You have questions. We have answers!
Do plug-in vehicles emit electromagnetic radiation?
Data suggest there are no harmful electromagnetic emissions from plug-in cars. There is no broad agreement in the United States over what level of exposure to electromagnetic fields may constitute a health hazard, and there are no federal standards for allowable exposure levels. A National Institutes of Health report shows (on page 41) that electric cars and buses have lower electromagnetic fields than conventional gasoline cars, similar to findings reported in a 1999 study by the U.S. Department of Energy.
*Editor’s note: some of the above, linked documents seem to be unavailable. We are working on updating these links
Do electric cars catch fire more than gas-powered vehicles?
Not at all. Statistics don’t bear that out. Based on the best information available, electric cars pose no greater risk of catching fire than gas-powered vehicles. In fact, electric cars are likely to be less dangerous in terms of fire risk than gas-powered cars, according to the most conclusive and recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The federal report states:
“Regarding the risk of electrochemical failure, the report concludes that the propensity and severity of fires and explosions from the accidental ignition of flammable electrolytic solvents used in Li-ion battery systems are anticipated to be somewhat comparable to or perhaps slightly less than those for gasoline or diesel vehicular fuels. The overall consequences for Li-ion batteries are expected to be less because of the much smaller amounts of flammable solvent released and burning in a catastrophic failure situation.”
While electric vehicle fires have captured the headlines, the vast majority of highway vehicle fires are in gas-powered cars, even when correcting for the relative numbers on the road. According to FEMA, from 2014-2016, when less than 1-percent of cars on the road were plug-in electric, “an estimated 171,500 highway vehicle fires occurred in the United States, resulting in an annual average of 345 deaths; 1,300 injuries; and $1.1 billion in property loss. These highway vehicle fires accounted for 13 percent of fires responded to by fire departments across the nation.”
That’s an average of 469 vehicle fires a day, before electric cars were at all common on the road.
What about hydrogen cars?
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are another alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles but are less than half as efficient as electric vehicles (EVs). Most hydrogen is extracted from natural gas, which, when processed, emits carbon dioxide and methane, according to a 2021 study. Thus, it creates far more greenhouse gas emissions than electricity. FCVs have some engineering challenges to overcome before they will be widely available in the light-duty passenger vehicle market; these include vehicle cost, hydrogen cost, hydrogen storage and delivery, and competition with other technologies such as EVs. The electrical grid already exists for plug-in vehicles, and current trends show that plug-in vehicles are quickly becoming the dominant alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles. As of 2021, 10,000 fuel cell vehicles have been sold in the U.S., compared to more than 1.5 million EVs.
Does it make sense to put solar panels or wind turbines on an EV?
Putting solar photovoltaics (PV) directly on EVs would be nice but likely not adequate. Most solar panels would add too much weight. Some newer, lighter, and flexible PV technology could generate power for interior climate control or minor tasks, but not enough to power a car a significant distance. Furthermore, cars are often parked in garages or under carports, where sunlight won’t reach.
Likewise, windmills on EVs don’t make sense. The drag they create reduces efficiency, necessitating more energy to run the car. However, EVs can be charged with electricity that is generated from solar panels and wind turbines.
What about putting stationary solar panels on your house or business? That is a great idea. Fixed panels can be set up so that they’re not obstucted, and angled optimally to the sun. And fixed wind turbines can work wonderfully as well.
Can I charge a plug-in car with solar or wind power?
The cleaner the power, the cleaner the car. Using solar photovoltaics (PV) at your home or business makes even more sense with a plug-in car. The investment in solar panels pays off faster when the solar power is not only replacing grid electricity but also replacing much more expensive gasoline. EVs typically can travel 3-4 miles (or more) per kWh of electricity. If you drive 12,000 miles per year, you will need 3,000-4,000 kWh. Depending on where you live, you will need a 1.5kW-3kW PV system to generate that much power using about 150-300 square feet of space on your roof. Utility credits for the energy generated from solar panels during the day can offset the cost of charging the car at night. If solar PV isn’t feasible at your home, find out if your utility offers a green energy option.
To find a solar installer in your area to provide a free quote on the cost of going solar, see The Solar Nerd.
Will plug-in cars lead to more coal and nuclear power plants?
No. The existing electric grid’s off-peak capacity for power generation is sufficient to power 73 percent of commutes to and from work by cars, light trucks, SUVs, and vans without building a single new power plant, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The existing nighttime electricity could also be stored in plug-in vehicles and retrieved during peak-demand hours through vehicle-to-grid technology for use by the grid, helping to meet society’s daytime power needs. The U.S. power grid is also getting cleaner every year as affordable renewable energy continues to replace coal plants.
What about overall emissions, including the car and the power plant?
Even today, with about 22% of electricity in the U.S. coming from dirty coal plants, plug-in cars reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and most other pollutants compared with other vehicle types. You don’t need to take our word for it — read the emissions summary of more than 40 studies, analyses, and presentations on this topic. The Union of Concerned Scientists report, Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave, also demonstrates that EVs are cleaner than gas cars. EVs also allow you to use 100 percent clean, renewable electricity from sources such as the sun or wind, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions entirely. EVs get cleaner as the electric grid gets cleaner – gas cars only get dirtier.
Can electric car batteries be recycled? Are electric car batteries bad for the environment?
While electric car batteries can be recycled for their raw materials, the market for their direct reuse is rapidly growing, eliminating the need for recycling. In fact, used EV batteries have the potential to provide valuable services to the electric grid. A battery considered to be too degraded for electric vehicle use still has about 75 – 80% of its capacity and can be used for home energy storage or for energy storage applications and grid support.
A 2019 analysis by McKinsey Center for Future Mobility found that reused electric car batteries could replace more expensive gas-powered turbines, allowing utilities more flexibility in how they sell their power.
Hyundai is developing a 1-megawatt-hour energy storage system that is made of used battery packs from its electric cars. BMW is recycling electric car batteries to connect to the UK National Grid.
These pilot projects for electric car battery recycling are proving the value of the EV battery packs after their useful lives on the road. By repurposing electric car batteries for grid, industrial, and home storage, these batteries can continue to support the integration of intermittent solar and wind generating resources, while making the electric grid more efficient and making energy more affordable for all customers.
If reuse is not an option for a particular battery, the majority of the components can be recycled. Lithium, the most abundant material in a lithium-ion battery, is in high demand for laptops and phones and other electronic goods, and a robust market for recycled lithium already exists.
Are electric cars really better for the environment?
Electric cars are better for the environment and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wherever they are charged, and however the electricity is produced.
When considering the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are cleaner and greener than their conventional fossil fuel-burning counterparts. While it is true that building an electric car may produce more emissions than a conventional car, mostly due to the energy intensity of battery production, these emissions are dwarfed by those saved over the driving life of the EV. In fact, they are offset in most cases in the first year of driving by emissions reductions from normal operation and use of the vehicle. The evidence has been revealed in a number of rigorous studies.
A life cycle analysis conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that “the average EV in the U.S. produces less global warming emissions than the average gasoline vehicle. The peer-reviewed literature largely agrees: EVs produce more pollution than gas vehicles in the production of the vehicle, but then save emissions while driving which results in a net savings within the first couple years of driving.”
Every year that the electric grid reduces its reliance on coal power, the relative emissions for EVs are even lower. This handy tool from UCS will show you the respective greenhouse gas emissions of various EV models in any location throughout the country.
This is echoed by conclusive research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which found that in 2018, carbon dioxide emissions from battery-powered vehicles were about 40 percent lower than for internal combustion engines last year. Even in regions with electric grids most reliant on coal, such as China, EVs were responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Another 2018 well-to-wheel analysis by Wood Mackenzie confirmed the UCS research, finding that a typical mid-size EV will generate up to 67% lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than a gasoline internal combustion engine. Even with existing electricity generation mix in developing economies such as China and India, “an EV will displace up to half the GHG emissions of an ICE gasoline car.”
- UCS: “Are Electric Vehicles Really Better for the Climate? Yes. Here’s Why”
- Bloomberg: “Electric Cars Are Cleaner Even When Powered by Coal”
- UCS: “How Clean Is Your Electric Vehicle?”
- Wood Mackenzie: “EVs up to 67% less emissions intensive than ICE cars”
- Department of Energy: “Reducing Pollution with Electric Vehicles”
Incentives & Affordability
Are electric cars only for the rich?
No, electric cars are not only for the rich, and in fact there are dozens of models available for less than the average cost of a new car sold in the United States. There is also a rapidly growing used car market for electric vehicles, with many coming off of leases every year.
American car buyers could find at least 22 plug-in models that cost less than the average cost of a new car sold in the United States. According to data from Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for a new vehicle is up to $37,851, as of February 2020. The base price of at least 17 models of plug-in vehicles is already lower than that average new car cost, and that’s before including savings from the federal electric vehicle tax credit. Including the EV tax credit, 22 plug-in car models cost less than the average new car sold in the U.S.
The EV tax credit can also be used by the car dealer to lower the base price for a lease. This effectively lowers monthly lease payments into ranges that are comparable—or even lower than—comparable gas-powered vehicles.
On the used car markets, sellers have to “price in” the savings offered by the federal electric vehicle tax credit. Meanwhile, as the vast majority of EVs are leased, an increasing number of leased plug-ins hit the used car market every year, typically at prices well below their gas-powered counterparts.
As Consumer Reports stated back in 2018, “For car shoppers who are interested in trying out electric-vehicle technology but who don’t have Tesla money to spend, now is a great time to buy an emissions-free car for less than $15,000.”
Finally, EVs offer cost savings throughout the life of the vehicle, as they require far less service and maintenance, and are far cheaper to fuel. A 2020 study from Consumer Reports found that total ownership costs of EVs more than make up for any price differential at point of purchase. In other words, it’s cheaper to own/lease and operate an electric car than its gas-powered equivalent.
To find an EV that fits your family’s budget and lifestyle, visit Plug In America’s dedicated EV shopping site: PlugStar.com.
- InsideEVs, on why leases can’t be ignored and how they make EVs affordable to all income classes: “The Hill Contributor Claims Electric Car Tax Credits Benefit The ‘Elite’“
- PlugInCars.com: “Compare Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids By Features, Price, Range”
- Consumer Reports: “It’s a Great Time to Buy a Used Electric Vehicle”
- Guardian: “Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run, says study”
- Consumer Reports: “EVs Offer Big Savings Over Traditional Gas-Powered Cars”
Are electric cars cheaper to drive than gas-powered cars?
Electric cars are cheaper to fuel because electricity is significantly less expensive than gas. EVs also require far less service and maintenance, making them cheaper to drive than their gas-powered equivalents when factoring the total cost of drivership. An authoritative 2020 study from Consumer Reports found that total ownership costs of EVs more than make up for any price differential at point of purchase. In other words, yes, it’s cheaper to own/lease and operate an electric car than its gas-powered equivalent.
Consumer Reports found that typical total ownership savings over the life of most EVs ranges from $6,000 to $10,000, with the exact margin of savings depending mostly on the price difference between the EV and the most closely comparable gas-powered car.
The consumer watchdog group found the following typical savings in operation costs:
- Fuel savings: “A typical EV owner who does most of their fueling at home can expect to save an average of $800 to $1,000 a year on fueling costs over an equivalent gasoline-powered car.”
- Maintenance and repair: “Maintenance and repair costs for EVs are significantly lower over the life of the vehicle—about half—than for gasoline-powered vehicles, which require regular fluid changes and are more mechanically complex. The average dollar savings over the lifetime of the vehicle is about $4,600.”
- Depreciation: All cars depreciate, but EVs depreciate less quickly than fossil fuel cars. “Newer long-range EVs are holding their value as well as or better than their traditional gasoline-powered counterparts as most new models now can be relied on to travel more than 200 miles on a single full charge. As with traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, not all EVs will lose value at the same rate as they age. Class, features, and the reputation of the vehicle’s manufacturer all have an impact on depreciation.”
What is the electric vehicle tax credit?
The electric car tax credit is an incentive created by Congress with bipartisan support during the George W. Bush administration to support the purchase of electric vehicles. It can be claimed on individual tax returns the year the car was purchased, or alternatively can be claimed by the car dealer in order to lower the monthly cost of a leased plug-in vehicle.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “All-electric and plug-in hybrid cars purchased new in or after 2010 may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500.” The value of the tax credit varies depending on battery size and starts to phase out to zero over time after each respective manufacturer sells a certain number of plug-in vehicles. *To find the value of the tax credit for each plug-in vehicle on the market today, see FuelEconomy.gov.
Though these are often portrayed as subsidies, Congress defined the tax credit as a tax incentive. Certain states offer rebates as an added incentive, while many others offer their own additional tax credits to be processed on state tax returns.
To utilize the federal EV tax credit, see IRS Form 8936.
Many state and local governments and utilities also offer a variety of EV incentives, including rebates on your vehicle and/or charging station, discounted electric rates, and carpool lane access. To find additional incentives in your area, visit PlugStar.com/incentives. We also recommend contacting your electric utility to see if they offer additional incentives.
- U.S. Department of Energy: “Federal Tax Credits for New All-Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles”
- CreditKarma: “How do electric car tax credits work?”
- KochvsClean: “The Electric Car Tax Credit Benefits Drivers of All Income Levels”
Which electric vehicles can tow?
As of February 2020, the only fully electric vehicles that are recommended for towing are the Tesla Model X and Audi e-tron. There are larger plug-in hybrids that may fit your needs, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, and Range Rover PHEV.
With more electric trucks and SUVs launching in the next one to two years, additional options for towing will soon be available.
Is the quiet nature of electric vehicles a hazard?
Electric vehicles aren’t silent, and at parking-lot speeds they make as much noise from various fans, pumps, and tire noise as most modern internal-combustion engine vehicles. At high speeds, the wind and tire noise is comparable to any car.
Can electric cars drive far enough to be practical?
Most new electric cars have a range of 200-400 miles and this is quickly growing. Very few drivers travel this far on a daily basis and most EV drivers plug in their car overnight, allowing you to wake up to a full battery each morning. For the infrequent occasions when a long-distance drive is needed, the drive can be done with DC fast charging along freeways, a second car that is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), by access to vehicles in car-share services, or by renting or borrowing another vehicle.
Are electric cars better to drive?
Many electric car drivers will report that they offer a more enjoyable driving experience, due to the smooth, quiet ride and instant acceleration. While this is subjective, we can get a clear picture from surveys and polls of EV drivers.
In 2020, AAA surveyed drivers of plug-in cars and asked about their experience and perceptions of driving electric. Their findings reveal drivers who are very happy with electric cars:
- Three quarters (78%) also have a gas-powered car in the household, yet they report doing a majority of their driving (87%) in their electric vehicle.
- The majority (96%) say they would buy or lease another electric vehicle the next time they were in the market for a new car.
- Two in five (43%) say they drive more now than when they owned a gas-powered car. On average, electric vehicle owners drive 39 miles per day.
These results affirm the findings of a 2019 study by IHS Markit, which found increasing EV loyalty rates as more models with longer ranges hit the marketplace.
How long will electric car batteries last?
Most Lithium-Ion batteries in electric cars are warranted for at least 8 years and 100,000 miles, but they can last even longer depending on driving and charging habits, as much as 10-15 years or more. In fact, some electric car batteries on the road today can already last up to 200,000 and even 500,000 miles, according to Coltura.
Battery degradation is a natural process in any batteries, including those that power vehicles. Degradation permanently reduces the amount of energy a battery can store, or the amount of power it can deliver. The batteries in EVs can generally deliver more power than the powertrain components can handle, so degradation is rarely observable in the driving performance of EVs, but it can impact how much energy can be stored, which directly affects range.
When the time does come to replace an EV battery, they will be much cheaper than they are today. Battery costs dropped 80% from 2010-2019, and are expected to continue to get cheaper.
Are plug-in vehicles reliable?
Though they are still relatively new to the market and buyers have suspicions, electric cars are actually proving to be more reliable than gas-powered vehicles. There is one clear reason why: the drivetrain of a typical gas-powered car has about 200 moving parts, while an electric car has about 20 moving parts. Fewer moving parts means fewer opportunities for things to break down and need repair. An EV has an electric motor instead of an engine; it doesn’t have a transmission system or an exhaust system; it doesn’t require oil or any mechanical fluids.
Electric cars thus require much less maintenance and rarely require service. Tires will still have to be rotated, brake pads replaced, and windshield washer fluid refilled. But other than that, EVs require very little service. The majority of problems that EV drivers face are with technological systems like keyless entry and touchscreens—all issues that new model gas-powered cars deal with as well.
- Consumer Reports: Your EV Questions, Answered
Will DC fast charging degrade my battery faster?
DC fast charging is slightly more taxing on an EV battery than level 1 (120-volt) or level 2 (240-volt). While all batteries experience some degradation over time, using DC fast charging in moderation is unlikely to have noticeable negative effects on your battery.
Is plugging in a hassle?
Not at all – it takes less than five seconds, and there’s no going out of your way to a gas station, jockeying for a pump, and getting toxic gasoline on your hands. You can charge anywhere there is an electric outlet. Most EV drivers plug in when they get home.
How do I get a Level 2 charging station installed?
On PlugStar.com/chargers, you can compare charging stations and links to sites where you can purchase. Once you find a charger that best fits your needs, we recommend contracting a licensed electrician to install your charging station.
The licensed electrician will need the model number of your charger and the plug type. This will let the electrician know what amperage panel needs to be installed, to support the power requirements of your charger. Chargers deliver a high level of electricity for many continuous hours every day. Therefore, it is extremely important that it is installed correctly.
Many utilities and state/local governments offer incentives for installing charging stations. Visit PlugStar.com/incentives or contact your local electric utility for more information.
How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle?
The cost to charge an electric car is significantly less than the cost to refuel a gas-powered car. Generally speaking, powering a car with electricity costs the rough equivalent of paying $1/gallon for gasoline in a conventional car with average gas mileage.
According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center:
The fuel efficiency of an EV may be measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 miles. To calculate the cost per mile of an EV, the cost of electricity (in dollars per kWh) and the efficiency of the vehicle (how much electricity is used to travel 100 miles) must be known. If electricity costs $0.13 per kWh and the vehicle consumes 33 kWh to travel 100 miles, the cost per mile is about $0.04. If electricity costs $0.13 per kilowatt-hour, charging an EV with a 200-mile range (assuming a fully depleted 66 kWh battery) will cost about $9 to reach a full charge.
Using a public fast-charger will generally be more expensive because the short time to deliver the charge requires very special equipment. Charging an electric car at home is typically the most affordable option, and costs can drop even more if a customer’s electric utility offers special low overnight charging rates or charging which the utility can curtail for demand response programs.
How long does it take to charge an electric vehicle?
The vast majority of EV charging is done at home, overnight, just like your cell phone, which makes the speed of charging largely irrelevant. That said, there are also tens of thousands of public charging stations across the country, with more being added every day. Many of these are at stores or restaurants, so you can charge while shopping or dining.
There are a few different factors that determine how long it takes to charge an electric car. To be more technical, the time to full recharge depends on:
- The model of the vehicle and how big the battery pack is
- The type and “level” of charging station
- How much charge is left in the battery when it is plugged in
- The ambient temperature
All told, common electric cars on the market today can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a full day to recharge a fully drained battery—the fastest times delivered by a “Level 3” or “DC Fast Charger” and the slowest by plugging directly into a 120-volt outlet in the wall. (Yes, the same kind you’d plug your cell phone into.)
Gasoline car drivers are used to going to a gas station when their tank is low and filling it up. Because most EV charging is done overnight, though, many drivers will just get a boost from public charging to get them to their next destination, rather than charging to 100%.
- Car and Driver: How Long Does It Take to Power an Electric Vehicle?
- Clipper Creek: Electric Vehicle Range Charging Chart
How and where do you recharge an electric car?
The majority of EV drivers charge their cars overnight at home in a garage, carport, or driveway. Many take advantage of workplace chargers. There are many public chargers available — and the number is growing every month – but in practice, studies have found that only 5% of EV charging is done at public charging stations. Find a public EV charging station here.
There are three types or “levels” of EV charging. Learn about the levels of EV charging in this guide.
Electric Vehicle Basics
What is an electric vehicle (EV)?
An electric vehicle is any vehicle that can drive on electricity derived from a power plug. There are two types of EVs:
- An all-electric vehicle (sometimes called a battery electric vehicle or BEV) drives solely on power from the plug.
- A plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) takes both electricity from plugging in and gasoline. Usually, they run on electricity first, then gasoline. That way, you can do the majority of daily trips on electricity and use gasoline for longer trips.
A traditional hybrid vehicle converts gasoline into electricity and does not have a plug.