs can vary significantly. The good news is, there are plenty of incentives in place to offset these costs that I will review in just a moment! Level 2 chargers have a charging rate of 12–80 miles per hour, making them perfect for at-home charging.
- Level 3/DC Fast Chargers – These chargers are best for road trips and charging on the go because they can charge your EV’s battery level from 20% back up to 80% in as little as 20 minutes. They cannot be installed at home, and you will find them instead in parking lots off the highway, in shopping centers, and by grocery stores. You usually pay per kWh, but some DC fast-charging stations will charge you per minute of charging.
EV Charging and Charger Incentives
Grant recipients get to choose between getting a free level-2 charging unit installed (up to $2,000 in value) or receiving a $2,000 credit toward charging at public charging stations.
Additionally, everybody qualifies for a base rebate of up to $2,000 from Central Coast Community Energy (CCCE) to reimburse the cost of installation plus $400 for the cost of the charger itself (and both amounts increase for those who are income-qualified). The charger must be Level-2 and Wi-Fi-enabled.
Good Charging Practices
Do not over-charge! Ideally you want to start charging when the battery drops below 20% capacity and stop charging when it reaches 80%. This will preserve the battery, increasing its longevity. Of course, you can still charge it to 100% occasionally, when you are preparing for a longer trip and need the maximum range.
EV Maintenance and Servicing
EVs are much cheaper to maintain (depending on car brand, you save 30–50% in service costs) because they have far fewer mechanical components. After all, they have no engine oil, oil filter, fuel filter, air filter, or clutch that requires careful inspection, draining, and replacement. You still need to get your brakes, suspension, and tires checked just as with gas-powered cars, but even brakes experience less wear and tear thanks to regenerative breaking!
Any car mechanic or auto shop can service these mechanical components on your EV, but if you need your battery or electric motor serviced, make sure to go to a mechanic who is certified to work on EVs. Although batteries can be expensive to service or replace, most EVs come with a long-lasting battery that has a warranty of up to 8 years and 100k miles (some are even transferable, for used car owners!). If you want to learn more about how EVs work and why they require less maintenance, check out this in-depth EV buying guide made available by Green Citizen.