What You Need To Know Before You Buy an EV

If you are curious about buying an electric vehicle but do not know how to think about the cost of the vehicle and charging versus your current car, here’s a quick primer:

The hot new Tesla Model Y base model costs $50,490. Tesla isn’t currently eligible for a federal tax credit but many states including New York offer rebates. Vehicles from manufacturers other than GM and Tesla are still eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit but so far Teslas are winning the price/performance war. That may change as 60 new EV models are coming out from various manufacturers over the next couple of years.

Despite battery breakthroughs, the EV charging mystery and “range anxiety” have become the main barriers to adoption in the US. That, and the fact that many people don’t live in a free-standing house with a driveway near a dedicated plug they own. But for those who do, here’s the quick math.

  • Your new Tesla Y has a battery that is sized at 75 kilowatts (kW). By contrast, the Model 3’s battery is closer to 50 kW while the higher-end Model S boasts a 100 kW battery. We’ll get into what all of that means in a bit but suffice it to say bigger means more range.
  • Level 1 Charger is your standard 120-volt wall outlet that you plug your computer into and use to charge your phone at home. That outlet has a 1 kW rate of charge which means that it would take 75 hours to charge your 75 kW battery. Not ideal if you use the car every day.
  • Level 2 Charger is similar to your air conditioner’s 240-volt wall outlet. These typically have power ratings of between 7 kW and 19 kW (depending upon the amp rating of your home circuit) which means they’ll charge your 75 kW battery in 4-10 hours. That should be sufficient for most overnight charging use cases, especially if you drive less than 300 miles per day.
  • Level 3 chargers or DC fast chargers (DCFC) can deliver much higher power to your battery. These range from 50 kW to 250 kW. This means that the highest-end DCFC could conceptually charge your Model Y in 18 minutes. You might not always get away with charging that quickly due to a variety of factors, but the DCFCs are certainly much faster than the overnight Level 2 chargers. Most public charging stations you see on the road are DCFCs.  

How far can you go?

The next part you need to know about is range, or how far can your EV travel on a single charge. These vary due to vehicle technology, weight, driving conditions, temperature, etc. According to Tesla, your Model Y will get around 300 miles of range under standard conditions. BMW’s smaller i3 has a range of 153 miles while the cool Volkswagen ID.4 should be able to take you 250 miles on a single charge.

How much will it cost to charge it?

EVGo offers two payment plans if you use their DC Fast Charging network. The first is a membership plan at $8/month and 27 cents per minute (60-minute limit) in New York. You can opt out of the membership and pay 30 cents per minute if you’d prefer. Tesla’s Supercharger network has a variety of different options, and some models come with free charging for a period of time, but you should expect to pay around 28 cents per kWh to use a Supercharger. That’s around $21 to “fill your tank.”

While this is nice and convenient and still cheaper than gasoline, it’s still twice as expensive as it would be if you were able to charge at night at your home on a Level 2 charger. Retail electricity rates are around 13 cents per kWh in the northeastern US states. Thus, if you want to charge your 75 kW battery, it will cost you $9.75 in electricity for that 300 miles in range. By contrast, your old car, which used around 18 gallons of gasoline (at 16 miles per gallon) to go 300 miles, would cost you around $54 to go that same distance.

Don’t forget that EV’s don’t emit greenhouse gases or harmful pollutants when you drive them. If powered by renewable electricity, the entire driving experience could be close to carbon-free. There are dozens of new EV models coming out in the next few years. It will be interesting to watch how they compete on price, range and battery size to make the transition to gas free vehicles that much easier.

Read next: The Coming EV Battery Revolution

Tim Callahan
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