It’s not easy being green. Why EVs have a long road to replace gas vehicles

electric car plugged in
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Electric vehicles (EVs) are all the rage. Nearly every major worldwide automaker is either developing or selling an all-electric model these days — and consumers are increasingly warming to the idea of an EV in their driveway. Once only a status symbol for the super rich thanks to their lofty price tags, falling prices and more efficient mass production are bringing prices down.

While our switch to electric mobility seems all but imminent, it’s time to pump the breaks a little. EVs do have both their advantages and disadvantages when compared to traditional cars. Understanding these before you take the plunge might save you some headaches and regret later.

After all, they still aren’t cheap.

Pro: They’re cheaper to maintain

While you certainly won’t save on the front end at the time of purchase, over the long term you’ll actually spend less. Even driving a fuel-efficient vehicle still runs you somewhere between $1,200 to as much as $2,000 a year depending on gas costs. Compare this with an EV, which costs about $600 a year to keep charged for that same driving distance.

Oil changes, fluid flushes, and the like are no longer necessary.

While some of the mechanical parts inside the vehicle are far more expensive and costly to repair, the number of parts in your car is less (namely a motor with one moving part), meaning less opportunity for mechanical failure. The regular maintenance that you need to keep your gas-powered engine running smoothly — oil changes, fluid flushes, and the like — are no longer necessary. The biggest expense in these vehicles is the eventual need for battery replacement. You should still get as much mileage out of your EV as you would before an engine would fail in a gas powered car, if not more, however.

Con: Finding electricity, and generating enough of it

While spots to plug in have become more numerous (especially over the past two to three years), the availability of charging stations is still lacking in many areas. Tesla has spent billions on its own network and still doesn’t have enough, forcing them to limit the time customers can charge in a single stop at its Superchargers. Other third-party providers are stepping up in the meantime, but demand seems to be outpacing supply.

Electrify America charging stations

If there are not many charging stations nearby, you’ll want to add a plug at home. That’s not a simple job however, as your vehicle requires  220V power to charge quickly and efficiently. Rewiring your home for this may run into the thousands of dollars — adding to your already high startup costs.

There’s another issue that EVs will have to reckon with sooner or later: electricity generation itself. Last year, analysts began to warn that the potential added electricity use by EVs could strain the power grids in some areas if action isn’t taken to increase generation capacity. But it will probably be 5-10 years down the road (if not longer) before this becomes an issue.

Pro: They’re quiet and quick

Ever been in an electric vehicle? It’s a completely different experience. The lack of any engine noise — just wind and road noise — might take some getting used to. Some, like Jaguar, have even added some fake motor noise to make the car sound more traditional from the inside.

Those who appreciate more spirited driving will undoubtedly find an EV very fun to take 0-60.

Either way, they’re quick. Put your foot on the accelerator and the car will take off faster than any gas-powered car on the road. That’s because all of the torque is available immediately to the wheels. Those who appreciate more spirited driving will undoubtedly find an EV very fun to take 0-60.

Con: The fun doesn’t last long

While it might be fun to launch your EV off the line and really put it through its paces, you’ll also significantly limit your range. In everyday driving, the most affordable EVs might offer as little as 150-250 miles of range (especially older models). To get the longer ranges more comparable to a gas-powered vehicle, you’ll spend considerably more. Even then though, the best cars still get ranges typical of an average gasoline tank.

This means you might spend a good deal more time planning out your routes rather than just throwing an address into your GPS and getting on your way. If your route’s long enough, you’ll need to factor in recharging time and the locations of charging stations into your trip. That might take some getting used to.

Pro: EVs are truly zero emissions

While hybrid owners sing the praises of their vehicles, in the end, the cars still rely quite a bit on the gas-powered portion of the engine to make the car work. This means they’re still throwing pollutants into the air, and the oil and other fluids necessary to keep your car running are still environmentally hazardous.

Tesla Model 3
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

EVs, on the other hand, produce no emissions at all. Also absent are the oil, antifreeze, and other fluids — making it quite environmentally friendly. Yes, the batteries do pose a potential environmental issue down the road, but the industry is already at work figuring out ways to recycle used EV batteries effectively.

Con: The electricity you charge it with isn’t

Depending on where you live, the electricity you use to charge your EV is fairly likely to use “dirty energy,” those types of power sources that pollute the most. Even in states where renewable energy makes up the largest portion of energy usage, it’s only 20%. That means in an indirect way your car is still contributing to pollution.

There is the possibility however that some charging stations might provide a more ‘clean’ alternative. A company called Envision Solar is starting to test a 100% renewable energy charging station, and over time we should see more. But for the foreseeable future, EVs will still need to rely on traditional sources to charge up.

Pro: They’re good cars to lease

EVs are generally quite expensive. This makes purchasing one somewhat difficult for most consumers who can’t plunk down a large down payment. There’s also the fact that we’re still only in the early days, and the technology seems to be developing exponentially every moment. It’s for this reason that we feel an EV is a better deal to lease rather than buy.

BMW i3

There are some attractive lease options out there for EVs, including one from Tesla. While you’ll still need to put a minimum of $4,500 down, your payments on a Model 3 can be as cheap as $400 per month on a 36-month lease versus the $700-800 a month it would take to buy it outright. At the end of the lease, you can turn it in for a newer (and likely much more advanced) model.

Con: There isn’t a very large selection

While Tesla’s no longer the only game in town, this doesn’t mean that there’s a great selection out there. Most carmakers have focused on a single EV versus a whole lineup like Tesla is doing. This means that you the consumer have few to choose from in the end. Generally, the options we’ve seen have either been a crossover or SUV — what’s popular in the market at the moment.

Things will change in the not-too-distant future. Nearly every major manufacturer plans to commit heavily to EVs over the next few years, and possibly as soon as the early 2020s a significant number (if not a majority) of new models will be electric-powered. Your options might be limited now, but certainly won’t be for long.

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