Guest blogger Josh here – about a year ago we decided to buy a new car. My car was 16 years old, and despite my best efforts, was starting to show it’s age. It had a good run!

Back when I bought my last vehicle, Hybrids barely existed, and were mostly weird looking and tiny. Fast forward almost 20 years and things have advanced to the point where efficient vehicles are no longer weird looking, and are arguably better than their ICE counterparts.

I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and researching & we settled on a used Tesla.

I’m hoping with this post to provide both a review and answer some typical questions people have about electric vehicles.

So first, review:

Pros:

– They’re fast – like REALLY fast.

– You never have to touch a gas pump, ever again (pandemic plus!)

– You probably won’t ever use a charger other than at home

– New features get released regularly – even after 4 years

– The car heats up super-fast during those long MN winters


Cons:

– Still pretty expensive

– Relatively few used options with real world range (but growing)

– Not ideal for very long trips

On being fast:

Electric vehicles have instant torque. Whereas a gas car needs to hit an ideal range of RPMs to be most powerful, Electric cars have full power from the moment you touch the pedal.

On remote charging:

Our vehicle has 250 miles of range, and you only charge 80-90% of that typically (so 210). It’s pretty rare that I’d need to drive even a quarter of that in a day. You can either charge it the slow way at home (on a typical outlet that adds 4 miles per hour of charging), or install a level 2 charger (basically – a special 40 amp line from the electrical panel) that adds 25-30 miles per hour of charging. Over the course of time we’ve done both, and were keeping up with my normal commute just fine on the slow charger. We ultimately got the faster charger installed as more of a peace of mind thing. I’ve never had a need to charge it anywhere but at home (or once at the cabin).

Side note here – I did once visit a gas pump in the Tesla to get mower gas, and people do look at you kinda weirdly…


On software updates:

I think it’s become more common for all vehicles to get updates now, but ours has added new features like new voice commands, new games, special effects, a feature that optionally turns off auto locking when the car is in the garage, and other things.

On the seat & cabin heaters:

As with a lot of cars now, ours has an app, and you can pre-heat it. But even if you don’t, it has so much power that it heats up super-fast, which is obviously important in MN! My old car would take what felt like an eternity to heat up – to the point where I didn’t even bother since my commute is relatively short.

On cost:

EVs generally cost more up front than their counterparts, but have significantly lower operating costs. The operating cost angle — my actual electricity costs are roughly 3-6 cents per mile on the EV vs. about 18 cents per mile (gas alone) on my old SUV ($3/gallon & 17 MPG). Of course gas is currently cheaper than that, but it would have to get below $1/gallon to be comparable at that consumption level. And there are additional savings in the lack of any oil changes and less frequent brake changes (due to regenerative braking). While no financial argument can ever be made for buying a new car, the low operating costs of EVs make for a decent financial argument to choose an EV for your next used car.

On used options:

– Since EVs haven’t been around a long time and have evolved a great deal during the past 5-10 years, finding a used option can be a bit of a challenge. If you’ve got another vehicle for longer trips, there are many lower range options out there that have all the same operating cost benefits as the new ones and can be had for a much more affordable price.

On long trips:

– I don’t have much advice to give here, as we’ve not taken any trips that required charging “on the go”. If we had to take a long car trip, we’d probably take the van. However we did make it from Eden Prairie up to Alexandria in the EV – a 2 hour drive – just fine.

Some questions I was curious about before we did this:

Will the car just fail to start when it gets super cold like my gas car did?

– This hasn’t been a problem for me yet, but most EVs do still have smaller batteries that run the accessories in the car and ours is no exception. It’s supposed to provide a warning a few weeks in advance of failure, but I can’t say I’ve tested this feature.

How much range do I lose in cold weather?

– Expect a 30-50% drop in available miles in winter. The car doesn’t tell you this – it just sucks down the miles faster. This happens in part due to the heaters that run to warm up you and the batteries, and because all batteries struggle in lower temperatures.

Does an EVs regenerative braking mess with how it handles in the snow?

Regenerative braking slows the car down immediately when you remove your foot from the gas pedal, but the feature seems to be temperature sensitive, meaning in colder temps, it reduces the amount of energy captured (probably because the battery can handle less energy uptake), which reduces the braking force. The bottom line is that the small amount of force applied doesn’t cause any problems in the snow.

Will my door handles freeze shut?

I have read about this happening, but we didn’t experience this last winter.

How much range do I really need?

If you have another vehicle available for long trips, not much. Having had this experience, I might retrospectively have considered a lower cost, lower range EV like a used Nissan Leaf as a foray into EVs. However, we’re happy with ours & I’d consider anything more than 200 miles to be “no compromise”.

Is it a big deal if there aren’t any chargers nearby me?

Not at all – you charge at home. It’s helpful to have chargers along major highways about 2 hours from where you live, and that’s about it. I have never used one.

Can I trust the number of “miles” available?

Sort of – it’s a reflection of battery capacity, however it’s not exact. In the summer, on our 4 year old EV, we get about 95% of what it shows. In the winter, we get about 50-70% of what it shows.

How long does the battery last?

Ours has degraded about 5% (by my calculations) in 4 years / 50K miles. I have seen articles about the batteries lasting 300,000 miles or more, with some brands having better luck than others. Nissan historically took a different approach to cooling that was harder on the battery, resulting in faster degradation. However the batteries in those older models are smaller and more cheaply replaced.


Is it cheaper if I only charge it at night?

This depends on your utility company and your rate plan. In MN, Xcel Energy has several different options that can either keep the same rates all day long, or optionally charge lower rates at night, and higher rates during the day. To achieve the lowest rates for charging, you can install a second meter exclusively for charging with the night / day differential rate plan, and run the rest of your house on a meter with the conventional rate plan. However, you can expect that your payback period on this approach will be several years unless you have a really long commute.

How much do chargers cost?

Most EVs come with a standard 110V cord for mobile charging. So “free” in that case (or “included in the cost of the vehicle” for you accountants out there). If you want to charge faster, you need to install a NEMA 14-50 outlet or a specialized charger for your vehicle. The NEMA will likely be cheaper, but less convenient than the specialized charger. What drives up the cost of the charger setup is the length of the line from your electrical panel, and whether your panel has the space to add the extra line. So if you can charge close to the panel, and your panel has open slots, you could be looking at just a couple hundred dollars for the line. If you need a new box, expect the costs to multiply & definitely shop around.

Did you know the City of Eden Prairie currently owns 10 standard hybrid or plug-in vehicles? This fleet serves many different departments across the city, from Fire and Police, to Streets Maintenance and Engineering. I spoke with Robert Ellis, City of Eden Prairie Public Works Director, about future plans to bring on more EVs. At next month’s city council meeting, there will be an ask to purchase additional EVs. The city would like to purchase additional all-electric heavy duty vehicles to add to its fleet. The city already the infrastructure and ability to put up to 30 charging stations in its garage. The future appears to be electric!

I hope you find this helpful. Have other EV questions? Feel free to comment or email!

Resources:

National Drive Electric Week: September 22 – October 4, 2020 –  A nationwide celebration to raise awareness of the many benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars, trucks, motorcycles, and more. They are fun to drive, are less expensive and more convenient to fuel than gasoline vehicles, are better for the environment, promote local jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Are you considering going electric? Come talk to owners who have successfully done so!

PlugStar.com – Provides tools and resources, including plugstar.com, where car buyers learn about, compare and experience EVs, shop equipment and services, and connect with trained or certified PlugStar dealers to make choosing an EV simple and easy.

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy – The mission of EERE is to create and sustain American leadership in the transition to a global clean energy economy. Its vision is a strong and prosperous America powered by clean, affordable, and secure energy.

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Carolyn Wieland

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