Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car

By · September 30, 2016

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Shopping for an Electric Car

1Shop Around

For all the differences between gas and electric cars, there is one key similarity. You still need to go through a salesperson at a car dealership. And dealerships are in competition with one another for your business. Once you decide on a specific model, speak to several dealerships in your area to see which one has the best deal. This small step can save you thousands of dollars. (Tesla is the exception to this rule. The innovative company operates its own retail stores.)

2Consider the Incentives

There are three basic kinds of incentives for purchasing a plug-in vehicle: tax credits, rebates, and perks. Uncles Sam offers a tax credit of between $2,500 and $7,500, depending on the vehicle. Take note: this credit is applied against future tax liability, so the full amount of the tax incentive might not be fully realized. On the other hand, rebates, like the $2,500 offered in California, comes in the form of a check in the mail. The range of other perks includes access for solo drivers in carpool lanes and preferred or free parking.

3Have Faith in the Battery

One of the biggest myths about electric cars is that, in a few years, you will be slapped with a whopping bill to replace the car’s battery when it craps out. That is extremely unlikely. Yes, there will be some loss of range over many years—perhaps a bit faster in locations with extremely hot weather. Regardless, these plug-in cars have substantial battery warranties, usually in the realm of 8 years and 100,000 miles (some even longer), that cover all battery problems, including excessive loss of range. Rest easy, the batteries will last the lifetime of the vehicle.

4Install a Home Charger

Numerous studies show that electric cars have a lower total cost of ownership than gas-powered vehicles. But don’t forget to include the installation of a home EV charger in your calculation—commonly below $1,000. The off-board charger, officially known as an E.V.S.E. or electric vehicle supply equipment, supplies electricity 240 volts of juice—significantly cutting down charging time at home. You’re going to want one. See our buying guide for details.

5Don’t Obsess About MPGe Window Labels

A few years ago, a window sticker with 100 m.p.g. or more was unimaginable. Now, the entire segment of plug-in cars is offering efficiency at or close to that level. Automakers frequently market their efficiency numbers, especially when they are higher than the competition. But truth be told, all electric cars have very similar levels of efficiency. Lighter EVs driven carefully will get about four miles per kilowatt-hour. Heavier EVs driven with gusto will get about three miles per kilowatt-hour. Most of us settle somewhere in between. At the end of the day, here’s all you need to know: All EVs are much more efficient than gas cars.

6Don’t Have Anxiety about Range Anxiety

As every new electric car driver discovers, the typical EV offering 80 to 100 miles of driving range, is enough to satisfy 90 percent or more of common trips. The remaining journeys simply take a little planning to know when and where you will charge. (You have to be crazy and/or masochistic to pay no attention to your range—and drive until the battery pack passes E.) Range anxiety happens only once in a blue moon when a daring driver goes off course on an impromptu trip. These unlikely occurrences are becoming even rarer with the introduction of 200-plus mile electric cars, like the Chevy Bolt.

7Connect with the Vibrant Community of EV Drivers

Thanks to the Internet, connecting to fellow EV shoppers and drivers is only a click or two away. And believe it or not, many high-tech early adopters of electric cars actually engage in an anachronistic activity know as “getting together in person.” There are vibrant regional groups for owners of the Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S and other EVs. The calendar also includes National Drive Electric Week, Earth Day, and other electric rallies, conferences and parties. Plan to join Plug In America or the Electric Auto Association. And in the meantime, create a user account on and become an active member of our online community.


· · 5 years ago

@Brad Berman

I disagree most ev owners need an EVSE . If I weren't interested in them]] as a mental exercise, and because I enjoy installing electrical gadgets, to be honest I probably would not have one myself. The 110 cord included with the Tesla Roadster is actually adequate up to 500 miles per week. So, if you can drive less than 25,000 miles in a roadster per year, 110 is fine, as long as you don't have to make long trips back to back.

My other car , the VOLT actually has most owners and Leasees NOT having an EVSE.

The included 'charger brick' @ 12 amps 120 is just fine for most people...

So that's my vote: I have 2 evs and own an 'extra' evse, but its not mandatory in my case to use it.. Many , many people get along without them , and get along without the expense, complication , or hastles.

· · 5 years ago

Generally good points, but a few comments:

1) I always tell people to work via email with the internet departments. First, saves you a ton of time visiting. Second, many dealerships have different sales people with different pricing and different strategies answering internet requests. Get your best price via email, get them to email you the actual contract (so you can verify no hidden charges) then make the appointment and get the car. And remind them, since it's and EV, to fully charge it first!

2) Incentives are the biggest complication for EVs. You mention the caveats on the Fed credit, but don't mention that you get all of that with a lease. You mention that states vary - and this is a problem, they vary a lot, especially with the terms behind the amounts. Third - remember when dealing with tax credits that all kinds of complications may lurk - such as most people can't get the EVSE 30% credit the same year as the $7500 credit.

3) You can go a little farther here for the LEAF, which is the non-luxury EV most people are getting these days. I'd have trouble recommending a LEAF for use in Phoenix, even as a lease, due to extreme battery degradation in extreme heat. OTOH, in most climates the degradation is just fine.

4) Going to disagree with Bill here and agree with Brad. Yes, you can get by without an EVSE but for most people it makes using the car much easier. The great thing is that if you get an EVSE with 30A output it will likely be usable for many years into the future - long past the life of your first EV. The quicker charging will allow you to use the car for more situations than you could otherwise.

6) Every first time BEV owner will get range anxiety, just like every first time home buyer has buyers remorse. You quickly get used to the car behavior and adapt - before long the pleasure of not visiting gas stations and instead just plugging in at home far outweighs any concerns about range. Note, however, that when buying use a conservative estimate of range. The LEAF was originally advertised as 100 miles, then EPA estimated at 73. We got our first LEAF assuming that we'd use it only on trips of 50 miles or less. As it turns out we use it regularly for longer round trips, even in winter, but that is just an added plus. The people who struggle with the range are those who bought assuming that they could do the maximum range on a daily commute.

7) Yes ... if you get an EV you are an early adopter and you'll find a large number of other early adopters who are fanatic about their car and all its details and happy to help you. Take advantage of that.

· · 5 years ago

@Bill, agreed, the home EVSE (240V aka level 2 charging) isn't mandatory, but Brad only said "you'll want one"... and I have to side with that.
Well, at least assuming Brad is talking about pure EVs, as the content of the article seems to indicate (his title makes it a bit ambiguous); obviously for hybrids, level-2 is more a luxury.

Anyway, I made the same quick calculation when I bought my Leaf: hey, I only drive 40-some miles a day, work 8~10h, charging on 120V (aka level 1) will be just fine. Which turned out to be true... except for those couple evenings a month I spend with friends some 10+ miles from home. The first time, the extra driving those nights, followed with several less hours to charge, forced me to slow down significantly the next day if I wanted to make it to work and back without running out of juice.
I realized that, while indeed workable, level 1 alone was just too damn slow to keep me comfortable in situations like this.

This is also when I understood how awesome and immensely helpful quick-chargers (aka DC QC or level 3) could be.
The following weeks, I stopped at the Belmont CHAdeMO QC for 5 minutes on my way back -- that's all that was needed to compensate for the 3 to 4 hours of L1 charging I missed.

Quick-charging/L3 since saved my behind many more times, and allowed me to take my Leaf in situations I wouldn't have been able to otherwise (e.g. San Francisco - San José and back, with some errands on the peninsula in between).

So if I had to add a recommendation, on top of RedLeaf's very wise reminder that range estimate numbers need to be looked at conservatively...

6a) If range limitations concern you, consider either a plug-in hybrid instead, or a quick-charge-capable EV. Being able to add miles in minutes instead of hours offers peace of mind.

Regarding incentives: one option for someone who may not get the full $7500 federal tax deduction with an outright purchase, or who'd want it sooner, may be to start a lease first (so the leasing company get the credit) then terminate it by buying the (then used) vehicle.
[Ok, now, obviously I'm not your tax consultant nor do I know everyone's lease terms, so check the fineprint, etc etc. Standard disclaimers apply.]

· · 5 years ago

@Mr O

I've had my share of charging frustrations lately. I drove from buffalo to syracuse round trip sunday, and went 20 miles out of my way to find 3 chargers, none of which were compatible with my Roadster.....

I shouldn't have run into this problem since it was a Nissan Dealership, and finally the Nissan dealership in Cicero (north of Syr) was a lifesaver (all in all around 330 miles).

I limped into Mike Barney Nissan with my gauges looking the same as they did the one time I actually had a dead battery in my roadster.

People who never use EVSE's save themselves a lot of grief. And none of my credit cards have the blink symbol required to make the CHILI'S restaurant things work.

· · 4 years ago

For my 2013 Chevy Volt a month ago I paid $29,011.48 it took me 4 hours of negotiation to get it down to that price, and out the door with tax, tag etc. came out to $32,000. After $7500 rebate this car will cost me $24,500

invoice picture click here

If you can test drive one, it's a lots of fun to drive it in Sport mode, a lots of torque compare to other EVs.
I love this car so far, the only complain I have is the small arm rest on the doors, it should be wider, and the a/c vents on the right of the driver hits my hand, should be more in the center is too close to the steering wheel, but there you have the console with the LCD screen.
I get 48 miles city driving on electric here in Florida weather.

· · 4 years ago

Regarding this comment, "I'd have trouble recommending a LEAF for use in Phoenix, even as a lease, due to extreme battery degradation in extreme heat. OTOH, in most climates the degradation is just fine."

I have a Volt in Vegas and the Volt has an advanced liquid cooling system for the battery. Does the Leaf have the same? Doesn't this liquid cooling system for the battery negate any battery life loss in extreme heat?

· · 4 years ago

Where do they get the $1000-$1500 for an EVSE? I bought one on Amazon for $429 and an electrician installed it (2 hours labor) for $150 for labor and $10 for parts.

· · 4 years ago

@Ryanrec - Good point. The costs have come down a bit in recent years-so we adjusted that line to "commonly below $1,000." A good EVSE that can handle 30 amps is more in the $600 to $700 range--and when you add installation, the cost can hit 1k.

· · 4 years ago

@TRUCHELI how did you manage to bring it down that much? were you paying cash?

· · 3 years ago

I bought a 2012 Volt in January of 2012 and got my $7500 tax credit on my 2012 Federal tax return. I traded the Volt for a 2015 Leaf in March 0f 2015, will I get another $7500 Federal tax credit or is it a one time tax incentive?

· · 3 years ago

@alanb93 You should consult a tax professional, but you should qualify for another $7,500 tax credit because the LEAF is an entirely new purchase in a new year. It doesn't matter what you traded in.

· · 2 years ago

@ryanrec : The Leaf has an air-cooled battery. The present generation of Leafs have what they call a Lizard battery that is claimed to have better high temperature tolerance, still air-cooled though.

· · 1 year ago

For all of you who have been thoroughly misled by Nissan, let me just offer a bit of useful information:

I purchased a 2012 Leaf SL in 2014 and found that it had a range of about 70 miles, if you use appropriate driving skills (like those I learned on my Prius C). One year later, the range had fallen to about 50 miles. I measured the kilowatts that could be pumped into the battery and found that the battery could hold, at most, maybe 17kw of energy. Wow. I had the dealer test it thoroughly. Their results? The battery was normal. I had lost one bar of charge capacity on the display, but the range had dropped drastically. OK, with a 7 out of 24 kw loss of battery capacity, I decided to buy a new battery. Nope. Unless you lose at least five bars on the display, Nissan refuses to sell you a new battery. What the hell?!? It doesn't matter that you are willing to pay the price, Nissan is unwilling to sell a battery! So there is no place to go with a car that can only get 50 miles on a good day.

My next car will be a Tesla. I don't trust GM, bastards that they have been in the past, and now Nissan has joined my list of unacceptable car companies. When an electric car company absolutely refuses to sell you a new battery, even when you have less than 60% of the original range, that tends to drive you back to gasoline products. No gas engine I have ever had ever dropped 40% of its range in one year. But since I am a die-hard environmentalist at heart, I am left with waiting for the Tesla model 3. At least Tesla has been supporting their products.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.