How to Buy an Electric Car

Christian Wardlaw | Feb 01, 2022

By 2035, several major automakers will have switched from the production of vehicles that run on fossil fuels to vehicles that run on electricity. That seems like it’s a long time from now, but the shift is already underway – and it is accelerating. 

As proof, consider that Tesla is now the second best-selling luxury brand in America. Ford, General Motors, and Rivian are rolling out electric trucks, SUVs, and vans to fulfill hundreds of thousands of advance orders for the vehicles. Jaguar says it will sell nothing but electric vehicles starting in 2025, while Volvo will go fully electric by 2030. Most automakers have already halted plans for future internal combustion engines (ICE), reallocating those engineering resources to build battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).

So, if you’re thinking about how to buy an electric car, we’ve got some advice for you, and we’ll keep it short, sweet, and to the point.

Know How You’ll Use an Electric Car

2022 Kia EV6 Red Front Quarter View

At the moment, BEVs are best for people with predictable schedules and driving patterns. 

Range anxiety is a real thing, and it describes the worry a BEV driver feels when the battery charge is getting low while driving in an unfamiliar area. While nationwide charging station networks are proliferating, and smartphone apps make it easier than ever to find a charger and pay for the electricity, public chargers still are not as plentiful and reliable as traditional gas stations. 

Therefore, if you drive the same route for the same distance most of the time, a BEV easily works with your lifestyle. That is especially true if you’re buying an electric car to serve as a second vehicle.

If you don’t, choosing a BEV will complicate your life.

Decide What Type of Electric Car to Drive

Toyota Mirai Blue Refueling with Hydrogen

There are three kinds of electric vehicles: battery-electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). 

A BEV is a pure electric vehicle with a large battery pack and between one and four electric motors. Models on sale in 2022 can travel between approximately 100 miles and 500 miles on a single charge, with most supplying between 200 and 300 miles of driving distance on a full battery.

If you need more travel range flexibility and ease of ownership than a BEV can provide, consider getting a PHEV. This type of electric car can travel a short distance running only on electricity, which is excellent for commuting and running local errands. However, it also has a gasoline-fueled ICE to continue the journey when the battery reaches its minimum state of charge. At that point, the car operates like a traditional hybrid vehicle and can travel cross-country without needing to recharge. Just add gas.

If you live in California or the Honolulu area, you can try an FCEV. These are rare, and they run on hydrogen fuel. A fuel cell stack aboard the vehicle converts the hydrogen to electricity, which powers the FCEV. The system emits nothing but water vapor from the exhaust pipe. The infrastructure necessary to fuel FCEVs exists only in California and Honolulu.

Determine How You Can Charge an Electric Car

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro Blue Charging in Garage

If you decide a BEV is right for you, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to recharge the car.

Homeowners can install a 240-volt Level 2 home charging station to recharge their BEV overnight. However, a charging station costs several hundred dollars, plus the labor to install it. You’ll also need to have a licensed electrician come to your home to inspect the electrical panel and wiring to ensure your dwelling can support a charging station without making any updates or improvements.

Renters cannot install a Level 2 home charging station. Therefore, they will need to consider public charging availability at their place of work or near where they live. Only Level 3 DC fast chargers can get the job done quickly, but they rapid-charge only to 80% capacity to prevent damage to your battery pack. Adding that last 20% of charge takes about the same time as a Level 2 charger.

If you want to avoid the expense of installing a Level 2 home charging station or the hassle of using public charging stations, consider buying a PHEV or FCEV. A PHEV typically recharges overnight using a standard household electrical outlet. Refueling an FCEV is similar to gassing up a car with an ICE.

Consider Tax Credits, Rebates, and Incentives

2022 Volkswagen ID.4 Blue Rear Quarter Action

Electric cars are typically more expensive than equivalent vehicles with internal combustion engines. However, there are ways to reduce the cost of a PHEV, BEV, or FCEV.

If you expect to pay $7,500 or more in taxes to the federal government and fall within household income limits, you can take advantage of a federal income tax credit for up to that amount. You can also get one for a PHEV, but the maximum amount is often lower. Until recently, FCEVs were eligible for an $8,000 credit, but that expired at the end of 2021. 

Please note that General Motors and Tesla electric vehicles are not eligible for the federal income tax credit because both automakers have surpassed the sales volume cap for the program. That could change in the future, though.

Additionally, some states and local municipalities offer further rebates and incentives when you buy an electric car. For example, in California, an FCEV is worth $4,500 in your pocket, while a BEV gets you $2,000. Choose a PHEV, and you’re eligible for $1,000. However, California does limit rebate availability based on household income and the price of the vehicle, and the state is reducing those limits on February 24, 2022. 

Should You Buy or Lease an Electric Car?

2023 Nissan Ariya Copper Front Quarter Action

Historically, electric cars would rapidly lose their value, making it wise to lease them. Today, depending on the make and model, steep depreciation can still happen.

Electric vehicles typically don’t hold their value over time because technology is rapidly advancing. So, as electric vehicles age, they can become less appealing or even obsolete. Another reason is that a battery pack will eventually require replacement, so the older the electric vehicle is, the sooner that expensive repair will be necessary.

Nerdwallet recommends leasing rather than buying an electric car. In addition to concerns about outdated tech and the degradation of batteries, the financial advice publication cites other monetary rewards for leasing your PHEV, BEV, or FCEV.

Buy the Electric Car that Best Fits Your Lifestyle

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe Plugged In

When you buy an electric car, the hard part is understanding how it will fit into your current lifestyle. 

Homeowners with predictable driving patterns who can install a Level 2 home charging station will quickly adjust to BEV ownership – especially if the electric is a second vehicle. Renters with variable driving patterns and unreliable access to public charging stations will have a more challenging time making the leap to an electric car – especially if it is the only vehicle in the household.

Eventually, everyone will be driving electric vehicles. It could take a couple of decades before the last new ICE-powered vehicle rolls off of a dealership lot, but that day is coming. And by then, new technology and robust infrastructure will make owning a BEV simple and easy.

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