Transportation As Climate Action Group:
To support and lead the community in fostering solutions to our climate emergency through transportation options, alternatives, and actions.
Battery Electric Vehicle FAQ
These terms can be confusing. Let’s sort them out this way:
Battery Electric vehicles, commonly called BEVs, are just what they sound like. All their power comes from a large battery pack, which is recharged by plugging into an electrical power source.
Plug-in Hybrids have a combustion (usually gasoline) engine, plus a smaller but sizable battery that can be recharged by plugging into a power source. The battery is large enough to power the car for twenty to fifty miles by itself. When the battery doesn't have enough remaining charge to power the car, it runs on the gasoline engine like a conventional hybrid.
Conventional Hybrid vehicles have a gasoline engine and a small battery that helps out the engine, but isn't large enough to power the car on its own. The battery in these vehicles can't be plugged in; it can only be recharged by running the engine and/or through regenerative braking. (BEVs and PHEVs also gain some energy this way – putting some of the energy that would be lost as heat in slowing the car with standard brakes into the battery, and then using it again later to help move the car.)
Actually, the earliest cars were electric, but early twentieth century batteries wouldn’t take them very far on a charge. Thanks to lithium ion batteries, EVs have made their way back into the marketplace over the last decade. What’s more, there are only about 20 moving parts on an EV while there are around 2,000 on a gas vehicle! We are accustomed to things breaking on a gas vehicle, necessitating a trip to a mechanic. There is much less to break and maintain on an EV!
Right now, a new EV does cost more to buy than a comparable gasoline car, although state and federal tax incentives can offset much if not all of this price difference. However, EV operating costs are far less. The per mile cost to recharge an EV is about one-third that of refueling a gas car. Predicted maintenance costs are far less. Remember how few moving parts an EV has? No oil changes, antifreeze, or engine repairs; no new mufflers to buy. A recent Consumer Reports article estimates that savings over the lifetime of the vehicle range from $6,000-$10,000, roughly half the anticipated maintenance cost of an internal combustion vehicle.
All batteries slowly lose their storage capacity over time, which is why federal regulations require manufacturers to warranty battery performance for at least 100,000 miles or eight years. Many manufacturers offer even longer warranties. Thanks to technological advances, batteries will continue to last longer, cost less, charge faster, and shrink in size and weight.
Battery-electric cars don't pay the gas taxes used to build and maintain our highways. Instead, EVs pay an extra annual fee of $150 in Washington State. (They also pay an extra $75 that goes to fund the development of EV infrastructure like high speed charging along the interstate highways.) If you drive your EV quite a bit, the $150 fee will be less than what you would have paid in gas taxes. If you don't drive much, you'll be paying more. As electric vehicles become more common, the state is considering moving toward some form of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) fee, starting with electric vehicles, to raise transportation revenue in place of the gas tax or EV fees.
It may not be necessary. Many people charge with a regular 110 volt outlet using the cord that comes with the car. Some people can charge at work. If you’d prefer to charge faster at home using a 220 volt outlet (such as the one used by electric clothes dryers), the cost will depend on a number of factors. If you have an existing 220v outlet, a basic charging cable and plug that hangs on the wall in your garage can cost less than $300.
Whether you’re using an existing outlet or installing a new one, check to make sure your electrical panel can provide enough current (amps) to charge efficiently. Having an electrician install a new 220v circuit in a relatively new house might cost $500-$600.
Just like a gas gauge, an instrument panel provides an up-to-date estimate of your remaining range. Running out of battery power is about as likely as running out of gas with a gas-powered vehicle, maybe less so because the instrument panel measures variables that will affect your range, including speed, terrain, and weather.
The car's navigation software and a variety of websites and smartphone apps locate chargers for you, including the 440v DC fast chargers along highway corridors and at major commercial centers. These will usually restore 80% of your car’s range in less than an hour. Some chargers are free, but most require a payment. Crowd-sourced PlugShare is the most comprehensive and accurate website and app for finding chargers while you’re traveling.
There are three different kinds of fast chargers: Tesla, CHAdeMo (used by Japanese manufacturers such as Nissan and Mitsubishi), and CCS (Combined Charging System, used by most American and European manufacturers). Tesla's charging network will only work with their cars, though Tesla owners can adapt their charger to work with CHAdeMO chargers. Tesla is also working on an adapter for CCS. Nearly all up-to-date fast chargers offer both CHAdeMO and CCS, much like regular gas and diesel being dispensed at the same pump.
Fully charging a typical EV with a battery capacity of 35-40 kWh costs about $10 at a public charger. Charging networks vary in how they bill customers; some have a one-time access charge while others charge by how long you’re at the charger. Most now charge you just for the actual energy you use. Nearly all charging stations allow you to use regular credit and debit cards like a gas pump.
Just as with a gasoline vehicle, your driving range will vary depending upon speed, terrain, weather, and the capacity of your batteries. The instrument panel measures these variables and provides an up-to-date estimate of your remaining range.
You can read about one EV owner’s recent round trip visit to the Bay Area.
Very little; rotate the tires, occasionally check fluid levels (battery coolant, power brakes, power steering, windshield wiper fluid), clean leaves out of air vents, replace windshield wipers. That’s it!
In our area, Puget Sound Energy relies on renewable energy sources, primarily hydroelectric and wind power, to meet nearly half of consumer demand. PSE will be coal-free by 2025, and completely fossil fuel-free by 2045. Right now, you’d need to get 100 mpg on a gas engine car to equal the efficiency of an EV.
Think about your actual driving needs. Many current EVs go well over 200 miles between charges. If you can recharge at home, in your garage or driveway, “refueling” is simple and cheap. If your driving habits include longer trips, consider whether stopping at a public charging station would meet your needs - or occasionally renting a conventional car if you’ll be traveling in areas where chargers are still being installed.
If you are still in a 2-car household, having one EV and one gas or hybrid vehicle can work great. Even an EV with a fairly short range could meet most of your needs daily needs and lower your maintenance and fuel costs
No! EVs are required to have the same safety features as conventional cars. Modern EVs aren’t glorified golf carts; they are serious, well-designed, roadworthy vehicles. There’s no leaking gasoline in the event of a serious crash, either.
Absolutely not! Electric vehicles go through the same rigorous testing process as gas vehicles before they’re made available to buyers, and are just as watertight and safe as any gas car in wet conditions, be it a car wash, torrential rains, or snowstorm.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, the power source for most battery electric vehicles, can be flammable if abused. They contain a liquid electrolyte that stores energy and can overheat and combust with prolonged exposure to the wrong conditions. These power cells are also subject to short-circuiting if they are damaged, and those short-circuits can result in fires if the proper safety precautions are not in place. However, when compared to the flammability of gasoline, Li-ion batteries pose a far lower risk of fire or explosion
If you're interested in more details about these or other current plug-in cars, here are a few websites that let you compare them in a variety of helpful ways.
Plug-In America’s Shopping Assistant asks some questions about how you’d use a car, and then gives you information about suitable options and an estimate of the costs for acquiring each of them with cash, a loan, or a lease.
The Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicle Guide has less information about pricing (just the manufacturer’s suggested retail price minus available incentives), but it provides estimates for savings in fuel and fuel costs, and for emissions reductions.
The Costco Auto site shows you current manufacturers’ incentives and loan offers.
The Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center’s Vehicle Cost Calculator lets you get closer to genuinely local estimates and conveniently compare vehicles in a variety of ways.