Beginners Guide to Electric Vehicles


Electric Vehicle Types

Choosing an Electric Vehicle

Charging Technology

Charging Your EV

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Choosing an Electric Vehicle

After owning both a plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles I can attest that my recommendation is to skip the hybrids and focus on battery electric vehicles. The hybrids offer some flexibility if you do not have access to charging infrastructure, but their negatives outweigh the benefit.

Plug-in hybrids are complicated systems. The car carries two drivetrains, that as the car ages may prove to be expensive to maintain. Plug-in vehicles also carry a premium cost over only gas counterparts that approach the cost of battery electric vehicles.

In the 2010s some thought plugin hybrids were the future. The Karma was one such plugin built by Fiskar. It was made in low quantities before the company went bankrupt. Here is a photo of one Karma that I came across at local charging station. See the links section to the right for more information about this car.

I had a Chevrolet Volt from 2012 into 2018, that was repurchased by General Motors under California’s lemon law. The car was on its fourth rear axle by the time it hit 60,000 miles and it was apparent the problem could not be fixed. The car was an interesting experiment and I mostly drove it on battery power. I rarely used the electric motor, leading me to ask myself why bother dragging around a gasoline generator when I could get by without it if my car had extra battery range. With long range, lower cost battery electric cars on the market, I don’t see the benefit of plug-in hybrids.

Most Needs
I tell potential electric vehicle purchasers to consider what 95% of their needs are and don’t buy a car for the 5% of tasks the car won’t work for. The most common reason I hear for skipping purchasing a battery electric car is range. For almost all drivers, a 250-mile range battery electric car will fulfill their needs. Even if you need to drive over the range, there are fast charge stations along major highways that can charge up the car in less than hour.

The other complaint I hear frequently is car owners want the ability, perhaps once or twice a year to travel long distances without having to stop more than 10 minutes for refueling. I can’t imagine buying a car for that once a year trip that may or may not happen, and must be completed without inconvenience. My suggestion is rent a car if that is such a huge problem. The fact is most drivers commute less than 40 miles per day. If you make frequent weekly trips in excess of a few hundred miles, then perhaps an electric car is not for you. Otherwise, an electric car will work for 99% of us.

How much range do you need. Our first battery electric was Honda Fit EV with a range of 81 miles. While that may not sound like much, we made it work very well for us. In a little more than 5 years we put over 80,000 miles on this car, without ever running out of electricity. On some days we put on over 200 miles on the car, using opportunistic charging between trips. With that said, think hard about your true needs and don’t brush off a 200 mile range battery electric as being infeasible for your use. Yes, it was inconvenient to have to plug it in all of the time, but we made it work. My wife found it more convenient than having to go wait in line at the local Costco every week.

Longer range cars add convenience, but they also create a double edge sword. With our short range Honda Fit EV we got accustom to plugging it in every night, whether it needed it or not. We now have a Tesla Model 3, and it is quite easy to forget to plug it in the night before a use because you not in the habit of doing it every evening.

While we are on range, I want to bring up the point that maximum range on many battery electrics should have an astrick next to it. Lithium batteries permanently degrade when charged close to 100% and allowed to fall near empty. I will go into more detail about this under the charging lesson.

The most compelling reason not to buy an electric car is if you are a housing renter. Electric charging stations installed in rental housing is far and few between. Even if there is one or two charging stations, what guarantee is there going to be that you won’t be fighting over a time slot with some other tenant. You might be able to make public charging work in your situation, but you need to be prepared for the inconvenience of dropping your car off somewhere, and picking it up when charging is completed. There is also no guarantee that the charging price you pay today will be the same next month. If you are a renter, workplace charging might be an option if your employer offers charging stations. However, be sure that you won’t change jobs during the duration of ownership. Electric cars are best for those that own a condo unit or house where you have the ability to install a charging station. At some point state regulation is needed to require multi-unit landlords to install stations for their tenants. In the meantime, if you rent think over charging carefully before purchasing.

If you rent and need a charge you will be seeking out public chargers like this one. It really is not practical to leave your car for the day in a public parking lot while your car charges.

Electric vehicles are more expensive upfront, but over the long haul will return dividends in lower maintenance and fuel costs. While my Tesla Model 3 was a $50,000 car, after government incentives and fuel savings, the price of the car is cheaper than a Toyota Camry. My estimation is that my Model 3 will save me about $10,000 in fuel costs over 100,000 of use, based on the current California fuel price of $4 a gallon for a comparable sized gasoline powered automobile.

Long distance verses shorter range battery electrics If you make regular long distance trips using your battery electric consider going with a manufacture that has the infrastructure built into the car to enable DC fast charging. Beware though, not all fast charging systems are equal. Tesla is the best, with thousands of fast charging stations across the United States that will charge vehicles to near full in perhaps in a half hour. Supercharging as it is known is a mature system that is nearly everywhere you need it to be. On the other hand, General Motors equips its Chevrolet Bolt with a lower powered DC charging system that will have you waiting around at charging stations for more than an hour to gain 200 miles of range. If you travel often, look for DC fast charging support built into the car that will not inconvenience you. If the car is used primarily for commuting then perhaps the fast charge speed will be unimportant.

NEXT SECTION: Charging Technology

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Copyright 2018, Todd Clark