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Electric Car Buying Guide

Unique to EVs is the return of the RWD standard configuration. Many EVs have standard RWD with optional AWD (ID.4, Mustang Mach-E, Ioniq 5, EV6, etc.) versus the common front-wheel-drive layout of most mass-market cars and light- to medium-duty SUVs. FWD cars tend to behave more predictably in slippery conditions, though we only have limited experience with rear-drive EVs in wintry conditions. EVs are heavy because the large batteries by themselves can weigh a thousand pounds or more, so a compact electric SUV like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 at its lightest 4,200-pound curb weight can weigh a touch more than a three-row SUV like the Hyundai Palisade, which is at minimum 4,217 pounds. Because of this extra weight, traction might prove better than in a traditional RWD gasoline-powered car.

electric car buying guide

The average price of all new vehicles (gasoline and electric) per J.D. Power was $46,229 in February 2023, even as dealer inventories improve. EV starting prices average around $65,000 for the more than 40 models that are on sale or will be within the 2023 calendar year for which we have estimated range (EPA or automaker estimates) and retail pricing; EV prices span from under $30,000 to well over $100,000, and, as previously mentioned, are usually pricier than similar gas-powered vehicles.

If you're considering buying an electrified vehicle as your next car, you might find this new world daunting, what with all the unfamiliar acronyms, definitions, specifications and other things to consider. Accordingly, our first recommendation, borrowed from the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is as follows: DON'T PANIC.

We say this because the EV landscape really isn't that complicated if you have someone to talk you through it, which is the role we'll be playing here. At the highest level, there are several types of electrified vehicles to be aware of, from hybrids (HEVs) to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and fully electric vehicles (EVs), each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. So let's start there and then move on to charging, range, costs, performance and anything else we can think of that you should know before you buy.

Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, are an intriguing halfway point between EVs and regular cars. They offer both a gasoline engine and an electric battery pack that can be recharged by, you guessed it, plugging the vehicle in. Typically, PHEVs use the electricity stored in the battery pack first, then switch over to the gas engine when needed. PHEV battery packs are smaller than the packs in pure EVs, but you still get usable electric range before the gas engine kicks on. If you recharge every night and don't travel very far, it could be quite a while before you have to visit a gas station again.

As a side note, mild hybrid vehicles, or MHEVs, have much smaller battery packs and use their electric power to augment engine performance or power the car's electrical systems. These vehicles are generally best thought of as hybrids in name only since the driving experience and fuel economy aren't much affected. The function of hybrid technology here is to optimize the traditional gas-powered car, as opposed to the HEV strategy of employing dramatic powertrain changes to minimize fuel consumption. Examples of MHEV variants include such unlikely "hybrids" as the Dodge Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler (though the latter is also offered as a proper PHEV).

Most EV and PHEV owners will charge at home if they can. Due to their smaller battery packs, PHEVs can generally be charged overnight using a standard 120-volt outlet. Charging this way only adds about 2-3 miles of range per hour, but since many PHEVs offer fewer than 30 miles of electric range, most will be topped off by the time you leave for work in the morning.

But if you drive a full EV or even a PHEV with a more substantial battery pack (such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime or Volvo S60 Recharge), you're going to want to upgrade your home charging situation. A qualified electrician can install a Level 2 charging station in your garage or on the exterior of your house, which speeds up charging times drastically. These chargers use a 240-volt connection and can add between 12 and 60 miles of range per hour, according to ChargePoint. Note that range per hour added depends on a variety of factors, including the size of the vehicle battery, the capacity of the vehicle's onboard charger, and the output of the charging station itself. For a deep dive into home charging, check out this article.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average round-trip commute from home to work is just over 55 minutes. Even if we assume that the commute happens primarily at highway speed (which uses more energy), nearly every electric vehicle on sale today can cover it with range to spare. But if you don't plan on recharging every night, or you live in a dwelling where charging isn't available, or you foresee long-distance road trips in your future, you're going to want to research destination charging options.

But federal, state and sometimes even local governments put up tax credits and other incentives to help persuade shoppers to go electric. If you and the vehicle you're considering qualify for these credits and incentives, the cost of buying an EV or PHEV drops dramatically. However, with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, federal EV tax credits have become pretty complicated. Never fear, though: We have a helpful guide that lays it all out right here.

There are a few other financial aspects to consider. Because they have fewer running parts, EVs have lower maintenance costs. A typical service visit for a Chevrolet Bolt EV, for example, consists of just a tire rotation and an inspection. And as long as you aren't refueling at a rapid-charging station (which commands a price premium for its quick electricity payload), it's generally less expensive to top off a battery pack than it is to refuel a gas tank. That said, the actual cost savings will vary based on electricity and gas/diesel rates in your area.

Braking is also a little different. All hybrids, PHEVs and EVs harvest energy that is normally lost during braking to help charge the battery. When you lift off the accelerator or use the brake pedal, the electric motor that drives the wheels essentially runs in reverse, acting as a generator to convert braking energy into storable electricity. Traditional friction brakes are still used when braking hard, and sometimes during the last few feet as your vehicle comes to a stop. Because regenerative braking can significantly benefit range in stop-and-go situations, some manufacturers dial in a fairly aggressive regenerative braking action when you lift off the accelerator pedal. Others deliver a more natural "coasting" feel and leave the stopping duties up the driver's brake pedal. But many PHEVs and EVs these days allow the driver to customize the level of regeneration for a more tailored driving experience.

Although EVs are in their infancy compared to fossil-fueled cars, there are more and more options on the market with each passing year. So where do you start if you're considering buying an EV? We can understand if it all feels a bit overwhelming.

If you asked REI to design an electric pickup, the R1T would certainly be the end result. Catering to EV enthusiasts who want to get off the beaten path but not use any gas while doing so, the R1T boasts genuinely impressive off-road capability and a plethora of customization options (including a pull-out cooking station) to cater to the more adventurous among us. As further incentive, the Rivian offers excellent on-road performance and range. The R1T we tested went 317 miles on a single charge.

With perhaps the coolest name for an EV to date, the Lightning brings the battery electric vehicle to the realm of the full-size pickup. It may not have as many gadgety party tricks as the Rivian, but its lower cost of entry gives it wider appeal. Capable of powering construction tools during work hours and the tailgate party on the weekend, the F-150 has lost none of its work ethic with electrification. It'll even tow up to 10,000 pounds when properly equipped.

EVs have made great strides lately, so now is an excellent time to test-drive the latest models and get involved. As a next step, head over to Edmunds' EV rankings for our testing team's latest verdicts on today's best electric vehicles.

Hybrid cars use both electricity and gasoline. They run on both a gasoline engine and a small electric motor. They use their electric motor to get up to a certain speed, after which the gasoline engine takes over. Using gasoline for only part of their power makes them more fuel-efficient than regular gasoline-powered cars.

The Hyundai Elantra, for instance, is available with a gasoline-only powertrain or a hybrid powertrain. In gasoline-only form, it gets an EPA-estimated 33 mpg in the city and 43 on the highway. In hybrid form, it gets 53 mpg in the city and 56 mpg on the highway. But hybrids are not EVs. This guide does not cover hybrid cars.

Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) cars also use both electricity and gasoline for power. But they have a larger battery and a more powerful electric motor. They can travel under electric power up to their full speed. A PHEV uses electricity alone until its battery is nearly depleted and then turns on its gasoline engine and begins to function as a hybrid. In practical terms, owning a PHEV is a lot like owning an EV. But PHEVs are capable of indefinitely long trips, as long as they get fueled with gasoline.

However, broader adoption will take time. According to Cox Automotive, the parent to Kelley Blue Book, electric cars at the end of the third quarter account for 5.6% of the total vehicle sales, compared with 2.9% in the same quarter last year. Five years ago, manufacturers offered only five electric car models for sale in the United States. Today, you can find nearly 40 models offered.

You can charge an EV from a simple household outlet. But, for the greatest efficiency, charging your electric car from a faster Level 2 at home is what most buyers prefer. You can also charge in public at a Level 2 or Level 3 fast charger (more on what that is in a moment). Most car dealers selling EVs can coordinate installing Level 2 chargers at your home if you own it, since Level 3 is cost-prohibitive to install in residential settings. Some public utilities offer special incentives for installation. 041b061a72


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