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The First 5 Things You Should Do When Buying an Electric Car

Going from a gas-powered car to an EV can be a smart move for many folks — if you follow these instructions.

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Porsche

So, you’ve finally decided to do it: You’re getting an electric car. You’ve weighed the pros and cons, debated the advantages of plug-in hybrids versus pure EVs, and determined that a vehicle that forgoes internal combustion for electrons, batteries and motors is the right fit for you.

First off, congratulations. For most buyers, electric cars are likely to be more pleasant to drive than gas- or diesel-powered ones. Their powertrains aren’t just more quiet, they also deliver all their torque immediately, without a need to rev up like ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles do, so they feel peppier from behind the wheel; their powertrains are simpler, so maintenance is generally easier and less frequent; their fuel is cheaper and, depending on where it’s sourced from, likely more eco-friendly than the fossil juice squeezed out of the ground.

Still, de-ICE-ing does involve making a few changes to your life. So to help, we’ve pulled together a guide to the first few things you should do once you’ve decided you’re going to buy an electric car.

1. Get a home charger.

Charging at home is by far one of the biggest advantages of owning an electric vehicle. But to really capitalize on this, you’ll need more than a three-prong 110-volt outlet, which only adds roughly four miles of range for every hour on the socket. You’ll want to install what EV nerds call an SAE J1772 — or, as it’s more colloquially known, a Level 2 charger. Depending on the car, these can deliver between around 12–60 miles of range per hour, though 25 miles per hour is a fair average. Still, even that’s enough to add 200-plus miles of range overnight, which can fill up an Audi E-Tron or a Jaguar I-Pace.

Installing a charger for your home can seem a bit intimidating; unless you’re an electrician or electrical engineer, it’s the sort of task best left to a professional. Luckily, the folks at Amazon have this under control; not only do they offer a bevy of EV chargers, but they also offer electric car charging installation through their Amazon Home Services department. (Angie’s List also provides references for EV charging station installers.)

A Level 2 charger. (Photo: Michael Hicks)

If you’re feeling particularly industrious or green, you might also want to consider adding some solar panels to your roof, so you can charge that EV for free. (And, unless you live on Dracula’s schedule, a big home battery like Tesla’s Powerwall to store that power until you plug in at dinnertime.)

2. Learn about the charging networks (and download their apps).

Refueling at home may be way easier with an EV than with a gas-powered car, but the opposite holds true once you’re out of your driveway. Unlike the 168,000 gas stations found across America, electric car chargers aren’t abundant in every town, they’re not always easy to spot — and they’re not all the same.

You’ll need to learn the differences between types of chargers. While all cars sold Stateside can use the SAE J1772 Level 2 charger, Level 3 charging — also called DC fast charging — uses three different types of plugs. The best-known is Tesla’s Superchargers, which only work with the California-based company’s cars and can be found at 685 locations across the U.S. Then there’s the CHAdeMO style of charger, used solely by Nissan and Mitsubishi and found at 2,282 spots across America. Finally, there’s CCS, a.k.a. the SAE Combo Combined Charging System; this is used by all the rest of the EVs currently on sale, from the Porsche Taycan to the Smart ForTwo, and found at 2,043 sites in the U.S. (All figures via the Department of Energy, and valid as of December 2019.)

These Level 3 chargers can pump electrons into cars at far greater rates than in-home ones, with the fastest currently out there recharging even EVs with large batteries to an 80-percent state of charge or more in roughly half an hour. That said, charging speeds can vary wildly, even within this tier; some CCS chargers max out at 50 kW, for example, while others can deliver a stunning 350 kW.

A Porsche Taycan at an Ionity charging station. Ionity is a cross-European charging network.

Different electric cars can also slurp up energy at different rates. The Taycan can take on power at levels of up to 270 kW, while the E-tron can only handle up to 150 kW, and the Nissan Leaf tops out at 100 kW. Other factors such as weather and equipment can also affect how fast the electrons flow.

The easiest way to suss out chargers is, as you might expect in this day and age, through an app or website. There are plenty of them to choose from, such as PlugShare, ChargeHub and Chargeway, with the latter notable for using a color-coded system to help you find the right type of charger for your vehicle. (Most of these apps will also tell you what level of power you can expect from a given plug.)

Many electric car charging stations are tied into networks, which allow you to set up a single account to quickly and easily pay for power from them. Tesla employs its own network, which only works with its vehicles; the other big three ones — Electrify America, ChargePoint and EVGo — are brand-agnostic. (They all also have their own apps, of course, which you can use to find chargers and pay for electricity.) As with gas prices, rates vary by region — but it’ll still almost always be cheaper than refueling an equivalent ICE vehicle.

All that said, remember: no matter how fast your car charges, it’s going to seem glacial compared to refueling an internal-combustion vehicle. Plan accordingly. (We suggest keeping a good book in the car.)

3. Look into tax breaks and other benefits.

The federal government hands out tax credits of $7,500 for the first 200,000 EVs a carmaker sells, with the credits tapering off after that figure. As of January 1, 2020, every electric car other than those made by Tesla is still eligible. (You can find out more about the forms you need to fill out here.)

In addition, many states offer their own tax credits or other financial incentives for going electric, ranging from the waiving of sales tax to as much as $5,000 in their own tax credits, in the case of Colorado. That rebate, for the record, means a Boulder resident could buy a $38,085 Hyundai Kona EV for just $25,585.

A number of municipalities, utilities and businesses also offer other benefits to EV ownership, such as the ability to drive solo in carpool lanes, credits on owners’ home electricity bills or rebates on home chargers, access to exclusive parking spots and exemptions from emissions testing. That last one, to be fair, just seems more like common sense than a perk.

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Always crank up your jams before searching for EV ownership benefits.

4. Get a rental car or car-sharing membership.

Sooner or later, you’ll likely come across a task that your EV isn’t quite right for. Maybe it’s taking a long road trip through remote areas where chargers are hard to find; maybe it’s hauling home an amazing couch that won’t fit into your Tesla Model 3. When that happens, you’ll probably need a reliable way to grab a spare ride.

If you think you might need gas-powered wheels on the regular (say, every week or two), a car-sharing service like Zipcar likely makes the most sense. If you figure you’ll only need an alternative a few times a year, it’s better to stick with traditional car rental companies; just be sure to join a rewards program like Hertz Gold Plus or Enterprise Plus, so you can earn free rentals.

5. Buy some good gloves.

Since running the car’s heater exacts a much larger toll on range in an EV than in a gas-powered car (internal combustion engines spew out heat as a waste product, same as the human body; electric motors are far more thermally efficient), a good pair of gloves can be the difference between easily finishing a trip and having to seek out a charging station. Toss a nice pair like Filson’s full knit ones in the glovebox on day one and leave ’em there until you need them.

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