8 Things You Need To Know About Electric Cars
First I had to become an “electric car guy.” But in the end I found a bargain.
After years of being hybrid-curious and months of homework, I finally bought an electric car.
I was intrigued by the idea of reducing my second car payment at the pump.
But at first I found the electric car shopping experience frustrating because I didn’t know any of the EV (electric vehicle) lingo.
Looking back, I wish someone had explained some basic things in normal (non-car guy) language at the beginning of the entire process.
So today that’s what I’m doing. Here I will share eight essential things you need to know before buying an electric car.
This is what I’ll cover:
- Acronym Glossary — ICE vs EV vs PHEV? MPG vs MPGe?
- MPGe- the confusing term holding back an entire industry and how I work around it.
- How I convert MPG to dollars.
- How much it costs to charge an electric car at home.
- How to find electric car charging stations near me.
- How do electric car tax credits work in 2020?
- Which EV I decided gave me the best bang for my buck, and my second pick.
- Prepare for the coming tidal wave of EV cars.
In the end, I hope to provide the value of an industry outsider’s unbiased perspective to anyone interested in the electric car market.
Allow me to break the ICE.
1 — Acronyms, aka, WTF is MPGe?
In general, I notice a strong sense of confusion surrounding the electric car market. In my opinion, about 50% of the confusion results from the lingo.
In truth, I think people create acronyms to make themselves sound important. Said another way, it’s confusing on purpose.
Here’s a glossary of common electric vehicle acronyms:
- ICE- Internal combustion engine. This is a fancy way of saying “normal car” that runs only on gasoline.
- EV- Electric Vehicle. General term used to describe all cars that plug in to an electric socket.
- Fully electric vehicle- A car that runs entirely on electricity. No gasoline whatsoever. For example, a Tesla 3, Chevy Bolt, or Nissan Leaf. For me, after price, the biggest concern over “fully electric” is range (how far you can drive on one battery charge).
- Hybrid- A car that reuses the energy created whenever you brake along with a regular gasoline engine to make the car go. The industry calls this the Atkinson cycle. Whatever, this is what a Toyota Prius is.
- PHEV- Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Cars that are hybrids, but then also plug-in. The plug-in electric capability typically provides 10–30 miles of gasoline free driving. The PHEV is like a hybrid on steroids and all the big carmakers have them. We’ll talk about prices in a moment.
- kWh- Kilowatt hour. This is how you measure electricity, sorta like a gallon.
- MPG- Miles per gallon. How many miles do you drive per gallon of gas. Bellow 20 mpg is a gas guzzler. Most mid-sized SUVs with an ICE engine will get low-to-mid 20’s. Most ICE cars will get MPG in the upper 20’s to mid 30’s. Hybrid cars see MPG in the 40’s and sometimes 50’s.
- MPGe- Miles per gallon plus the electric portion of your trip. MPGe involves calculating your energy bill at your house at 33.7 kilowatts per hour per 100 miles and factoring that into your MPG.
2 — MPGe is still confusing, and it hurts the entire PHEV industry
I find MPGe confusing, even after I try really hard and concentrate. So instead, I found a way to understand EV fuel economy in regular terms.
Here’s the problem:
Along with being an odd math problem — most online MPGe articles originate in the UK. Subsequently, although an article will appear helpful at first, you’ll realize eventually that it’s useless.
This is due to the fact that when the author finally discusses MPGe, it will be in terms of kilometers and British pounds — not miles and dollars.
Who has time to convert the metric system when they’re car shopping? Honestly, the confusion about MPGe alone has set back electric cars by five years.
Fuelly.com — how I work around MPGe
So instead of dealing with the metric system, I use a website called Fuelly.com to give me data I can understand.
In brief, fuelly.com has MPG of every vehicle you can imagine. It compiles this information by open-sourcing the data collection to real people. Users upload their real life MPG each time the fuel up. In turn, you get reliable, real life MPG data because it’s an average of an average.
For example, when you look up the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi Hybrids, the fueleconomy.gov website reports an MPGe of 88, and a MPG of 37. That’s basically useless information.
Meanwhile, Fuelly.com reports the same car gets an MPG of 47.9. That information is based on 69 drivers who tracked 689,025 miles and 1,393 fuel-ups.
Just look up your vehicle MPG on Fuelly and move on to the next step.
3 — How I calculated the money I’d save on gas by buying a PHEV
Now that you have your MPG, it’s time to get an idea of how much cash you’ll save at the pump with an electric car.
- Reset your odometer to zero, and track how many miles you drive in one week.
- Or — add up the miles you drive in a typical week using google maps. Start at home on a typical Monday and add each stop you make before getting home. Repeat that process for the rest of a typical week. This doesn’t need to be super precise, a ballpark number is fine. (My week came out to 600 miles.)
- Then, divide your weekly miles by your current car’s MPG. This will give you how many gallons of gas you use per week. My KIA Optima averaged 30 MPG, which translates to 600 miles /30 mpg= 20 gallons per week.
- Multiply your gallons per week, by the approximate cost of gas $2.50. For me 20 gallons per week x $2.50= roughly $50 per wk on gas for the KIA Optima.
- Do the same math with the MPG Fuelly provided for the Fusion Energi. 600/48mpg =12.5 gallons per week x $2.50 = $31.25 per wk on gas for the Fusion Energi.
Obviously, this isn’t an exact science. But by crunching some quick numbers I realized I could save about $20 a week on gas. To think about it another way, those numbers extend out to $80–100 saved a month or about $1040 saved at the pump per year. For me, this formula gave me some quick information to help me decide on a car.
4 — How much does it cost to charge an electric car at home?
Now that you know approximately how much you’ll save at the pump, factor in the cost of electricity to charge it at home. Unfortunately, this involves another equation that will make your eyes roll.
That’s because it depends on the size of your battery and energy prices in your state.
Here’s how I approached it. The battery in the fusion energi holds 7.6 kilowatt hours. The cost of energy in my state is $.13 per kilowatt hour. Thus, 7.6 x .13= $.98.
Consequently, it costs $1 a day to charge which translates as $1040–365= or about $675 Total Annual Savings.
That’s still a nice chunk of money saved.
5 — How to find electric car charging stations near me?
There are a number of apps that use GPS to provide charger stations for electric vehicles near me. These include pay stations for Teslas, free charging stations for everything else, as well as free wall sockets (usually at gas stations).
I prefer the PlugShare app for two reasons:
- It’s free and easy to use.
- It shows you the specific type of plug available at each charging location.
I’ve used a free charging station, called a juice box, only once. All I had to do was pull in and plug — no questions asked. The outlet was a 240V outlet, but I only had ten minutes. Nevertheless, those ten minutes gave me enough battery juice for one free mile of travel.
And going forward, I can see how I can alter my behavior slightly in order to utilize these juice boxes more often when I’m out and about. For example, I can envision new jogging routes based on charging locations.
6 — 2020 tax credits for electric vehicles
When it comes to 2020 EV tax credits, the short version is that each vehicle is different, and don’t expect to get $7,500. The tax credit for each vehicle is based on several factors like battery size and whether it is an EV, PHEV or Hybrid.
That said, here is a good website listing 2020 tax credits for each vehicle.
In general the number one thing to remember about EV tax credits is this:
- You only get an EV tax credit when you buy a brand new car.
It doesn’t matter if the car has 223 miles on it. If you are the second owner, you do not get the tax credit. If you’re in the used electric car market, the tax credit won’t factor into your decision.
7 — What factors in an EV, PHEV or hybrid I feel give me the best bang for my buck?
I prefer the cars.com app for the purpose of searching cars on the internet. During the course of looking at cars online, you can build a sense of the market. I.e. you can identify a good deal when you see it.
By the time my process was complete I had found a used 2013 Ford Fusion Energi Hybrid with 67,000 miles on it, listed for less than $10,000. I chose this car because it combined several factors:
- It’s no Aston-Martin, but the Fusion looks like a real car, and isn’t ugly like a Prius.
- I should save about $675/ year on gas. $56 a month ain’t bad.
- I was able to get a car with 130,000 fewer miles, meaning less maintenance work. More money saved.
- I was able to get a purchase price under $10K, which is five to eight thousand dollars cheaper than a PHEV Hyundai Sonata, PHEV KIA Optima or Audi A3 PHEV e-tron, or low-mileage Prius.
- The carfax report showed a well-maintained vehicle, and one owner. Always check the carfax. Avoid rebuilt titles and most accidents. There’s a clean carfax car out there, just keep looking.
- Lastly, buying an EV makes me feel like I’m making a small contribution to reducing fossil fuel emissions, and voting with my pocketbook.
Another sneaky PHEV choice
The other PHEV I have been looking at very closely is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Evidently this is a completely overlooked vehicle, but I’m intrigued by a few things:
- The Outlander is the only SUV that is PHEV offered today with 4x4 wheel drive, other than a Volvo which costs 2x the price.
- Because we live in a semi-rural area in the midwest, we do a lot of highway driving. Once in a while, on the day of a winter storm, we are really really grateful our second car has 4-wheel drive. The rest of the time, I gnash my teeth over its fuel bill.
- Thus, the ~45 mpg of the Outalnder PHEV is very intriguing.
- Specifically, it gets 25 miles of electric range. To say it another way, that means my wife could do ~80% of her driving completely gas-free.
- Another key point is that you find them priced in the mid-$20K range. I read somewhere that Outlander PHEV’s sell for $10K more in Europe than they do in the states. Essentially, they’re cheap because Mitsubishi has a branding issue in the US.
- Low miles. Because the Outlander PHEV just hit US shores in 2018, the used versions you will find typically have really low miles.
- I can’t believe shit like this gets me excited now that I’m middle aged.
That said, the only reason we haven’t pulled the trigger on an Outlander PHEV is that it doesn’t have a third row, which doesn’t suit our family size.
Parting thought — Prepare for the tidal wave of electric cars coming to a dealer near you
In general, most people thing car shopping are a pain in the ass. In total, I’ve bought seven used cars in my life. Each time the process was a little intimidating, but for different reasons.
The first time around I was worried about pushy sales guys. This time, I had to push through all the lingo and figure out how to crunch usable numbers.
Altogether, I hope my experience offers some valuable insight into the electric car market. Because get ready — the EV market is about to explode in 2020.
At this point we think we know our stuff when it comes to the Tesla cyber truck, Audi e-Tron, and the Prius Prime. But electric cars are coming out of the woodwork from companies you’ve never heard of before: Pininfarina, Rivian, Canoo, Mullen, Scoot, Skoda, Solo, Polestar, Lotus and Nio.
Those vehicles will be matched by more and more EVs and PHEVs from the big-name automakers leading the charge like BMW, Volkswagon, KIA, Honda, Hyundai, Ford and Chevy.
Granted, a new electric car comes with a premium price tag. But ultimately, I think the key take away is that more and more affordable EVs will be showing up in used car lots.
I say take advantage — and avoid the dreaded second car payment at the pump.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out my other articles and essays