Electric Cars For Dummies
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People have questions about electric vehicles — this cheat sheet provides some answers. Whether it’s about the mysteries of charging, the vagaries of tax laws, extending battery life, or having a set of talking points you can use when people are asking you why you’re investing in an electric vehicle, this cheat sheet has you covered.

Charging levels

Charging an electric car involves one of three charging levels: 1, 2, and 3.

The differences between charging levels boil down to the type of connector used and the speed at which the battery is recharged.

Level 1 Charging

Outlet: A standard household outlet (in most of the Americas)

Voltage/current: 120 volts, 60Hz AC

Connector type: NEMA 5-15

Power: 1.3–2.4 kilowatts per hour

Rate of charge: Four to five miles of vehicle range per hour

Cost to charge: $9.30 for 70 kilowatts (at 13.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, the US average price for electricity, charging from empty to full)

Level 2 Charging

Outlet: 240V household outlet (in most of the Americas)

Voltage/current: 208–240 volts, 60Hz AC

Connector type: NEMA 14-50 or 14-60

Power: 3–19 kilowatts per hour

Rate of charge: 18–40 miles of vehicle range per hour

Cost to charge: Varies. If you’re charging at home, the average cost is 13.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in the US, or from empty to full for roughly $10. Public stations charge roughly 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, so from empty to full for most battery packs is in the $20–$25 ballpark. Note that some employers or businesses now offer limited charging for free.

Level 3 Charging

Outlet: N/A. You don’t install Level 3 chargers in your home, and even commercial installations require limitations such as permitting and land acquisition. Level 3 chargers have their own charging stations, owned and operated by a variety of companies.

Voltage/current: 400–800 volts DC

Connector type: SAE/CCS Combo, CHAdeMO, Tesla connector

Power: 75–350 kilowatts per hour

Rate of charge: 75-1000 miles of vehicle range per hour

Key advantages of electric cars

There are several ways that driving an electric vehicle (EV) differs from an internal combustion engine (ICE) car. Here are some of the main ways that EVs offer a better car ownership experience:

EVs are better for driving

Cars powered by batteries and electric motors are an absolute blast to drive. If you’re parting with your cash in exchange for a driving machine, you might as well get the best driving experience your money will buy. They’re quiet. They’re quick. They tend to handle exceptionally well thanks to their low center of gravity.

What’s more, EVs provide exhilarating performance where it’s felt most keenly by most drivers: when pulling away from a stoplight. Your neighbor’s ICE muscle car don’t stand a chance against most EVs when it comes to quick acceleration, either from a standstill or when merging onto highways or passing in the fast lane.

EVs are better for your wallet

EVs are much less expensive to operate day-to-day. First, as extraordinarily cheap as gasoline is — it’s about $6 per gallon in California as I write this section, and yes, that’s extraordinarily cheap — gas is no match for electricity when it comes to cost. Electric rates change very infrequently, and when they do, it’s in very small percentages.

Meanwhile, it now costs around $100 to fill a typical fuel tank in an ICE vehicle (typical here includes both cars and pickups). In the typical EV, it costs about $10 to charge up the battery from nearly empty to nearly full. And speaking of fuel . . .

EVs are easier to fuel

EVs are also much more convenient to keep “topped up” for most households. For example, charging an EV doesn’t require you hold a gasoline nozzle in a driving rainstorm, nor in 110-degree heat while petroleum fumes turn your brain into nacho cheese.

For the most part, you’ll treat your EV the way you treat your Bluetooth headphones or your laptop: You’ll plug it in while you’re not using it, which for the most part is at night. You’ll then wake to a laptop battery that can power through a long day of meetings, and a car battery that can power through a long commute to and from the office.

EVs are better for the planet

Whether or not you care about the relatively insignificant impact of a single car on the health of the environment, I promise you that your kids and grandkids do very much care. As do the kids and grandkids of the neighbors on your street. And the kids and grandkids of people you’ve never met on the other side of the planet.

No argument or even civil discussion about society, the economy, or, really, any topic under the sun will even matter if the sun, with the aid of greenhouse gases, has made the planet uninhabitable for humans.

Because EVs don’t have a tailpipe, they don’t produce tailpipe emissions.

Maximizing battery life

It’s usually very reassuring news for those considering an EV to learn that an EV’s battery pack should last the life of vehicle. Unlike your phone battery, an EV’s pack is engineered to last hundreds of thousands of miles. In short, it’s very unlikely you’ll even need to replace an EV battery.

However, the battery is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, and it’s one that plays a huge role in car performance and range. Keep these pointers in mind (some come directly from EV manufacturers) to get the most out of your battery pack

Keep it plugged in

According to Tesla, the most important factor (to) “preserve the high-voltage battery is to LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE PLUGGED IN when you are not using it.” The battery works best when charged regularly.

And yes, Tesla uses ALL CAPS, the written equivalent of shouting.

Rivian concurs with this: “Leave the vehicle plugged in if you don’t plan on driving for a long time. When parked, the vehicle uses some power to maintain battery health.”

Avoid overcharging

Another universal recommendation is not to charge to 100 percent unless absolutely necessary. (It never is.) Here’s the proof, straight from Hyundai:

“Electric cars have . . . a battery management system that avoids them being charged and discharged at the extreme state of charge. Even though a full charge will give you the maximum operating time, it is never a good idea for the overall lifespan of your battery.”

Avoid exclusive use of Level 3 charging

In fairness, this last one might even need an asterisk. Yes, it used to be conventional wisdom that Level 2 charging works best for everyday use, and best for the life of the battery. Why was this conventional wisdom?

Heat. Higher voltages mean higher heat while charging, and heat can stress the battery pack.

There’s a significant caveat, however, with this bit of advice: A recent study by the Idaho National Laboratory found that an EV’s battery pack deteriorates faster if its only source of charging is DC fast charging. This is rarely the case with real world EV ownership. What’s more, the study found that the battery degradation when only using Level 3 charging was relatively minor. (For more on this, see this article on the Green Cars website.

When possible, park in the shade

Generally, it’s not a great idea to park an EV uncovered for long periods in very hot conditions. Lucid’s manual says the following:

“Extreme temperatures can damage the battery pack. If possible, avoid parking in direct sunlight, especially on hot, sunny days. Lucid also recommends that you keep your vehicle sheltered or parked in a garage whenever possible in extremely cold weather.”

Let the battery cool before charging

Again, it’s that heat issue. Avoid it if possible. Parking in the shade on a hot summer afternoon will also help a battery cool down faster.

How EV tax credits work

Governments at the federal and local level across the globe are offering incentives for electric vehicle purchases, mainly in the form of tax incentives/credits.

Of course, what applies for your situation will differ depending on where you live, and sometimes what electric vehicle model vehicle you purchase. In the U.S., federal incentives were allocated on a per-manufacturer basis and some have already sold through their incentivized number of 200,000 vehicles. In any event, here’s a quick rundown on how they work in the US, which should provide a high-level overview of how this all works:

If you read Internal Revenue Code Section 30D, which everyone should, you’ll find that electric drive motor vehicles, including passenger vehicles and light trucks, are eligible for a tax credit of up to $7,500.

However! The amount of the credit is actually $2,500, plus an additional $417 for every kilowatt-hour of battery capacity in the vehicle over and above 5 kilowatt-hours. So, most plug-in hybrid electric vehicles — and certainly all battery electric vehicles — are eligible for the maximum credit allowed, which is $7,500.

As mentioned, the credit phases out once the manufacturer has sold 200,000 vehicles that qualify for this tax credit. Tesla and GM have surpassed that 200,000-vehicle threshold, although Ford, Nissan, and Toyota are expected to cross this limit in 2022 or 2023.

Here are two other items of note:

  • You still pay full retail price for the vehicle and then claim the tax credit when you file your taxes.
  • The credit still applies when you lease your vehicle, but the credit goes to the leasing company and not to you, unless the leasing company factors it into your monthly payment (which is unlikely, although being well-informed might help you negotiate for it).

Again, this was how things currently stand in the US; Germany, the UK, and China also incentivize EV purchases. In fact, New Zealand has recently offered EV tax incentives, along with additional fees on vehicles that produce high levels of CO2 emissions. Good on ya, New Zealand. (I wrote that last sentence in a New Zealand accent.)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Brian Culp is a long-time technical writer who is currently the technical publications manager for a U.S.- based electric car manufacturer. Before he started his career as an electric vehicle expert, Brian played three years of professional baseball. He still holds the career home run record at his alma mater, Kansas State University.

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