Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular and affordable in the United States. And because they're a newer technology, many drivers have questions about how EVs work, what they cost, the advantages and disadvantages of switching to electrified transportation, and more.
So we've put together a list of common questions about electric vehicles and provided additional information and resources to help you learn more about your options.
The main difference between electric vehicles and hybrids is their fuel source. EVs are powered by electricity stored in a battery, whereas hybrids are powered by both batteries and gas.
There are two types of EVs: all-electric vehicles (AEVs), which solely rely on electricity, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which use a combination of electricity and gas. While PHEVs can run entirely on electricity, they have a much shorter electric range than AEVs. Standard hybrids, AEVs, and PHEVs all use regenerative braking to charge their batteries and produce supplemental electric power; however, unlike AEVs and PHEVs, you can't plug in standard hybrids to charge their batteries.
Hybrid vehicles are designed to maximize fuel efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint. Many drivers see them as an intermediary between traditional gas-powered vehicles and AEVs in price point and emissions reduction.
The short answer? Yes, but not in the same way–or to the same extent–as gas-powered cars. When you drive an electric vehicle, there are no tailpipe emissions. However, direct pollution from driving is only one aspect to consider; when assessing the environmental impact of a car, it's also important to evaluate well-to-wheel emissions (i.e., the pollution produced from generating fuel) and overall lifecycle emissions (i.e., pollution throughout a vehicle's lifetime, including manufacturing).
If you have an EV and charge it with electricity from the grid, you're likely charging it with electricity that comes from fossil fuels (the exact electrical mix depends on your location). However, even though the majority of our grid-produced electricity comes from fossil fuels, EVs still pollute less over the same driving distance than gas-powered vehicles. EVs are also far more fuel efficient than gas-powered vehicles: according to the Department of Energy, EVs convert 77 percent of the electrical energy into movement, whereas gas-powered vehicles only convert up to 30 percent of the energy stored in gas into movement.
Manufacturing parts and components to build any type of vehicle causes pollution. While it's difficult to do a full lifecycle analysis of pollution caused by each vehicle type, a study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the production of EVs generates greater emissions than gas-powered vehicles due to the high energy requirements for producing batteries. However, over their lifetime, EVs still only produce about half the emissions as their gas-powered counterparts.
The difference in overall emissions is because electric vehicles do not produce tailpipe emissions during their life and also because the emissions from producing and using the electricity to run an EV are fewer than emissions from the same process for gasoline. So, although the initial emissions are greater for EVs, the day-to-day emissions are significantly less and contribute to lower total emissions over time. As the United States' electrical mix gets cleaner, the lifecycle emissions gap between gas-powered vehicles and EVs will continue to grow.
The lower emissions and higher efficiency of electric vehicles come at an upfront price premium. However, electric vehicles also require less maintenance cost and fuel costs over their lifetime than gas-powered vehicles.
Before incentives, the upfront cost of most EVs ranges from $30,000 for the most basic models to over $100,000 for luxury models, with popular models typically costing between $30,000 and $50,000. Generally, AEVs and PHEVs are fairly similar in price, and both cost slightly more than comparable gas-powered vehicles.
EVs have substantially lower maintenance requirements than gas-powered vehicles. This stems from differences in engine composition, including fewer fluids that require maintenance and fewer moving parts within the engine that can wear down. Additionally, EVs have reduced brake wear due to regenerative braking, and the battery, motor, and associated electrical components typically require less maintenance than comparable components in gas-powered vehicles.
Typically, charging up an EV is less expensive than fueling a gas-powered vehicle. A 2020 survey by AAA found that the average annual fuel cost for a compact EV was $546, while the annual cost of fueling a gas-powered vehicle was $1,255 based on a 15,000-mile average annual mileage.
Note: If you'd like to compare the fuel efficiency and cost for different vehicles, you may find the Department of Energy's side-by-side comparison tool useful!
The Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Tax Credit is the best federal incentive available for EV purchases (and both AEVs and PHEVs qualify!). Thanks to this program, you can receive a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 in the year you purchase an EV. However, not every vehicle qualifies for this credit: your EV must have a battery that has at least 4-kilowatt hours (kWh) of capacity, use an external plug-in source to recharge, and have a vehicle weight rating of up to 14,000 pounds in order to be eligible for this incentive. Certain manufacturers have also reached their cap for incentive claims.
Despite the incentives and lifetime savings offered by electric vehicles, lower driving ranges, long charging times, and a lack of charging infrastructure have historically kept EVs from competing with gas-powered vehicles in the past. However, charging stations are more prevalent today, and battery storage technology has rapidly improved to allow EVs to compete with most gas-powered vehicles. In the next section, we discuss the driving range of some of the most popular electric vehicles on the road today.
*Some states offer additional incentives for purchasing EVs. Want to see if they're available in your state? Check out our full list of state incentives here.
The range that EVs can travel on a single charge has increased substantially in recent years, but this range still varies substantially by model. The table below breaks down some of the most popular EVs and their respective ranges:
|Nissan Leaf||149 miles|
|Chevrolet Bolt||259 miles|
|Tesla model S||370 miles|
|Tesla model X||371 miles|
|Tesla model 3||263 miles|
|Tesla model Y||326 miles|
|Audi e-tron||222 miles|
|Porsche Taycan||199 miles|
Another area where EVs differ from gas-powered vehicles is charging time. The length of time that it takes to charge an EV depends on the type of charging station and the specific EV model. Companies rank charging stations as Level 1, Level 2, or Direct Current (DC) fast charging based on their capabilities. The table below summarizes the different types of chargers:
Type Of Charger
Mileage/hour Of Charge
|Level 1||2-5 miles per 1 hour||Commercial and residential|
|Level 2||10-20 miles per 1 hour||Commercial and residential|
|DC fast charging*||At least 60 miles per 20 minutes||Commercial|
*Not all EVs are currently compatible with DC fast chargers.
Level 2 chargers are by far the most common charging stations in the United States. The table below indicates the charging time for popular EV models using a Level 2 charger:
|Nissan Leaf||4 to 8 hours|
|Chevrolet Bolt||9.5 hours|
|Tesla model S||10.5 hours|
|Tesla model X||12 hours|
|Tesla model 3||7.8 hours|
|Tesla model Y||10 hours|
|Audi e-tron||10 hours|
|Porsche Taycan||9.5 hours|
EV charging stations have become much more common in recent years. According to a 2020 report published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are 71,975 public and workplace Level 2 charging stations in the United States – and that number grows every day! If you need to find an EV charging station, the DOE has an EV charging station map for the United States and Canada. This map is not all-inclusive, but it does have more than 47,000 charging stations registered to choose from. You can also use this EV trip planner to find charging stations near you!
You can further reduce the lifecycle emissions of your EV by using renewable energy sources for electricity. While the United States' electrical mix is becoming cleaner over time, the best way to save money and protect the environment is to charge your EV with a home solar panel system! Sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace to see how much you can save with solar. If you don't have an EV yet but plan on buying one soon, simply note it in your account so that installers can design your system with your future EV charging needs in mind.