The biggest mistakes buyers make when shopping for an electric car

Electric cars continue to drive their way into the mainstream, and as sales grow we want to help steer you away from any potential mistakes so you can make the right car buying decision that works for you.

Sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, grew five times as fast as sales of gasoline-powered cars, according to data from Autotrader parent Cox Automotive. Still, EVs remain a small percentage — a little under 3% — of the cars Americans currently drive.

Automakers debuted dozens of new electric cars this year. There’s now an electric model available, or on the way soon, in almost every market segment.

Less than $20,000 to spend? Get a Nissan Leaf. Want to spend six figures and set 0-60 mph records? Get a Tesla Model S Plaid or a Porsche Taycan.

Want something functional for a small family with a little bit of style? Try the soon-to-arrive Hyundai Ioniq 5 or a Kia EV6.

Need a hardworking full-size truck? The forthcoming Ford F-150 Lightning starts under $40,000 and can even power your house in a blackout.

America’s charging infrastructure needs to catch up to its gasoline infrastructure before EVs make sense for almost every driver. But even that factor probably isn’t what you assume it is (more on that in a moment).

Your next car may be electric. But buying one involves considerations you might not be accustomed to, even if you’ve bought cars many times.

See: Does driving an electric car really save you money? A cheapskate runs the numbers

We’ll tell you about the five mistakes to avoid when purchasing an EV so that you can choose the right vehicle for you.

Mistakes to avoid when shopping for an EV

1. Not exploring all the available incentives

By now, you’ve probably heard that the federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7,500 for purchasers of new electric cars. That’s roughly true. But it’s only part of the story.

First, that federal incentive doesn’t always work out. The full credit is available only on the first 200,000 EVs a manufacturer sells. Past that number, it fades gradually. About a year after an automaker sells its 200,000th EV, it’s gone.

The result is not intuitive. The most successful EVs burn out the incentive. Currently, Tesla
and General Motors
are too good at selling electric cars to qualify for the EV tax incentive. The newest EVs are the safest bet when it comes to the federal tax credit.

Second, that federal incentive isn’t the only one offered. Some states offer their own savings programs for EV buyers. These can include tax credits, cash rebates, reduced vehicle taxes, single-occupant carpool-lane access stickers, and exemptions from registration or inspection fees. Even states with no incentive programs for individual EV buyers sometimes have programs to help businesses replace their fleets with electric cars.

Even local electric utilities can help defray the cost of a new EV. After all, when you shift your gasoline budget into your utility budget, it’s the electric company that benefits. Of course, they want to help you send them more money.

Check on state, local, and electric company programs before you sign for a new EV. You may qualify for more assistance than the federal government offers.

Learn more: Yes, you can still get electric vehicle tax credits — here’s a guide

2. Overthinking range

What we want when car shopping and what we need in our day-to-day driving are often very different things. That’s not necessarily a problem, except when it costs us money.

According to a recent J.D. Power survey, the single factor most important to buyers in choosing which EV to buy was range.

Yet, according to the federal government’s most recent National Household Travel Survey, the average American drives less than 40 miles a day.

EVs available on the market can easily reach that. The shortest-range EV on the market — the short-range version of the 2021 Nissan
Leaf — offers an EPA-certified range of 129 miles.

Also see: Electric trucks of the future

Overpaying for needless capability is the biggest mistake car shoppers make, and we constantly counsel against it. Don’t buy a 3-row SUV for your family of three just because mom and dad visit once a year. Save yourself thousands of dollars buying something family-sized and rent a bigger vehicle one week a year.

Likewise, don’t spend thousands more for an EV with a slightly longer range when you seldom use that range. Rent for long road trips, and enjoy the day-to-day savings of an EV even if it can only handle three or four times your regular needs.

3. Over- or underestimating the local EV infrastructure

Charging infrastructure is the biggest factor holding back large-scale EV adoption. It may or may not hold you back from buying an EV.

To make owning an electric car seamless, you’ll need regular access to chargers. It’s possible to charge an EV from an ordinary household outlet. But the charging times you see advertised generally assume you plug in with a Level 2 charger, which is wired into a 240-volt outlet like an electric clothes dryer.

That’s handled easily enough if you own your home. Most dealerships will happily sell you a Level 2 charger to go with your new EV and even arrange installation.

However, renters and apartment-dwellers shouldn’t assume they’re out of luck. Apartment buildings in heavily populated areas install chargers to stay competitive for new renters. If your building hasn’t done it yet, it might be worth asking them to step up. Local electric utilities often have programs to help them defray the cost of installing chargers.

The same trick can work at the office — ask. They may be happy to install one and may even get the work done free, thanks to a local utility that would be happy to sell more electricity.

Learn more: Curious about EVs? Here are answers to common questions about electric cars

Finally, public charging networks are spreading rapidly. Tesla operates the largest, and though it’s currently limited to Tesla owners, they’ve announced plans to open it up for use by owners of other electric cars. It’s making a move, in part, because its biggest rival is growing so fast.

Finally, note that it’s not always obvious where EV charging infrastructure is robust. If we asked you to predict the states with the best EV charging infrastructure, your mind might jump to California or Vermont. But a recent study found that the states where it’s easiest to charge an EV include West Virginia and Wyoming.

4. Overestimating weather

Automakers certify an electric car’s range in moderate weather. According to the federal government’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, that range can be as much as 25% shorter in extreme cold.

This has led to a widespread impression in America that EVs aren’t suited to cold climates, which is odd. Because the country with the most EVs per capita is frigid Norway. With equally cold Sweden close behind, well ahead of the U.S.

Some electric cars do charge slower and struggle to hold a charge as long in cold weather. Some also ship with low rolling resistance tires that perform poorly in cold weather.

But those problems don’t apply to all EVs. They apply mostly to smaller, lighter EVs with limited battery insulation designed specifically for the U.S. or Japanese markets. There are plenty of EVs for sale in the U.S. designed for colder weather.

In the Norwegian Automobile Federation testing over high-altitude mountain passes in weather that’s 28 degrees Fahrenheit, cars like the Audi e-tron and Hyundai Kona Electric kept more than 90% of their estimated range.

This is also likely to get better and better over time. Most manufacturers are still building their first generation of electric cars. With experience, engineers will learn to solve many of the problems of early EVs. Improving battery insulation seems like low-hanging fruit. This brings us to our final point.

5. Not waiting a little longer

We’ve just spent many words in this story extolling the pleasures of EVs. So our last point is…consider not buying one yet.


Yes. EV technology keeps advancing. It’s doing so at a rapid pace, which is often a good argument for, well, letting it keep advancing for a while before you dive in.

There were fewer than a dozen EVs for sale in the U.S. two years ago by our count. By the end of this year, there could be more than four dozen. By the end of 2022, there could easily be more than 100.

Many will be considerably more advanced in just a year or two. Automakers keep developing new platforms — modular architectures they can scale up or down to produce different EVs.

Take Hyundai
for example. The Korean automaker currently sells the Ioniq EV and the Kona Electric. Each gets built on a chassis developed for a gasoline or hybrid-powered car and modified to accept a battery and electric motors.

But Hyundai engineers have developed a new platform they call the Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP). It consists of a chassis, battery, and electric motors that can be scaled up or down to produce vehicles of different sizes. Engineers can place an electric motor on either or both axles, creating front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive vehicles. Crucially, the E-GMP platform isn’t a modified gas-powered car. It’s an EV from the ground up.

Hyundai says it will sell at least 23 models based on the platform. The first Ioniq 5 hits the market late this fall. It offers all kinds of advantages over EVs built from gasoline-powered cars — including a perfectly flat floor that creates a startlingly spacious feel inside despite a relatively small footprint.

Read next: The pros and cons of electric cars

Shoppers might also want to wait to see what happens with those federal incentives.

Several bills currently making their way through Congress would increase federal incentives and apply them directly to the sale of a new electric car, rather than requiring buyers to front the money and get it back as a tax rebate.

So yes, your next car may very well be an EV. But you might benefit from waiting another year or two to let both technology and policy improvements take hold.

This story originally ran on

Katherine E. Ackerman

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