I test drive electric cars often and when I do, friends and family ask us many questions about what its like to live with one and own one. People are curious, and these cars are a relative novelty in the market still.
In answering many of these questions over time, I thought it would be cool to have a Q & A with the top dozen questions I get asked. And if you have one of your own, please use the comments section below to ask!
1. How much range do they have?
In the entry to mid-level classes of electric cars most of them have ranges between about 80-100 miles give or take. The Kia Soul we have here is rated by the EPA at 93 miles range which is based on a mix of driving city and highway.
If you drive strictly highway your range will be a lot less than in the city, where the Soul here was able to see about 105 miles from a charge. This is opposite a gasoline powered car which normally is more efficient on the highway.
This is because the electric car can benefit from regenerative braking in stop and go traffic.
A brilliant thing electric cars can do when you let your foot off the accelerator or use the brakes is use the momentum and kinetic energy of the moving car to generate electricity and recharge the battery on the go.
This works by reversing the power flow from the spinning motor while coasting or braking to send small bursts of electricity back into the battery. This extends your range by a significant amount, and is why electric cars can go further in stop-and-go traffic.
3. What affects the range?
As I said, driving on the freeway at high speeds is the fastest way to burn through your charge. The more city stop-and-go you do the better. But when it comes to your charge, think of it like your cell phone.
If you text and talk once in a while it lasts a long time compared to if you watch movies, browse the internet or listen to music. The car is the same way. When you use accessories like headlights, the audio system and HVAC, they use up your power too.
And like your home, your HVAC is the biggest power sucker. On the Soul here I found that it takes between 5-10% of your range if you use it. Headlights and the audio system take about 1-2% of the range.
Most electric cars have a mode selector. This allows you to choose how the car uses its power and regenerates. They usually have an ECO mode which gives you less power and has stronger regenerative braking. Then they have normal or sport modes with let you have all the power you want, but uses the battery faster.
Climate is also a factor. If you live in extreme cold or hot climates, you know how your regular car battery behaves. Electric cars are very much the same. Not only can range be negatively affected if you are in extreme cold and hot, but there is some history out there now that long term life of the battery can be affected.
4. What are the different ways to charge up?
Most electric cars offer at least two ways to charge, and some offer three. The first is a charge cord which comes in the trunk that allows you to plug into any home 120V wall outlet. This is a slow charge which can take anywhere from 12-24 hours depending on the car.
The second is a Level 2 charger which operates off a 240V circuit. These can be purchased and installed through your car dealer when you buy an electric car. Their cost is around $2000-3000 depending on the installation difficulty. Level 2 chargers typically charge an electric car in 4-6 hours give or take and are the most commonly found chargers at public charging stations.
Lastly, many electric cars now are compatible with the new Level 3 DC Fast Chargers which operate on 480V. These can charge your car up to 80% in as little as 30 minutes. Most of the existing DC Fast Chargers are at public charging stations and most homes are not wired for 480V circuits.
5. What about public charging stations?
If you own an electric car you are not always bound by its range. If you live in a metropolitan area and even some rural-suburban areas you might be surprised to find out how many public chargers are hiding in your midst.
Here in Phoenix, a far removed metro area in a red state, I was surprised there were over 500 public chargers within the 93 mile range of the Kia Soul. Many of course are at city halls, convention centers, colleges and libraries.
But many still are at gas stations, supermarkets, parks, and shopping malls. These can be accessed through several large charging networks where you gain membership which is usually free. Then when you use the charging station, your credit card is billed for your usage.
You can log onto sites like http://www.plugshare.com to locate chargers near you. Also, most cars now have navigation systems which will locate and direct you to the nearest chargers when you are on the go.
6. How much does it cost to charge?
Figuring the cost of a charge is a smoke and mirrors world both at home and using public charging stations. Let’s look at home charging first.
Our Kia Soul here has a 27 kW lithium-ion battery. My electric rate here at night is about $.10 per kW. So a rough quick estimate for a charge is $2.70. If that takes me 100 miles, that works out to just under three cents per mile.
If you compare that to a gasoline power Kia Soul at $3.00 a gallon and 30 miles to the gallon, that works out to about $.10 per mile. So while my quick and fast electric calculation has a lot of variables missing, it’s significantly cheaper per mile driving electric.
Public chargers are another story. There you are paying not only for electricity, but convenience and a service. Here in Phoenix, the Blink Charging network is very popular and this is where I charge. As I am a member their Level 2 charger costs $.04 a minute.
If I did an 80% charge which would be about 4 hours, that would cost $9.60. That’s not cheap, but if I were stranded or it was necessary, it’s a good deal occasionally. Their Level 3 DC Fast Charger does it’s job in about 30 minutes at a cost of $6.99.
Every network is different as are their rates. So search the networks in your area to check up on pricing. And know, there are free charging stations out there sometimes provided by cities for residents, employers, and some retail establishments.
7. Does roadside assistance include charging?
Most often yes. Most car companies have created a specific roadside assistance and customer service program for their electric-car customers. These include either road-side charging vehicles or a tow to the nearest public charging station.
This is precisely why many car companies only sell their electric models in certain metro areas, as they go to great lengths to make sure there is a network in place to service their owners. Obviously you want to study each automaker’s program to verify their offerings.
Also keep in mind that organizations like the AAA have been working to offer their members on-the-road or transportation to charging stations as part of their services in some areas.
8. Do the batteries and motors require a lot of maintenance?
One of the most important to remember about electric cars is that the routine maintenance associated with gasoline powered cars simply doesn’t exist. There are are no oil changes, no transmission services, no timing belts or any of that.
There are some long-term routine services associated, but because of the simple mechanical nature of electric cars, what we have considered maintenance is reduced significantly over that of a gasoline powered car.
9. How long do the batteries last?
When it comes to batteries, most car companies warranty these for 8-10 years in various ways. Our Kia Soul here has a 10-Year/100,000 mile warranty on the battery up to 70% of original capacity.
This means that they allow for some level of degradation over time, but to a point. You of course want to read the fine print to see how the brand you are looking at covers their battery and to what extent.
Cost to replace? Well that can be in the thousands, but unless you keep the car beyond the warranty or several hundred thousand miles, you should not need to.
10. Can I drive an electric-car in the rain?
Yes. Most all electric cars have sealed motors, wiring, and controllers so that road spray, puddle splashes, snow accumulation and small degrees of inundation will not adversely affect them. These are consumer products and the car companies thought about this.
Obviously there are limits to this just as there would be a gasoline car. You would not want to drive through deep water for prolonged periods. And if you got stranded in water, you would want the car thoroughly checked out at your dealer before using it again.
This goes for plugging the car in during heavy rain. While there are safeguards in place, it’s wise to be in a dry place and not be standing in puddles. Read your owners manuals for specifics on both charging and operating in the ran for best results. (check manual in Kia)
11. What about crash safety?
First of all, like most gas tanks, batteries in electric cars are mounted most often down low and away from crumple zones where they would be impacted in most crashes. When compared to a rupturing gas tank which can create an explosive fireball in milliseconds, an electric car battery represents a far less immediate danger in a severe crash.
That said, if an electric car battery is crushed or impaled it can short circuit and catch fire. We have seen this in the news where cars caught fire on a scene or days later in a storage lot. The difference here is time. Batteries are seldom explosive like gasoline, but offer time to rescuers.
Let’s face it, if a crash is bad enough to rupture a gas tank or battery, you will likely be unconscious. Think about the how the difference in time a rescuer, be it a passer by or first responder, could affect your outcome. Advantage electric.
12. How do government tax incentives work?
Currently the Federal Government offers a $7,500 dollar tax credit for qualifying electric cars. Some states also offer smaller tax credits. California has one for $2,500 for instance, and Colorado $6,000. So when combined you can see up to $13,500 tax savings on the year you buy one depending on where you live. Maybe.
Keep in mind these are not like dealer rebates that are taken off the price when you buy or lease the vehicle. These are tax credits that come later into the next year when you do your taxes. Also keep in mind not everyone qualifies for these credits.
Your income, how you file, and whether you buy the vehicle for a business or for your personal use can affect how much if any credits you can use. There are other factors also. Your dealer should be able to walk you through the specifics, but if you are hinging on it get advice from a tax specialist. I am not one of those.
Most of my answers and knowledge here is pretty broad brush, so there may be some instances I am not entirely correct with some electric cars. So if you have questions or areas you want to share your thoughts, please use the comments section below and we’ll do our best to respond!