If you are curious about electric cars, it helps to start at the beginning with an understanding of how they work, what they cost, and what's required to maintain them.

By Melissa Klurman
February 23, 2021
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If you've been keeping an eye on the automotive industry recently it's apparent that all bets are on a future that won't include a single drop of gas, possibly even by the time your babies are old enough to get their driver's licenses.

An image of a mom charging her electric car.
Credit: Getty Images.

Electric Vehicles (EV) are going more mainstream, Ford recently announced that in Europe they would achieve zero emissions through a combination of hybrid and EV by 2024, and go completely electric by 2030. In the United States, General Motors is committing to an all electric future as well, offering 30 new EVs by 2025, and promising to only offer electric options by 2035. So although you may not see EVs everywhere you look right now, they're definitely making inroads, especially for parents looking to stem global warming and support renewable energy.

Considering buying an electric car for your family? Here's all the expert insight and information you need to make the right choice.

What Brands Sell Electric Cars?

It may surprise you to just how many car companies you already know and love are offering electric cars for purchase right now in the United States. Here's the list, in no specific order, and their available models:

  • Tesla: All electric car company; multiple models
  • Ford: Mustang Mach-E
  • Chevrolet: Bolt EV
  • Audi: e-tron
  • BMW: i3
  • Hyundai: Kona Electric; Ioniq Electric
  • Jaguar: I-Pace
  • Kia: Niro EV
  • Porsche: Taycan
  • Volvo: XC40 Recharge
  • Polestar: Polestar 2
  • Volkswagen: ID.4
  • Mini Cooper: Mini Electric
  • Nissan: Leaf

What Are the Benefits of Owning an Electric Car?

Wondering just why you'd want an electric car instead of a hybrid or other fueled vehicle? To get the scoop, we turned to experts at GM and Ford to guide us through all of our questions about the electrifying world of EV. Here are a few top reasons:

  • EVs are better for the environment. Without releasing fumes into the air like gas engines do, electric cars can help achieve cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gasses.
  • No need to ever go to a gas station again, which means no gas costs. The average driver will save between $4,000 to $5,000 in fuel costs over the course of 5 years, according to Ford.
  • Without the use of a gas engine, electric cars also don't need oil. That means no more oil changes!
  • You'll forgo other maintenance and repairs associated with a traditional gas engine. For example, electric cars are typically easier on brakes leading to fewer brake replacements.
  • Electric cars run very quietly, especially when running fully on battery power. (If you've driven in a hybrid, you've probably experienced a similar phenomenon.)
  • There are special highway lanes and parking spots in some places for electric cars. For example, drivers in California have the ability to take their EVs into the restricted high occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) without a second passenger. Drivers in New York are able to register with the active Toll Discount Program and receive a 10 percent discount on E-ZPass accounts with proof of registration.

What Is an Electric Car Tax Credit?

One big perk of owning an EV often cited by new buyers is a tax credit of up to $7,500 for original owners of electric cars, for, as our sources at Ford put it, "simply owning a car that's better for the environment." And they're correct, if you buy an EV Ford Mustang Mach-E (the current model), you will be eligible for this rebate.

However, it's not as simple as simply purchasing any EV and getting $7,500. Especially important to know, for companies that have had EV on their rosters for a longer time, namely Tesla and GM, you won't receive this financial incentive. Federal tax credits on plug-in vehicles begin to phase out after the 200,000th sale of qualifying cars sold since 2010, so companies that have a longer history of producing EV have actually aged out. You can see all the cars that qualify for credits at the Department of Energy's Fuel Economy website.

It is possible, though, if you buy an EV from a manufacturer that's timed out of the federal credit, that you may qualify for state tax credits and/or rebates, so be sure to check with local regulations.

How Do Electric Cars Work?

The most basic explanation, says GM, is that EVs behave just like regular gas-powered cars, except they run on electricity, which translates into no tailpipe gas emissions.

More specifically, electric cars function by plugging into a charge point and taking electricity from the grid, explains Ford. They store the electricity in rechargeable batteries that power an electric motor, which turns the wheels. Electric cars benefit from immediate torque, meaning almost-instant acceleration can be achieved.

You can charge an electric vehicle by plugging it into a fast-charging public charging station or into a home charging unit (standard 120V or 240V, like for a clothes dryer), and just like when you plug-in your cell phone at night, an EV can recharge overnight while you sleep.

How Do You Find Chargers and What Do They Cost to Use?

New vehicles will most likely come with a Level 1 charger that uses 120 volts. These are standard home electrical charges, which means you can charge your car in your garage or driveway without the need for additional hardware. However, this is a not a fast charging option.

You can also use a public DC Fast Charging station, or have a faster Level 2 charger installed at your home (costs vary, but the national average for this is around $1,200).

To get an idea of an idea of the difference in charges, consider these charging times for the Bolt EV:

  • 120 V: 4 miles of range in approximately 1 hour
  • 240 V: 24 miles of range in approximately 1 hour
  • DC Fast Charging: Up to 100 miles in 30 minutes

When you're away from home there is a large network of charging points that you can find through websites or apps, including one from the U.S. Department of Energy. Google Maps will helpfully show you nearby charging stations if you search for "EV Charging." And you can download free apps including ChargeHub and PlugShare to find nearby chargers as well.

Many of these public chargers are free, depending on where they're located; for example, hotels or restaurants may provide a plug-in point as a complimentary amenity, but a specially-built charging lot may require payment.

Many car companies have free charging incentives for customers. Ford, for one, provides two years of complimentary access to the FordPass Charging Network, the largest in North America, comprised of 16,000 public charging stations. And General Motors is providing customers with convenient and expanded access to GM and EVgo, the nation's largest public fast-charging network.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy an Electric Car?

As with standard and hybrid vehicles, there's a wide price range for EV. The Chevy 2022 Bolt is one of the most affordable EV on the market, starting at $31,995, but isn't eligible for the tax credit. However, Chevrolet will also cover standard installation of Level 2 charging capability for eligible customers.

The Ford's Mustang Mach-E falls more into a mid-price range with an entry price of $43,895, but is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

On the top of the range is the Porsche Taycan with a starting price of $101,150 that soars to $186,000 if you upgrade to the top-level Turbo S. And for the well-known Teslas, the most affordable version is the Model 3, which starts at $38,000, and the most expensive, the luxury Model X, starts at $80,000.

Are Electric Cars Safe? And Are They Good for Teen Drivers?

For the most part, choosing an EV that's safe for families is similar to buying a conventional or hybrid car; the NHTSA has ratings for general crash testing results as they do for other cars. According to Carvana, EVs are subject to the same rigorous standards that apply to conventional cars sold in the U.S, plus EV-specific standards that apply to the batteries and the chassis. And they found that, "Generally, electric cars have a lower center of gravity and are, therefore, less likely to roll over during a crash."

Due to the advanced electronic systems in new EV, you will usually also have access to plenty of new safety features and bells and whistles; for example, the Mustang Mach-E has options such as Active Drive Assist, including forward-facing camera and radar sensors, as well as Active Park Assist 2.0, where simply holding a button will allow the vehicle to take control of parking. (Um, we so wish we had automated parking when we were stressing about learning how to parallel park when we were teenagers!)

Speaking of teens, if you have a new driver at home, you're sure to be thinking about the safest ways for them to be on the road. Realistically, regardless of the type of vehicle, the main concerns are still the same for parents: Making sure teens aren't distracted when they're driving and that they're following speed limits. To that end, there are a slew of high tech options that are part of the EV that would make it a safe option for teens, including the Bolt EV's innovative "Teen Driver" option, an industry-first, that mutes the audio of the radio or any device paired with the vehicle when front seat occupants aren't wearing their safety belts and gives audible and visual warnings when the vehicle is traveling faster than preset speeds.

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