Everything You Need to Know About Buying an Electric Car

by Nick Versaw Updated November 18th, 2021

Buying a electric car: two people figuring out how to use a car charger

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Buying a new or used car is always a big decision, but buying an electric car can add a few more variables to the equation.

First, there’s looking past the hype to decide whether electric cars and hybrids are worth it and whether or not they’re really better for the environment.

Then, there’s researching electric car chargers and public charging stations near you to put aside your range anxiety and concerns about battery life.

Finally, there’s doing the math to determine which tax credits and other incentives you’re eligible for and how much you can expect to save over the lifetime of your vehicle.

Let’s take a look at each of these topics one-by-one, followed by a step-by-step guide on how to buy an electric car.

Electric Car Basics: Types of Electric Cars

Before you begin shopping around for an electric car, it’s a good idea to brush up on the four types of electric cars you can find on the road today.

The term “electric car” can be used to refer to any of them, but there are key differences in how they work, how much they cost, and how you operate them.

Depending on your budget, driving habits, and location, one type of electric car may be a better fit for you than others:

  • Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are fully electric vehicles that run entirely on battery power — usually lithium-ion batteries. You’ll need to plug them into a charging station to charge them because they don’t have a gasoline engine.
  • Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have an electric battery pack and an internal combustion engine. Most hybrids can’t be plugged in, so you’ll have to go to a gas station to fill up the gas tank, just like you would with a conventional car.
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are hybrids that are equipped with an onboard charger. This means you can either plug them in to recharge them with electric power or take them to a gas station to refill the tank.
  • Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are similar to BEVs in that they have a battery pack and no internal combustion engine. But they’re powered by an entirely different technology — hydrogen fuel cells — and are only for sale in limited markets, including California.

How Do Electric Cars Work?

You don’t need any special training to drive an electric car, but you may notice some differences in handling, acceleration, and braking. That’s because electric cars use an electric motor to power the wheels instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE).

Hybrids do have an ICE, and can automatically switch between gas-powered driving and fully electric mode depending on your speed and driving conditions.

Here are a few other features of electric cars that are worth learning about:

Regenerative Braking

Regenerative braking is one of the most important features of the electric car system. According to the Department of Energy, electric cars can recover as much as 34% of the energy lost while driving thanks to regenerative braking.

This means that when you come to a stop, the brake pads capture that kinetic energy and use it to recharge the battery.

In a conventional hybrid, this is the only method for recharging the battery, while in a fully electric car or plug-in hybrid, you can also plug it into a wall outlet.

Driver Assist Features

Another key feature that’s often synonymous with electric cars is autonomous driving, but these are actually two very different things. Tesla’s Autopilot mode has gotten a lot of attention, but the reality is that many new vehicles, including conventional cars, are incorporating more intelligent driver assist systems into their design.

Driver assist systems include everything from adaptive cruise control to lane departure warnings, but still require the driver to do most of the heavy lifting. The most advanced system, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Mode, costs an extra $10,000 on top of the sticker price, but still isn’t a fully autonomous system.

Some systems, such as Ford BlueCruise, promise “hands-free driving” on some divided highways in the U.S., but you still have to keep your eyes open. (A camera will check to make sure you aren’t falling asleep!)

In short, electric cars aren’t yet ready to do the driving for you, but they can reduce the risk of a crash if you use their driver assist features properly.

Which Type of EV is Best?

Aside from fuel cell electric vehicles, which aren’t practical for the average driver, there’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to buying an electric car.

If you’re tired of high gas prices and want to rely only on electric power, then you’ll want a BEV — as long as you live in a region with plenty of public charging stations.

If you regularly travel long distances and don’t have time to stop at a charging station, then you may be better off with a hybrid. That way, you’ll get most of the benefits of an EV — increased fuel efficiency and lower fuel costs — but without the range anxiety.

If you want the best of both worlds, you can choose a plug-in hybrid. That will give you the most flexibility in terms of charging options — but be prepared to pay a little more for it than you would for a conventional hybrid.

Ultimately, buying an electric car of any kind can save you money compared to a gas car, once you add up fuel and maintenance costs.

But what other factors should influence your purchase? Let’s take a look at three key areas in which electric cars outshine conventional cars.

Buying an Electric Car: Is it Worth It?

Buying a electric car: woman carrying a car charger

Whether or not buying an electric car is worth it depends on your personal preferences and driving habits. If you’re looking for a reliable, fuel-efficient way to get to work every morning, then an electric car can be a good long-term investment.

But if you make a purchase too quickly, you may miss out on major tax incentives and end up with a car that depreciates faster than you expected.

Here are three things you need to know about buying an electric car and how to make the most of your purchase:

Evs Are Better for the Environment — and Your Wallet

More and more people are buying electric vehicles because they want to reduce their carbon footprint and have a minimal impact on the environment.

While electric cars aren’t 100% green — they require the mining of materials like lithium for their battery packs — researchers have found that their net carbon footprint is lower than that of conventional cars in 95% of the world’s transportation markets.

Depending on where you live, you can even power your EV entirely using renewable energy — either from the local power grid or from home solar panels.

But does reducing your carbon footprint come at a cost? True, it often costs more to buy an electric car than a comparable gas car — but using less gas means lower fuel costs in the long run, as well as fewer oil changes and other maintenance expenses.

In fact, Consumer Reports found that EV owners can save up to $10,000 over the life of the vehicle. If you’re willing to put up with a higher purchase price, you can look forward to lower ownership costs for years to come.

Electric Car Chargers Are More Widespread Than Ever

Range anxiety is a big concern for electric car buyers, and it’s one of the reasons why early electric car models were slow to take off. The first-generation Nissan LEAF only had 73 miles of range, while the latest model gets a more impressive 226 miles.

Technically, gas-powered cars also have a range — the number of miles you can go on a single tank — but the fact that gas stations are pretty much everywhere means you don’t have to worry about getting stranded unless you’re really in the middle of nowhere.

These days, there are several new developments in the electric car industry that make range anxiety (almost) a thing of the past.

The first is that EV batteries are more advanced than ever, with the leaders in electric car range getting as much as 400 miles on a full charge.

The second is that EV charging stations are more widespread too. Some states are leading the way, with calls for 1.2 million charging stations in California by 2030.

Rural areas tend to have fewer charging stations than cities, though, so you’ll need to take that into account before planning a road trip or overnight camping trip.

Charging speeds vary a bit from model to model, but you can always install a home charging station to charge your EV overnight.

Tax Credits Are Here — But They May Not Last

Man charging his electric car

If you think electric cars are having a moment now, just wait until automakers transition to a fully electric lineup. Ford is rolling out a new electric pickup truck, Volkswagen has plans for an electric minivan, and Toyota is electrifying most of its top models.

But as EVs get more popular, there may be fewer tax credits and rebates available, as government incentives expire or are replaced by other offers.

Currently, EV buyers can get as much as $7,500 off of their income taxes, thanks to the electric car tax credit. Many states have tax credits, rebates, and other incentives too.

Unfortunately, two of the most popular electric car brands — Tesla and General Motors — no longer qualify for the federal tax credit because they’ve reached their quota.

If you’re thinking of buying an electric car, it’s important to do the research and find out which incentives you qualify for.

It’s also a good idea to look up the resale value of any model you’re considering, since that can help you decide whether to buy it new or used.

Since electric cars depreciate more quickly than conventional cars, you may be able to find a great deal on a used electric car that’s only a few years old.

Or, you can choose an EV with a high resale value so you can sell it in a few years and upgrade to a new model.

Buying an Electric Car

Buying a electric car: woman opening her car

Buying an electric car isn’t all that different from buying a conventional car: You can go to a dealership to test drive a new EV, or buy a used car from a private seller.

Depending on where you buy it from, you may also have the option to take out a loan or lease an EV instead of buying it outright.

But there are a few quirks to the electric car buying process. Some brands, like Tesla, don’t sell their cars through dealerships at all. You have to order them direct, so there may be a waiting period before your shiny new vehicle is ready for you to drive.

You’ll also need to find out which type of charger your electric car uses, and whether you want to install one in your driveway or garage.

To avoid any surprises, follow these five steps before buying an electric car:

1. Compare Makes and Models

When electric cars first hit the market, there were only a few options: hatchbacks like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Bolt, or midsize sedans like the Tesla Model S.

These days, you can drive home with an electric SUV or crossover that’s large enough for your whole family, or spring for a luxury sports car like the Porche Taycan.

Even Tesla has expanded its lineup, with options like the Tesla Model X, Model Y, and Model 3, with multiple trims and upgrades to choose from. No matter what type of car you want to drive, chances are there’s an electric version of it!

While this increased competition means that range and battery capacity has improved across the board, each automaker has its own quirks and design features. You’ll find everything from keyless entry systems to yoke-style steering wheels.

When it comes to driving, Tesla is known for its semi-autonomous navigation system called Autopilot, but other companies are rolling out similar features, such as Ford’s BlueCruise, which will be available in the F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E.

Likewise, all electric cars use regenerative braking to recharge the battery when you press the brakes. But some cars, like the Nissan LEAF, offer a dedicated One-Pedal Driving mode that may feel a little different than driving a conventional vehicle.

These differences can be subtle, which is why it’s a good idea to go for a test drive and learn about the pros and cons of each model.

Before choosing an EV, be sure to browse the lineup of 8 top electric car companies to find the right make and model for you.

2. Consider Fuel Economy

Better fuel efficiency is one of the main reasons to buy an electric car. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has an entire website devoted to fuel economy, where you can look up the estimated fuel costs of different EVs and compare them side-by-side.

When it comes to gas cars, the most fuel-efficient car you can drive is the Mitsubishi Mirage, which gets up to 43 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway. But the average gas-powered car only gets 25 mpg.

For electric cars, the Department of Energy calculates the MPGe, or miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent. This makes it easy to compare gas and electric cars side-by-side using the same type of measurement.

You can expect any EV to have a higher MPGe than a gas car, but the same principles apply: Compact EVs get better gas mileage than electric SUVs and crossovers.

For example, the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV has a combined city/highway MPGe of 120 and total range of 259 miles. The larger Chevy Bolt EUV (electric utility vehicle) gets slightly less: 115 MPGe and 247 miles of EPA-estimated range.

In some cases, the difference will be minimal, but it’s especially noticeable when you compare different types of hybrids. The 2022 Hyundai IONIQ hybrid gets 55 miles to the gallon, resulting in annual fuel costs of $900, while the IONIQ plug-in hybrid gets 119 MPGe and has an expected annual fuel cost of $700.

Of course, your exact fuel costs will depend on whether you charge your EV at home or at public charging stations, and the cost of electricity in your area.

If you want to do the math, you can look up your electric company’s rates per kilowatt hour (kWh) and use that to find out how much it will cost to charge your electric car.

3. Decide Whether to Lease or Buy

Electric cars can save you a lot in fuel and maintenance costs the longer you own your vehicle, but buying an electric car can still be a big upfront expense.

Electric cars tend to cost more than conventional cars, but the good news is that they cost less to maintain since they don’t have as many finicky parts.

Even hybrids, which do have an internal combustion engine, put less wear and tear on the brake pads and engine parts, so their maintenance costs are closer to that of a BEV than a conventional car.

With lower maintenance costs and less frequent visits to the repair shop, owning an EV can be a good long term investment. You’ll even get an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the battery pack, which comes standard with all new EVs sold in the U.S.

That said, there are pros and cons to buying a new EV, and in some cases it may make more sense to lease one.

Since electric car technology is changing so quickly, your new EV may depreciate over the first few years of ownership as new models arrive on the market.

The exception is the Tesla Model 3, which may actually increase in resale value since the waiting period for new Teslas is so long that used models are in high demand.

Another benefit to leasing is that monthly payments are typically lower for leases than for loans, and you may be able to afford a better model if you lease it.

Unfortunately, leased cars aren’t eligible for the federal income tax credit — but you may be able to get a discount on your payments if the manufacturer claims the credit.

4. Research Charging Options

Buying a electric car: woman standing beside her electric car while it's charging

Next, you’ll want to figure out the best way to charge your new EV. While fast charging stations are convenient, it’s not a good idea to use them all the time, since they have a diminishing effect on your long-term battery capacity.

This means you’ll most likely want to install a home charging station, where you can charge your EV overnight at more ideal charging speeds.

These days, electric cars take anywhere from eight to 12 hours to charge using a Level 2 home charging station.

You can charge your EV using a standard wall outlet (called Level 1 charging), but this will take even longer, so most owners opt to install a home charging station.

These cost anywhere from $350 to $1,000, depending on whether you install it yourself or hire an electrician to do it.

If you live in an apartment or a house where installing a charging station isn’t practical, ask your landlord or building manager for options. More and more apartment buildings are exploring ways to offer on-site charging for residents.

If you plan to drive your car long distances, you’ll also want to look up public charging stations in your region.

Some automakers have their own charging networks, such as Tesla’s Supercharger network, but you can typically use any station if you have the right adapter.

At DC fast charging stations, you can top up your battery life to 80% in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the model.

This is why road trips are no longer impossible with an electric car: you just have to do a little planning ahead to make sure there are enough charging stations on your route.

5. Look for Deals Near You

Now, it’s time to stop window shopping and get out there and test drive some electric cars. If you’re considering a new Tesla, then you’ll have to go to a Tesla showroom near you, since new Teslas aren’t available for purchase from dealerships.

You’ll also be waiting a while if you do decide to order one: Some models have delivery estimates upwards of six months.

Other types of EVs are available in a more realistic timeframe, either direct from the manufacturer or from your local dealership.

You can also use this handy tool to search for used EVs near you. You can compare models side-by-side, get a quote on car insurance, and more.

If you’re buying a used electric car, there are a few extra steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Review the vehicle’s history: Electric cars don’t need as much maintenance as gas-powered cars, but you’ll still want to make sure it’s in good condition. Ask the seller to show you records of any tune-ups or repairs.
  • Check the battery life (and warranty): EV batteries diminish in capacity over time, so you can expect a used EV battery to hold less of a charge than a new one. If the battery life seems unusually low, you can ask a dealer to see what’s wrong. Otherwise, make sure that the battery warranty can be transferred into your name, that way you’re covered if there are any issues.
  • Ask about equipment: Is the seller including any accessories, like a charging cord or adapter? This isn’t a huge expense, but if you can drive home with all of the gear you need, you’ll save yourself time and trouble later.

Buying an electric car may take a little more research up front, but you can expect your EV to last as long as a conventional car, if not longer.

By charging it wisely to extend your battery life and driving smoothly to make the most of regenerative braking, you’ll save in overall ownership costs and fuel expenses.

Now, let’s take a look at the five best electric cars of 2022 to give you some options.

The Best Electric Cars of 2022

The best electric car for you comes down to your personal preferences and lifestyle, so rather than rank the best EVs in any particular order, we’ve chosen the best electric car in five different categories, from mid-size sedans to electric SUVs.

Best Sedan: Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3

Teslas have a reputation for being expensive, and while the priciest trims can cost well over $100,000, the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus starts at $41,990 — comparable to other electric sedans on the market.

With a range of 262 miles on a full charge, the Model 3 has plenty of battery capacity for everyday commuters, and with access to the Tesla Supercharger network, you’ll be able to charge your battery at fast charging stations on longer trips.

The Model 3 is no longer eligible for the federal tax credit, but California residents can claim a $750 Clean Fuel Reward, and there may be other incentives in other states.

Starting price: $41,990

Range: 262 miles

Best Hatchback: Chevrolet Bolt EV

Chevrolet Bolt EV

The Chevrolet Bolt and the Nissan LEAF are similar in design: They’re both five-door hatchbacks with one-pedal driving mode and zippy electric motors. While the Nissan LEAF is cheaper, the Chevy Bolt has more range — 259 miles — making it a practical choice for many drivers.

Plus, Chevrolet is offering to cover the cost of a Level 2 home charging station for new Bolt owners — whether you buy it or lease it.

If the five-door hatchback is a little too small for you, the 2022 Chevy Bolt EUV (electric utility vehicle) offers slightly more room than the original model.

Starting price: $31,000

Range: 259 miles

Best Plug-In Hybrid: Toyota Prius Prime

Buying a electric car: Toyota Prius Prime

The Toyota Prius took the U.S. by storm when it first launched in the early 2000s. Now, the Prius Prime offers plug-in charging capabilities, making it even more efficient and reducing its emissions even further.

You’ll only get 25 miles of range on battery power, but you’ll get a combined 640 miles of range on a full charge and a full tank of gas, virtually eliminating range anxiety.

The Prius Prime is eligible for up to $4,502 in federal tax credits, and up to $1,000 in rebates in the state of California. Toyota is also boosting the battery warranty from eight years and 100,000 miles to 10 years or 150,000 miles for added protection.

Starting price: $28,220

Range: 25 miles (battery only), 640 (total)

Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150 Lightning

Ford F-150 Lightning

The Ford F-150 Lighting is competing with the Tesla Cybertruck to be the first all-electric pickup truck to arrive in American markets. It’s available for pre-order with a spring 2022 delivery date, and starts at $39,974 for the base model.

The F-150 Lighting comes with a dual-motor drivetrain and has a 7,700-pound towing capacity, making it suitable for work, city driving, or offroad adventures. The standard model has a range of 230 miles, while the extended range version gets 300 miles.

Other useful features include a frunk (a “front trunk” where the engine would normally go), a central workstation, and an Intelligent Backup Power system that can use the battery to power your house if the electricity goes out.

Starting price: $39,974

Range: 230 miles

Best Crossover SUV: Hyundai KONA EV

Hyundai KONA EV

The Hyundai KONA Electric is a great choice for families, because it offers the roomy interior of an SUV with the range of a sedan or hatchback. It has a price tag of $34,000, and is eligible for a $7,500 tax credit, making it a relatively affordable crossover.

Since the KONA EV is similar in design to the gas-powered KONA, it’s easy to see how much you’ll save in fuel costs too. The conventional all-wheel drive KONA gets 27 mpg and has estimated fuel costs of $1,750 per year. The EV gets 120 MPGe and costs an estimated $550 per year to charge, saving you $6,000 over five years.

Starting price: $34,000

Range: 258 miles

Is it the Right Time to Buy an EV?

Buying a electric car: happy family inside an electric car

More and more car companies are expanding their electric car lineup, and some states are putting pressure on automakers to stop selling gas-powered cars entirely by 2035. Prices may go down, but tax credits and other incentives may expire too.

Even if you decide not to go all-electric today, a hybrid can be a great middle ground between a gas-powered and fully electric vehicle.

Before you start shopping, it’s a good idea to learn more about how electric cars work so you know what to expect when you take them for a test drive.

Once you’re ready to start your search, you can use this tool to find and compare the best electric car deals near you.

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