Deciding on a vehicle is a big decision – it’s one of the most expensive things that the average family will spend on over several years. Next to real estate, vehicles are among our most significant assets.
That’s just one reason why the debate around electric cars is so prominent right now. People are talking about whether it’s a good idea to jump on the bandwagon and go green and get an all-electric vehicle, stick with a traditional gasoline engine, or go with a hybrid car that combines both of these systems.
When it comes to all-electric plug-in vehicles, there are some great reasons to take advantage of the modern engineering that automakers have put into this type of ride. There are also some potential drawbacks to these vehicles, depending on your particular situation. Let’s take a clear-eyed look at the pros and cons of electric cars, and how these play out over time – because many of these factors are continually changing.
All-Electric Vehicles: The Pros
Lower Cost of Ownership
For people who tend to vote with their wallets, there’s been a powerful incentive to get an electric vehicle. It has to do with what happens when our cars break down.
Unless you have an excellent mechanic, you probably go to a chain shop, or some other ASE certified auto repair office that charges you pretty much by the book – labor and parts – and doesn’t give you any kind of special breaks. If so, you may have noticed that maintaining a conventional vehicle can raise your total cost of ownership by several thousand dollars a year, easily. There’s so much that can and will go wrong on vehicles – and then the parts are expensive, too. When you assess the average cost of vehicle repair, you see that there’s often quite a bit of mark-up involved.
If you make a laundry list of the most common things that cost you a lot of money at the mechanic shop, you’ll see that a good number of these items don’t even apply to an electric vehicle.
The catalytic converter on an electric vehicle is never going to get clogged or need an expensive replacement. There will be no buying new oxygen sensors to make sure the fuel mix is correct. You won’t even need an oil change, which is the most common maintenance cost for a conventional vehicle. You may have spent a year driving a pretty reliable gasoline vehicle, and nothing went wrong pretty much that whole year – but you still had to do those two required oil changes, and because you were busy, you took it to a shop that you didn’t know. Those two oil changes, along with inspection stickers, could have cost you $200 or more! If this seems simplistic, CNBC offers a detailed guide to TCO savings, but in many cases, this is conservative – because if you used to get fleeced by your mechanic, you’re going to save a lot more with an EV than the 15-20% margin shown in the article.
With an EV, you’ll still have maintenance on brakes, tires, and windshield wipers, but the expensive and laborious engine maintenance will be a thing of the past. You won’t have to worry about the valve cover gasket, or the head gasket, or the fuel injection line, or any of those complex and expensive systems that require so much hard work to fix.
In fact, that’s another kind of corollary benefit of the EV – its simplicity. Basically, without the engine, you have a very straightforward picture of what’s going on under the hood. This eliminates a problem that has plagued the less car-savvy but still mechanically curious for the hundred years that the gas car has dominated. What the heck is a camshaft sensor? Now it magically doesn’t matter.
If you’re the type who has always worked on your own vehicles, this makes your job a lot easier too. No more looking up YouTube videos to figure out the role of a mass airflow sensor or how the manifold fits the undercarriage, or how to maintain your muffler. It’s all gone, and there’s just an electric motor. Sweet.
Working Toward Sustainable Energy Practices
Now, for the ecologically minded, there’s also a big incentive here. It’s the idea that EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions. That’s right – zero.
However, this big mark on the “pros” column comes with an important disclaimer – most of our electrical grid isn’t that clean yet.
If you’re getting your electric vehicle juice from dirty energy grid power, you may not be saving the environment all that much in the near-term, although there are benefits at a local level where you and your family live and play. On a global level, it’s sometimes argued as a case of out of sight, out of mind, which EV critics love to point out. In some ways, they’re correct, but in other ways, they just don’t see the big picture. EVs can and will be part of our eco-salvation – soon.
With that in mind, this is the other disclaimer that applies – if you look at the quick and broad-ranging installation of windmills and solar panels across the country, you’ll see that we are in the process of cleaning up our electrical grid. Plus, many electric utilities offer green electricity options, called Renewable Energy Certificates (or, RECs), that source renewable power from elsewhere in the US to offset the “brown” power that you consume at your home. With both of these solutions in mind, the EV will be the clear winner and will help us to avoid poisoning our planet beyond a certain critical mass point.
When the EV does utilize renewable power, it is abundantly cleaner than a conventional vehicle that spews out carbon gases from its tailpipe. You can also say that the EV helps you to avoid local-point pollution, which is great if you are, for instance, idling in a garage (no need to worry about you or your children breathing in harmful fumes). But for many EV owners, it’s not just out of sight, out of mind – they invested in a green vehicle, and they’ll do the work to find and promote that green electricity that’s always here to be harvested from the sun and the wind.
There’s a big debate right now, not on whether to use solar panels, but on where to put them. Elon Musk feels that putting them directly on the car is impractical – others want to see this direct-feed-loop happen. Either way, you’re still using natural, renewable energy. That’s going to happen. Innovations are underway – just look at what VW is coming up with, for example, to revolutionize EV charging.
A Quiet Ride
Here’s another significant advantage that people tend to put in the “plus” column when it comes to EV cars. When you turn the ignition key, or more likely, push the ignition button, you really don’t hear much.
Yes, these cars are whisper-quiet, which has traditionally been a big selling point in the vehicle market. Quiet is good, right?
Quiet is good – for the driver, for the passengers, and for the general community itself. Less noise translates into a more relaxing ride and is better for conversations and enjoying music. There’s only one disclaimer to this benefit, though, and that’s safety. Those transitioning to driving an EV car must be very mindful that pedestrians and others cannot hear the vehicle approaching because there’s no rumbling engine!
With the right safety precautions, though, the whisper-quiet ride is a high selling point for the EV car. If you’ve ever seen Edmunds talk about how “quiet” a conventional gasoline vehicle is, you’ll understand the advantage of a vehicle that doesn’t belch fuel when you turn it on.
All-Electric Vehicles: The Cons
Let’s talk about charging.
One of the first disadvantages pointed out by electric car critics is that they do need time to charge and that without battery power, they won’t take you anywhere.
If you charge your vehicle en route to a location, you will be sitting there waiting for the vehicle to charge, and it will take longer than fueling up at a conventional gas pump.
However, this is the big caveat that makes people erase the charging problem from their list of negative points – if you charge at home overnight, you don’t have to wait at all. It takes a few seconds to plug your car in, and in the morning, you’re good to go.
Additionally, more and more public fast chargers are being built that will reduce charging time to 15-30 minutes, like the Tesla Supercharger, ChargePoint, EVgo and Electrify America networks, which can be found along highway stops, at popular shopping destinations
Range anxiety is an undeniable disadvantage of an electric vehicle. But people view this limitation with different philosophies.
Here’s the first mentality: “I’ll never be able to really feel secure about going as far as I need to go without a recharge. I’ll never be able to enjoy the spontaneity of the road and drive down to the Outer Banks. I’ll have to stop every once in a while and charge up.”
The second mentality goes a little bit like this – sure, you’ll have some limitations in terms of charging. You have to make plans. You’ll have to keep track of the power that your vehicle has in a different way than you have before.
But limitations aren’t all bad. It’s really more like taking a little time to pre-plan your trip so you are prepared. And the bit of extra prep is worth it; your trip will be smoother, you’re benefiting the environment and also saving money. So while some may pine for the freewheeling experience of the old days, others will see it as a very acceptable trade-off.
Lack of Choice
No, you can’t buy an EV that looks like a particular muscle car or a specific type of sports car model – but the old idea that there’s not enough choice in EV cars is rapidly getting blown out of the water.
It used to be that the Toyota Prius was kind of the gold standard in renewable and sustainable driving. Now you have not only the Nissan and Toyota EVs (both of which are out on the road in droves), but a range of very cool designs from Tesla, as well as more EVs from your favorite automakers like Chevy, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, just to name a few. This includes small city cars, comfortable sedans, as well as mid-sized and large SUV options.
The variety of EVs available is starting to look more like the variety of conventional cars – automakers are jumping on board. For example, after years of dipping their toes in the water with a variety of hybrid models, Ford is slated to release their first all-electric vehicle – the Mustang Mach E. The emergence of choice is changing the game for the EV pretty quickly.
High Sticker Prices of EV Cars
This last disadvantage of an EV car is also disappearing pretty quickly.
It’s undeniable that Tesla prices are high. It’s also tough to get a ‘beater car’ that plugs in, the way that you can with a conventional gasoline car. But with all that aside, the tremendous evolution of choice in all-electric vehicles means that the prices are coming down too. Look at the price for a used Nissan Leaf, and you’ll see that the emergence of this vehicle on American roadways means it’s a lot cheaper than it used to be. These are not out of reach for many American families.
Additionally, the price goes down because of all of that engineering that’s no longer necessary – which we covered up there in the “pros” column.
When you really look at all of these factors with a focus on what’s best for yourself and the planet, the EV stands tall. It’s a change that’s happening somewhat rapidly on the American road – you’re seeing newly engineered all-electric vehicles replacing the old gasoline engine, and as we’ve mentioned here above, there are pros and cons – but the reasons to upgrade are big ones, and very important.
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