2023 is shaping up to be an ideal year for people looking to purchase their first electric car. That’s because the Inflation Reduction Act has removed the 200,000 vehicle cap per model, which previously excluded many Tesla and GM models from qualifying for the $7,500 federal tax credit. Thus, any eligible vehicle can now access the credit.
But just which cars are eligible will be restricted again in 2024, by which time all qualifying vehicles will have to use battery materials that are primarily sourced from either the U.S. or countries with which it has trade agreements.
So 2023 represents a window of opportunity between the expansion of which vehicles qualify now and a restriction of which ones will in 2024.
With so much hype about electric cars in the media, it’s easy to believe that most people know all about them, what it’s like to own one, and how to decide if buying an EV is the right move for them. And yet there are millions of people for whom electric cars are still quite a mystery.
In this guide to electric cars for beginners, we’ll answer every question you have about electric cars and electric car ownership so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you should buy one.
What is an Electric Car
This may sound overly basic but there are, in fact, several types of cars that rely in some way or other on electricity as a fuel source. It’s worth sorting out which are which.
Although they’ve been around for over a century, modern hybrid cars were popularized by the Toyota Prius in the 2000s. They’re not really electric vehicles in that they don’t plug into an electrical source and they can’t run without the use of gasoline as a primary fuel source.
What they can do is save gasoline by combining two power sources – a gas tank and a small electric motor – to substantially improve a vehicle’s fuel economy. Another cool feature of hybrid cars is regenerative braking. This allows the car to use the electric motor works as a generator when the vehicle slows down, converting the energy of motion into electricity and storing it in the battery for future use.
Compared to a fully electric vehicle, the electric motor is tiny – typically storing 1-2 kWh of electricity compared to 100 kWh or more. This keeps the cost down and allows people who can’t afford the premium prices of EVs and Plug-in hybrids to take advantage of at least some of the benefits of electrification.
A Plug-in hybrid car can operate on electric power alone but only for very short distances – typically anywhere from 15-50 miles. While this may seem like it’s hardly worth the bother, it is, in fact, quite sufficient for millions of drivers who have a relatively short commute and seldom have to drive long distances.
For those occasions when they do have a long way to drive, they don’t have to suffer range anxiety because, as soon as the electric power is used up, the car switches seemlessly to gasoline power and continues to operate just like a regular car. This gives a plug-in hybrid a total range that’s comparable to a regular car – about 500 miles when you factor in both the electric motor and the gas tank.
What’s more, plug-in hybrid cars can be refueled at a regular gas station and don’t need to be recharged until it’s convenient for the driver.
Plug-in hybrids allow drivers to power the vast majority of their miles with electricity, without having to constantly worry about the availability of public charging stations.
Battery Electric Vehicles
These are the cars most people are talking about when they’re hyping up the coming EV revolution. Battery electric vehicles don’t use gasoline at all, being powered entirely by electricity which is stored in a huge lithium-ion battery that essentially makes up the entire base of the vehicle.
Even with such a huge battery, the range of EVs has long been an issue, but it’s one that, thankfully, has now been largely resolved. Whereas only a few years ago, a range of 100-150 miles was common and was often cited as a good reason NOT to go electric, nowadays, 250 to 350 miles of range is more common.
And while that still falls way short of the typical range of a gasoline-powered car, it seems to have brought EVs over a psychological threshold in the minds of many buyers.
It’s enough to meet the needs of a typical suburban driver in the US and probably means that it can be recharged overnight at home using a simple 120-volt outlet, without the need for a more expensive level 2 home charger.
Charging an Electric Car
And while we’re on the subject of charging, what the heck is a level 2 charger anyway?
There are three levels of charging when it comes to electric cars Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 (sometimes also referred to as fast charging).
Level 1 Charging
For Level 1 charging, you will need nothing more than a regular 120-volt outlet near your electric car’s parking spot. It should be close enough that you don’t have to use an extension cord. The best locations are inside a garage or somewhere outside near the driveway.
This is a very easy and inexpensive first step toward meeting your home charging needs. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to fully charge an electric car this way — up to 24 hours or just 4-6 miles of added range per hour of charging.
But that might be all you need. You should keep a log of how much you drive for a few weeks and consider how frequently you need to fully charge your vehicle before deciding whether or not to go beyond level 1 home charging.
Level 2 Charging
If you’re looking to charge your vehicle more quickly, then Level 2 charging is a viable option for your home. It requires specialized equipment and a 240-volt outlet like those that power electric stoves or tumble dryers.
Most suburban homes have one of these outlets already installed, but it’s probably not in the garage, and quite unlike to be outside. But getting one installed by a qualified electrician should be quite easy.
A level 2 charger would add about 25-30 miles of range to a typical electric car for every hour of charging. That’s fast enough to fully replenish your car overnight.
The installation cost for a Level 2 charging set-up is up to $2,000. However, there are state and federal tax incentives that could help reduce the total cost.
Level 3 Charging
Level 3 charging is not for the home but for the rest area along the side of the highway. While they can typically charge an electric car in about an hour, that takes a lot of power – far more than is available in the typical suburban home.
Tesla, whose Tesla Supercharger can fully recharge a battery in about 40 minutes, owns the most extensive network of Level 3 charging stations. However, they’re just for Tesla owners and won’t work with other electric cars.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s Electrify America is in the process of investing $2 billion in level 3 charging infrastructure in communities all over the country. And plenty of others are building thousands of both level 2 and level 3 public charging stations.
Still, with over 80% of electric vehicle charging being done at the home of the car’s owner, it’s with level 1 and level 2 charging that the rubber needs to hit the road.