5 Common Electric-Car Questions Answered

As more automakers begin selling electric cars, a lot of consumers are still curious about how these new vehicles work, and whether an electric car would be suitable for them. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about electric car to give potential car buyers a better picture of whether one of these cars is right for them.

Can it be plugged into a regular outlet?
All mass-produced electric cars today come with a charging unit that can be plugged into a standard 110-volt outlet, so it's possible to charge from ordinary household outlets. However, a 110v outlet will mean that charging will take longer.

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) notes that using a 110v outlet will charge a Tesla Model S at approximately three miles of range per hour. The Chevrolet Volt, produced by General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , has a charge rate using a 110v outlet that allows the car to charge fully in 10-16 hours. As a result of having a larger battery than the Volt, the Nissan Leaf takes slightly longer to charge with a 110v outlet.

Tesla Model S with Wall Connector Charger source: Tesla Motors

Due to the size of the Tesla Model S battery, Tesla Motors recommends that owners install a 240v outlet for faster charging. The company estimates that this would allow the Model S to charge at 29 miles of range per hour, drastically cutting charging time compared to the 110v outlet. Both the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf also see their charge times cut by more than 50% when using a 240v outlet.

An electric car can be plugged into a typical household outlet, but a higher-voltage outlet will significantly reduce charging time. However, if you're like me and drive a Volt on a fairly short commute and can charge overnight, a 110v outlet will make sure you have a full, or nearly full, battery in the morning. If you have a longer commute or do more daily driving, installing a 240v outlet could make owning an EV much easier.

Where else can I plug it in?
Although electric-car charging stations are not as common as gas stations, they are growing in number, and are likely to continue doing so as more electric cars populate the roads. Take a look at Plugshare.com to find a nationwide map of charging stations.

Additionally, your employer may allow you to plug in at work, but it's always best to ask first. Owners of the Tesla Model S can plug in at Tesla's Superchargers, which are springing up across the country. They provide rapid charging and are free to use.

How far can an electric car go?
There are several factors that determine this including battery size, environmental conditions, and driving style. The table below provides the EPA estimates on how much range drivers can expect.

  Miles of Range per Charge
Nissan Leaf 84
Chevrolet Spark EV 82
Toyota Rav4 EV 103
Honda Fit EV 82
Ford Focus Electric 76
Chevrolet Volt 38*
Tesla Model S-60 kWh 208
Tesla Model S-85 kWh 265

*The Volt is a plug-in electric hybrid and has a backup gas engine to extend its driving range beyond 38 miles. Source: Fueleconomy.gov.

However, these figures are just estimates, similar to fuel economy estimates on gas-powered cars. Things that decrease range include:

  • Cold weather and extreme hot weather
  • Use of heat and air conditioning
  • Rain and snow
  • Aggressive driving

When choosing an electric car, make sure that the stated range can easily cover your commute to avoid range anxiety in winter months -- unless it has a gas backup like the Volt.

How does it drive?
From both my experience and reviews by car-testing groups, the electric cars available today can easily keep pace with traffic, and have enough power for everyday driving. Among the things that differ from gas cars are the reduced noise level, the feel of regenerative braking, and smoother acceleration.

Obviously, some electric cars are more performance-oriented than others. Cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt can keep pace with gas-powered midsize cars, while the higher-end Tesla Model S holds its own against larger sports sedans.

How much does it cost to charge?
This depends on your electric rate, but with the nationwide average at $0.12 per kWh, almost all electric-car owners can charge their cars for less than the cost of gasoline. Based on EPA estimates, today's electric vehicles consume between 0.28 kWh per mile and 0.44 kWh per mile, with smaller EVs consuming less, and larger EVs consuming more.

Using these numbers, electric vehicles cost between $0.034 and $0.053 per mile to fuel. Meanwhile, the average gas-powered vehicle gets approximately 24 miles per gallon and, using the latest report on average gas prices from AAA, the average gas-powered vehicle would cost $0.144 per mile to fuel.

There are a lot of variables here, so these are approximate calculations. Before buying an electric car, find out what your electric rate is, and whether your utility offers cheaper charging during off-peak hours.

Charging forward
The past few years have seen electric cars move from small limited production projects to the beginnings of mass production at major automakers. With these vehicles increasingly becoming an option for ordinary car buyers, it's important to know the basics before deciding whether this type of technology is for you.

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Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2014, at 8:44 PM, philiphutson wrote:

    but when and where do they paid road-tax

    like I do when I get my fuel????

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2014, at 8:58 PM, MarkHBABR wrote:

    Love my Volt. I am up to 590 mpg, plus around 60 cents worth of electricity most nights. The car is cool, very solid and quiet. When I take friends for a drive they are pretty impressed, but the best part is simply that I am using all American electricity to power my car instead of gasoline, half of which we import. Plus my car cost around 1/6 as much to drive as a gasser. Yeah, it cost around $3,000 more than the equivalent ICE car (Cruze LTZ) to buy, but I am saving $1200 a year on fuel and my car is cooler than any old ICE car.

    If you haven't driven one, you don't know what they are like. EREV's are a lot of fun.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2014, at 9:09 PM, yuckfu wrote:

    I would like to know if the volt and pruis still operate if the batteries go bad?

  • Report this Comment On August 26, 2014, at 2:41 PM, JRPCS wrote:

    I've worked in the field of PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) since 2006, and I was impressed by your summary.

    One suggestion....though the average may be 12 cents/kWh in U.S., the price range across the country varies widely. Perhaps using 10 cents per kWh pricing would make it much easier for folks to extrapolate to their particular price (including variable time-of-use pricing offered for some PEV charging). Just a suggestion.

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