If you’re considering a new car purchase, an electric car might be worthy of consideration. While the thought of never visiting a gas station again appeals, consider some things before taking the plunge.
An electric car can be an ideal choice if your daily driving needs are modest. According to studies done by General Motors, on average, most Americans drive fewer than 40 miles a day.
Now consider that, according to the EPA, the Nissan Leaf has a range of 73 miles before it needs recharging and the Mitsubishi i goes 62 miles before its battery pack is drained. The Chevrolet Volt — an extended range electric vehicle — travels 35 miles before its gas engine kicks in to charge its battery for the next 250 miles.
Beyond a weekend outing, consider where and when you can plug your electric vehicle in. Do you have a place to recharge at your office, or are you going to have to wait until you get home? Given that, a Chevrolet Volt would be a better solution if it’s your only car. Most days, you’d never burn gas. For other drivers, the Leaf or an i would make the perfect daily second car.
All of the cars in this story are recharged by plugging them into an electric outlet. Recharging times vary depending on the size of the car’s battery pack and how much of its power is depleted.
All electric cars can be recharged using a conventional 120-volt electrical outlet, also known as Level One charging. But it can take as long as 20 hours to fully recharge a depleted battery.
Most electric vehicles can be recharged faster using a 240-volt outlet, the sort used for an electric clothes dryer. Usually, this requires that your garage or carport be wired for a 240-volt outlet and the use of special chargers. This is known as Level Two charging.
The Nissan Leaf, which can take up to 20 hours to recharge at Level One, takes eight hours at Level Two.
Also consider if you can recharge your car while at work and what sort of charger is available.
And finally, remember that the vehicle’s battery size makes a difference in charging time. While the Leaf takes eight hours to recharge at 240 volts, the Chevrolet Volt, with its significantly smaller battery pack, recharges in five hours at 240.
Test drive reveals differences
An electric vehicle may seem similar to a conventional car, but the differences start the minute you hit the starter button.
Start it up, and there’s no noise or shudder. Lights come on, but you feel and hear nothing. There is a transmission lever or knob, but no clutch pedal. It’s not needed; the car uses a continuously variable automatic transmission. There are no fixed gears. Since electric motors lack engine braking, there’s a separate gear to help slow the car.
There is no tachometer showing engine speed. Instead, a gauge shows the percentage of remaining charge. Another readout shows distance remaining until total battery discharge.
Usually, EVs have a normal driving mode and an eco mode, which restricts acceleration to conserve battery charge. The drive line of these cars shuts off when stopped for a light, but accessories such as radios, climate control and wipers still function.
Acceleration is quick off the line. Unlike gas engines, where power builds up gradually, electric power comes on instantly, like flipping a light switch. However, driving aggressively quickly depletes battery power. Weather, ambient temperature and accessory load (climate control, audio system use) can affect range.
All electric cars use regenerative braking, which captures energy from braking to help recharge the car’s batteries. As a result, the brakes grab quickly and the cars decelerate quicker.
On the car’s exterior, you’ll find an electric charge port in place of an opening to gas up.
Just like some gas cars travel farther on a gallon of gas, some electric cars go farther off a kilowatt-hour of electricity. The Mitsubishi i is the most efficient, using 0.3 kWh/mile or the equivalent of 112 mpg, according to the EPA. The Leaf rates 0.34 kWh/mile or 99 mpg-e, while the Volt measures 0.36 kWh/mile or 94 mpg-e.
Comparing the costs
Electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i, and gas-electric hybrids cost more than your typical vehicle. The Leaf starts at $35,200, the i at $29,125 and the Volt at $39,145. All of them are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
Assuming 11,000 miles of driving annually — or 30 miles a day — the Leaf driver would save $1,180 a year in Hampton Roads; the i driver, $1,210, according to UCS analysis. This assumes a gas price of $3.50 a gallon.
According to an analysis by the Society of Automotive Engineers, Chevrolet Volt drivers use electricity for 64 percent of their travel. Assuming that, you’d save $857 annually, assuming a premium gas price of $3.70.
There’s one more cost to consider: battery replacement. According to Consumer Reports, the Volt’s batteries are estimated to cost $8,000, the Leaf’s approximately $18,000. Thankfully, both EVs have 8-year/100,000-mile warranties on their battery packs and related components.