The True Costs and Benefits of Electric Cars

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by Advice Chaser
by Advice Chaser

Once no more than a hopeful dream, electric cars are now easy to find and more affordable than they used to be. Many drivers want to get free of the fluctuating cost of gas. Others hope to do good for the planet. When you weigh up all the pros and cons, do electric cars come out ahead? If you’re considering purchasing an electric vehicle, consider all the factors before making up your mind.

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Financial Cost

When working out the cost of your next vehicle, it’s important to include both initial outlay and maintenance. Even though the technology is no longer new, electric cars still tend to be more expensive to purchase than gas-powered vehicles. However, this varies a great deal based on model: anywhere from $27,400 for the modest Nissan Leaf to $179,000 for a luxury Lucid Air. Used models may be hard to find and not priced low enough to save you much money. The one saving grace: a $7,500 tax credit for buyers of domestic “clean vehicles.” If you qualify, that can make up most of the extra cost of an electric car.

You’ll also save on gas as you drive your car around. The gas prices might rise over $4/gallon again, but you won’t need to buy a drop. That said, you will have to pay for the energy cost of charging the vehicle, which can run $2 or even less for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas if you charge it at home. You may need to install a charger in your home, at a cost of $500-$1000, but even accounting for that, you will likely save hundreds on fuel each year you own the car.

That leaves concerns about the battery. We’re all used to cellphones whose battery becomes completely useless in a few years. Electric cars, luckily, have more durable batteries than that. You’ll need to research expected battery life and warranty length in the model car you want, but you may be able to get ten years out of a new battery before needing to replace it. That cost, as well, can vary from $4,000 to $20,000 a year. This makes it a major factor in the cost of your car, if you plan to own it for a long time.

Environmental Benefit

As with the financial cost, the environmental cost of a vehicle comes from more than one area. With a gas-powered car, the climate impact in carbon dioxide comes mostly from exhaust, at an average of 404 grams per mile driven. Electric cars have most of their carbon impact further upstream, both in manufacturing and in the electricity used to charge the vehicle. 

That latter figure depends on where your car is plugged in to charge. If your area uses coal to generate electricity, you might think the carbon impact of charging a car would be the same as gas. But in fact, even when you charge a car on a coal-powered grid, your carbon emissions are still lower than gas—150-200 grams per mile. You can calculate the carbon footprint of any model car in any part of the US with this tool from the EPA.

Electric cars do have a bigger upstream carbon footprint than gas cars. This means it takes more energy to make them, especially given their complex batteries. However, the lower carbon footprint of running the car more than counteracts this initial upstream footprint once you’ve been driving it for a while.

A final concern is the use of lithium and cobalt in electric car batteries. These are extracted from developing countries, often with negative environmental impact and poor worker conditions. The supply chain can vary depending on manufacturer, so you may want to carefully research the model you are considering. Eventually, proponents hope to develop recycling capacity for car batteries and reduce the need for these rare minerals.

Will an Electric Car Fit Your Needs?

The last question is whether an electric car will satisfy all the needs you have in a vehicle. Will it do what your old gas car did, or feel like you’re driving a golf cart? Electric car owners say the performance is just as good or better—the cars have no trouble getting up to speed, and they do it quietly too.

However, the battery’s range may be a limiting factor in what you can do with the car. If you’re just driving to work and back, it will likely never be an issue. But on a road trip, you will be limited to a couple hundred miles before charging. Once you have to charge, you’ll have to find a charging station, much rarer than a gas pump. And it takes longer to charge than to fill up with gas—anywhere from half an hour to days, depending on the vehicle and the type of charger you’re using. For this reason, many users install a special charger at home, just to make sure the battery can fill up overnight.

If your home doesn’t have its own driveway, charging may get a bit more complicated. Apartment dwellers may have to look into nearby charging options. Performance is best in moderate weather, and users complain that their range shortens some in very hot or very cold weather. In case of malfunctions, you’ll need to bring it to a mechanic who knows how to fix an electric car. On the bright side, however, engine repairs are often less complex, because the electric engines have fewer moving parts.

Help With Your Financial Decisions

Throughout life, decisions like this come at you all the time. Which car is cheaper overall? Which insurance makes most sense? How much should I save for retirement? For all of these questions, it’s nice to have an expert you can consult. An experienced financial advisor can help you weigh the pros and cons of any decision. To meet the right person for you, contact us today.

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