How to choose an electric vehicle

Woman with her daughter charging her electric vehicle in a woodsy areaImage: Woman with her daughter charging her electric vehicle in a woodsy area

In a Nutshell

If you buy an electric vehicle, costly trips to the gas station will become a thing of the past. But you'll need to know about driving range and incentives before making a purchase.
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Interest in electric vehicles, or EVs, is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s easy to understand why.

EVs rely solely on electric power and can make costly trips to the gas station a thing of the past. These vehicles have seen massive sales growth in recent years. Carmakers have made things easier for EV shoppers by providing a growing number of vehicles to consider. Today’s range of available EVs includes hatchbacks, SUVs and luxury cars. There are even rugged, all-electric trucks.

These vehicles differ from their gas-only counterparts in critical ways, and it’s crucial to understand these differences before heading out to the dealership to make a purchase. For example, charging an EV takes longer than filling up at the gas pump, and charging stations are less prevalent than gas stations. As a result, an EV’s range — or the number of miles it can travel on a single charge — is essential to keep in mind. 

You may want to consider EVs with the most driving range if you’re looking for daily transportation convenience. Also, EVs differ from gas-only models when it comes to incentives. 



How to choose the right electric vehicle

In some ways, choosing an EV is similar to choosing a gas-only vehicle. Start by setting a budget and figuring out your needs. 

Your “needs” are those things that are nonnegotiable if the vehicle is to provide practical transportation. For example, if you have a family of six, you’ll need a vehicle with a six-passenger capacity. Next, do some research to select a make and model. Pricing varies, and your budget will likely play a big part in your choice. 

There are also some unique considerations to weigh when buying an EV. Below, we’ve listed some questions worth thinking about when deciding which EV to purchase.

What do you transport?

It’s important to consider how you will use your EV before signing on the dotted line. While EVs meet the needs of many buyers, they’re not the best fit for all applications. 

Take towing, for example. There are a few EVs with robust tow ratings. Case in point: The Tesla Model X can tow 5,000 pounds, and the Rivian R1T pickup has a tow rating of 11,000 pounds. But towing can seriously deplete an EV’s driving range. So if you plan on towing frequently, an EV might not be the best choice. 

Another consideration is passenger capacity. If you plan on trips with more than six or seven people, your EV choices are limited. 

When considering an EV for road trips, you should think about the length of your drives and the places you’d like to visit. Some drivers enjoy long trips to far-flung locations. But since the network of charging stations is still relatively limited, an EV might not be the best match. 

Despite limitations on charging stations, EVs can be a practical choice for many drivers. Technological advancements have brought considerable improvements in battery technology, and the network of charging stations keeps expanding. 

Do you qualify for electric vehicle incentives

Incentives can help offset the cost of your EV purchase. There are different types of incentives: federal, state and local. 

Many EVs qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. However, this credit is reduced and gradually phases out as a model reaches certain sales milestones. As a result, top-selling EVs like the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV no longer qualify. If you want to take advantage of this incentive, check the EPA’s list of qualifying vehicles to make sure the EV you’re considering is eligible.  

Certain states offer incentives for EV ownership. The U.S. Department of Energy has a tool that allows you to research incentives by state. Finally, you may be eligible for local or utility EV incentives. For example, some utilities will provide you with a rebate offer if you purchase an EV.  

Where will you charge?

Charging is an essential aspect of EV ownership. Depending on the battery and charging point, it can take from 20 minutes up to several hours to charge a vehicle to 80% or more. With that in mind, it’s essential to have a charging strategy before committing to an EV purchase.

Public charging stations can be found, but they’re less widely available than gas stations. Some workplaces, hotels and shopping centers also offer charging access. 

For many people, charging at home is the most convenient option. If you own a home, you can install a home charging station. Some apartments and condominiums also offer charging stations in their parking structures. 

Charging an EV is easy if you have a charging station at your workplace or home. However, charging can be less convenient if you regularly rely on a public charging station. 

How much range do you need?

EVs differ in driving range. Some models have more than 300 miles of driving range, while others have significantly less. Naturally, the more range, the better, but many cars with the most range are expensive luxury models. Consider the length of your daily commute when deciding how much range suits your needs. 

Also, technology has brought significant improvements to the driving range for EVs. The newest EVs typically offer a lot more range than their older counterparts. Keep this in mind if you’re considering a used EV. For example, the 2022 Nissan Leaf can travel 226 miles between charges. With the 2015 Leaf, the driving range is 84 miles. 

Electric vehicle performance

EVs offer certain performance benefits. For example, most of their motors provide immediate torque delivery, creating quick acceleration. Also, EV motors have fewer moving parts than combustion engines, resulting in lower maintenance costs. 

On the downside, towing (and carrying lots of people and luggage) can diminish driving range with an EV. Extreme weather can also reduce the distance you can travel until the next charge. 

Electric vehicle price

As with gas-only cars, EVs come at varying price points. There are affordable hatchbacks that start at less than $30,000, and expensive luxury models that cost more than $100,000. Depending on where you live and the model you choose, federal, state and local incentives may help bring down your purchase price for an EV. 

Electric vehicle charging levels

EVs have three types of charging: 

Level 1: This approach uses a household outlet and is the slowest option available. Using this method can take up to 50 hours to achieve a full charge.

Level 2: The method uses a 240-volt connection and is significantly quicker than Level 1 charging. Home charging stations typically offer Level 2 charging, and so do the stations installed at many workplaces. This type of charging allows you to fully charge in about four to 10 hours. 

Direct current (DC) fast charging: DC fast charging is the fastest option offered. It allows you to charge to 80% in less than 30 minutes in many cases. DC fast chargers are available at many public charging stations. But keep in mind that the technology facilitating this type of charging is optional equipment on some EVs. That means you may have to pay extra if you want your vehicle to be compatible with this type of charging.  

Buying an electric vehicle

The next step is deciding where to make your purchase. Your choice will depend on the type of car you want to buy and whether you wish to purchase a new or used vehicle. 

Some automakers sell their vehicles online. They have showrooms where you can look at the car in person and take it for a test drive, but the actual purchase is completed online. Buying online can be less stressful than buying from a salesperson at a dealership since you won’t have to interact with a salesperson. This option is only offered by certain automakers.

Another option is to purchase from a dealership. This approach works in much the same way as buying a gas-powered car from a dealer. The advantage is that it may give you some room for negotiation. The downside is that buying a car this way may be stressful if you’re not comfortable with bargaining.   

Finally, if you’re buying a used EV, you can purchase it from a third party. Buying a used EV from a third party could save you money since cars depreciate significantly in the early years of ownership.


About the author: Warren Clarke is a writer whose work has been published by Edmunds.com and the New York Daily News. He enjoys providing readers with information that can make their lives happier and more expansive. Warren holds a Bac… Read more.