Electric Cars Pros and Cons
Like almost anything in life, electric cars have their pros and cons. You can expect a site like PluginCars.com to generally promote EVs as having, on balance, a lot more benefits than shortcomings—but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer an honest assessment of the pros and cons of cars that use electricity rather than petroleum. Here it is, short and sweet.
Quiet and Quick
It only takes one ride in a battery-powered car to understand the improved ride quality of an EV compared to a vehicle using a petroleum-powered internal combustion engine. An electric car is very quiet and very smooth. It makes most regular cars seem clunky and outdated. What surprises people more is the high torque (axle-twisting power) offered by EVs. Step on the accelerator and power is delivered immediately to the wheels, providing an exhilarating driving experience.
Imagine never going to a gas station again. All you have to do is pull into your garage or driveway, reach over for a plug, and push it into the charging inlet. It’s very convenient and takes all of about 15 seconds. Wake up the next morning, and you have a car ready to go another 80 to 100 miles—or longer, depending on the model. That’s plenty for everybody except long-distance commuters. (This equation can be more difficult for people living in condos and apartments, but access to multi-family and workplace charging is improving everyday.)
Cheaper to Operate
In most parts of the world, electricity is ubiquitous and cheap—with a big cost advantage over petroleum. Given the considerable efficiency of electric cars compared to internal combustion models, the cost per mile to fuel an EV is approximately one-third to one-quarter the cost of gasoline (on a cost per mile basis). And because electric cars don’t have exhaust systems and don’t need oil changes, maintenance costs are reduced. To maintain an electric car, just rotate your tires and keep them properly inflated.
No Tailpipe Emissions
Nearly all credible researchers believe that electric cars, even in coal-dependent regions, have a smaller environmental impact than conventional vehicles. In regions with a strong grid mix of renewables—such as hydro, wind and solar—or for electric car drivers with home solar, the emissions benefits are dramatic. You can expect some analysts to argue the opposite. But it's incontrovertible that EVs don’t have a tailpipe, and therefore provide a real benefit to improving air quality for you, your family, and your community.
It’s everybody’s cool EV term: Range Anxiety! It stands for the worry that occurs because most affordable electric cars only have about 80 to 100 miles of range, and take hours to fully refuel. EV advocates will argue that 100 miles is plenty for most driving. As a result, nearly all electric car drivers rarely if ever experience range anxiety. It’s also true that the range and cost of electric car batteries is incrementally improving every year. Still, unless you drive an electric car with a back-up range-extending engine, you need to properly plan: to assure that routes beyond predictable local driving are within range (or allow for a time to recharge).
Long Refueling Time
Concerns about range are closely tied with issues related to how long it takes to refuel an electric car. EVs commonly can add about 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour of charging from a 240-volt source of electricity. So, while you can’t run down to the gas station and add a couple hundred miles of range in five to ten minutes, and while many road trips are not advisable, drivers putting typical amounts of miles on their cars will not be impinged by recharging times measured in hours—as long as they remember to plug in before going to sleep. (One other factor: public DC Quick Chargers, capable of adding about 50 miles of range in around 20 to 25 minutes, are increasingly available in regions with relatively high numbers of electric cars.)
The current crop of electric cars are mostly priced between $30,000 and $40,000. That makes EVs considerably more expensive than comparably equipped small to midsized gas-powered vehicles. (For example, the Honda Fit and Ford Focus can be had for less than $20,000. ) In this light, EVs are indeed expensive. However, cost comparisons usually fail to consider a number of factors, including: incentives often valued at $10,000; competitive lease rates as low as $199 a month; lower maintenance costs; and a luxury feel and amenities that far exceed what’s found in those cheaper gas models.
Lack of Consumer Choice
The 20 of or so plug-in electric vehicles on the market consist mostly of compact and sub-compact pure electric cars, and midsize plug-in hybrid sedans. (There are two stand-out exceptions, both relatively expensive: the full-size Tesla Model S sedan, that commonly costs around $100,000; and the limited-run Toyota RAV4 EV small SUV, with a $50,000 price tag.) Unfortunately, the style of the most popular EVs is polarizing: you either love it or, if you hate it, you hold off on purchasing an electric car. EV choice will expand over time, but in an auto market with dozens of brands and hundreds of models, the choice for buyers wanting an electric car is currently limited.
New to EVs? Start here
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