Should I Buy an Electric Car?

Buying an electric car can result in lower ownership costs, but electric vehicle (EV) owners might experience growing pains, too.
Kurt Woock
Shannon Bradley
By Shannon Bradley and  Kurt Woock 
Updated
Edited by Julie Myhre-Nunes

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Deciding whether to buy an electric car can be a difficult decision, especially if you’ve never driven and owned one before. But there are key pros and cons you can weigh to help you decide if buying an EV makes sense for you.

In fact, a growing number of car buyers are opting to buy an EV. According to Kelley Blue Book, EVs represent the fastest-growing car sales category, with nearly 1.2 million U.S. vehicle buyers going electric in 2023. This record-setting pace for EV sales is expected to remain steady, with federal and state legislation driving EV adoption, and automakers continuing to move the market toward an electric-first future.

Here are some upsides and downsides of buying an EV to consider.

Pros of electric cars

EVs can provide long-term fuel savings

Charging an EV’s battery at home can cost just a few dollars, and over time your savings can add up. Your actual expense could be higher if your EV has a big battery or your electric rate is higher than average, but it will almost certainly be cheaper than filling a gas tank — even in states where gas prices are lower.

To calculate the cost of filling up an EV, multiply your electricity rate at home, which should be listed on your electric bill in kilowatt hours (or kWh) by the size of the EV’s battery — it varies by model.

Here’s an example using January 2024’s national average energy prices for the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you pay the national average of about 17 cents per kWh and drive a Chevrolet Bolt EV — which has a 65-kWh battery — you’ll pay $11.05 ($0.17 × 65) to charge the battery from empty to full. Compare that to a gas-powered vehicle that gets about 25 miles per gallon. It would take about 10 gallons of gas to travel the Chevrolet Bolt EV's maximum range. Using the January 2024 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics average gas price of $3.35 per gallon, 10 gallons of gas would cost $33.50

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Fuel savings can be harder to quantify if you’ll be paying to use a public or semi-public charger, but you can get an idea of cost ahead of time. Some employers, condos and apartment complexes provide charging stations, either for free or a set cost.

You might also consider using a charging network, like Electrify America, ChargePoint or EVgo. Your cost to use a public charging station will vary by location, time of day and pricing structure — for example by kWh used, by minute or monthly membership fee. You can use charging network websites and apps to research pricing for public charging stations.

Ultimately, the amount you save depends on the number of miles you typically drive and the difference between what you would pay for gas versus electricity.

You can eliminate some maintenance costs

EVs have fewer moving parts than gas-powered cars, which means fewer opportunities for things to break. The lack of an engine also means no oil changes or certain other routine maintenance.

EVs do have maintenance costs — for instance you might need to replace worn tires more frequently due to the heavy battery and regenerative braking. However, regenerative brakes have the benefit of improving battery range by feeding braking energy back into the EV’s electric system.

Also, while the cost of replacing an EV battery can be high, new electric cars come with battery warranties of up to eight years or 100,000 miles.

EV subsidies and incentives can save you money

A bevy of incentives are available to reduce the cost of buying and owning an EV. To start, there is a federal EV tax credit for both new and used EVs — which is helpful for those shopping on a budget — but the specific EV and buyer both must meet criteria to qualify.

You can also find EV incentives offered by state and local governments as well as electric companies. Most of these can be combined and can be found on a searchable EV incentives database provided by the U.S Department of Energy.

Automakers are another source of EV incentives — from rebates and low interest loans when you buy an EV to credits for the use of public charging stations.

EVs are better for the environment

EVs don’t burn gas. While the battery in an EV makes it more “material-intensive than producing traditional combustion engines,” according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Climate Portal, the benefits over the lifespan of the vehicle outweigh the initial environmental cost. In fact, the greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of an EV (manufacturing, charging and driving) are usually lower than a gas car’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle. Accessed Feb 15, 2024.
. And although the electricity used to charge a car might be derived from fossil fuels, power delivered via the grid is considerably cleaner than via gas.

Cons of electric cars

EV range can still be a sticking point

Before 2016, the median range of new EVs was below 100 miles, and the top-performing option couldn’t travel 300 miles without a charge, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Today, you can buy an EV that has a 250-mile range for less than $40,000. Plus, high-end model EVs can have a range of more than 400 miles.

While this rapid improvement has helped move EVs into the mainstream, even on a full battery they still don’t travel as far as gas-powered vehicles. For example, some gas-powered pickup trucks can go about 800 miles between fill-ups.

Even if your gas-powered car doesn’t travel that far, it has a related feature that might be just as important on a road trip: speed. Filling up the tank takes only a minute or two, but fully charging a battery can take a half hour — and that’s with a Level 3/DC fast charger, the fastest available charger.

Nationwide the EV infrastructure is in its infancy

Growth of charging stations has been quick, but the footprint of gas stations has a multi-decade head start. Drivers have nearly 145,000 places to fill up, according to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing

Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing. Convenience Stores Sell the Most Gas. Accessed Feb 15, 2024.
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However, there are only about 60,000 charging locations across the country, according to the U.S Department of Energy

U.S. Department of Energy. Electric Vehicle Charging Station Locations. Accessed Feb 15, 2024.
. Note that this is more than twice the number of charging locations available five years ago, but some locations have just one or two chargers. High-speed charging locations along an interstate might have a dozen or more.

There are upfront costs to charge at home

Saving money by charging at home sounds like a no-brainer, but it could cost you a few thousand dollars. The ultimate cost depends on several factors.

One factor is whether you decide to install Level 2 charging at home and your cost for an electrician to run a 240-volt connection from your home’s electric panel to where you park your car. Level 2 charging isn’t required to charge at home, but its superior speeds — which adds about 25 miles of range per hour compared to Level 1’s 5 miles per hour — may be too convenient to pass up.

Another cost consideration is whether you have to purchase the charger itself. New electric vehicles usually come with a Level 1 charger, except for Tesla which requires you to purchase the charger separately. Level 2 chargers typically cost $500 or more. However, some auto manufacturers run promotions that include a Level 2 charger and credit toward installation of a 240-volt line when you purchase their EVs.

EVs come with an element of the unknown

There are millions of gas-powered vehicles and decades of data to help predict costs and performance. EVs have a much shorter track record. How they’ll perform through the 2020s and beyond remains to be seen.

Also, the industries that support the span of a gas car’s lifespan — such as replacement parts and qualified mechanics — are mature. In contrast, EVs are still answering questions like how to handle EV batteries when they leave service a decade or more from now.

Deciding whether to buy an EV

If you aren’t currently an electric vehicle owner, deciding whether to buy one may seem like a big step. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages for your particular situation is a good place to start. If you can reduce your upfront investment with incentives, and save on long-term fuel and maintenance costs, buying an EV makes sense — especially if you also want to do your part in reducing vehicle emissions.

If you remain uncertain about buying an EV due to elements of the unknown — like how well your car will hold its value over time — you might consider leasing versus buying an EV as a first step.

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