Thinking About Buying an Electric Car? Here's What You Should Ask Yourself First

2021 will be the best year yet to buy an electric car. But is it the right year for you?

california governor newsom announces ban of gas powered cars by 2035
Justin SullivanGetty Images

The automotive world is going electric. In 2021, we'll finally start to see that move go mainstream. Electric cars won’t just be for early adopters driving Teslas; this year, you'll be able to walk into your local VW, GMC or Porsche dealer and buy one. It will be, without question, the best time there has been to buy an EV.

Well, at least until 2022 and beyond, when it should be even easier.

With all that in mind, you might be curious about buying electric — but not sure whether it’s the right decision yet. If that describes you, here are six questions you should ask yourself.

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Can you afford an electric car?
2019 hyundai kona ev gear patrol lead full
Hyundai

No matter how you analyze it, here in 2021, buying an EV will cost more than the equivalent internal combustion option. Battery tech is expensive; as such, manufacturers have been struggling to bring costs appreciably below $35,000 while still providing the 200-plus-mile range buyers want. The Hyundai Kona EV, for instance, starts at nearly $17,000 more than the base gas version — and doesn't even offer the all-wheel-drive many people crave in a crossover.

Down the road, solid-state batteries and other advances should bring costs down, potentially below that of combustion cars. Right now, though, you’re paying a premium for it.

Do you live in the city, the country, or somewhere inbetween?
tyig ev
Courtesy

EVs make total sense in the suburbs. If you live in a single-family home with a garage, you can get a Level 2 charger installed cheaply. (Hell, if you put in an early Bolt order, Chevy will cover the cost). You charge the car fully overnight, so range anxiety and local charging infrastructure rarely become an issue.

EVs make much less sense in cities, however where “home charging” involves running an extension cord out the window from your apartment to trickle-charge a handful of miles of range into the battery every night. And if you're in a rural area and have to travel 30 miles to the charger and back, that's not great either.

Which brings us to question number three...

What’s your local charging infrastructure like?
tesal supercharger
Thomas KoehlerGetty Images

If you can’t charge in your garage, you’re dependent on the local charging infrastructure. Thousands of charging stations are being added per year, and the Biden administration has made adding more a priority. But in many areas of the country, charging infrastructure remains an issue.

Tesla owners are somewhat better off, thanks to the company's proprietary Supercharger network. But “somewhat better” can still mean just a handful of stations stretched over a large metro area, all of which are being fought for by hundreds or thousands of Tesla owners. Things may be better in two or three years, but for now, infrastructure remains a major issue.

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How are your taxes for next year looking?
2021 ford mustang mach e red
Ford

Yes, most EVs come with up to a $7,500 federal tax credit — Tesla and GM, at the moment, have outsold their allotment — but place extra emphasis on the “up to.” You still need to pay the full cost for the EV; the credit will come on next year’s taxes.

And depending on the state of your taxes, you may not be eligible for the full credit. See, the EV tax credit is non-refundable. In other words, you can’t add it to your refund. So, unless you owe $7,500 on your federal taxes, your credit will be less than that — or, potentially, nothing at all.

Are you willing to lease?
nissan ariya crossover
Nissan

As noted, the federal tax credit is not refundable. However, if you lease an EV, the tax credit goes to the manufacturer. While there’s no requirement for the manufacturer to do so, there’s a strong incentive for them to apply that tax credit to the price of the car, in order to reduce the monthly payment on an EV lease. In other words, the cost to lease an EV may be lower than the sticker price for the vehicle would suggest.

Would you accept a hybrid instead?
toyota rav4 prime
Toyota

Leaving fossil fuel behind (at least directly) feels gratifying, but it’s not the only way to reduce your carbon footprint. There are many excellent hybrids out on the market — and compared to EVs, they are going to be more reasonably priced and practical for most car buyers.

Grab a conventional mild hybrid like the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and you can get a comfortable sedan with premium vibes that gets nearly 50 mpg. Alternatively, you could opt for a plug-in hybrid like the Toyota RAV4 Prime and still receive more than 40 miles of EV range — enough to cover most of your driving.

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