What to consider when buying an EV

I wanted to cobble together some thoughts up about what would be good to know when considering buying your first electric vehicle. This was borne out of relatives recently going electric, as well as my experience and what I wish I had known. This will probably be a multipart post as more questions come up.

What terminology do I need to know that’s different from traditional gas vehicles?

This was something I had to read a lot of forum posts to grasp, so here’s a summary of terms used in the normal day-to-day:

  • ICE – Internal combustion engine(s). This is how EV owners refer to non-EV’s.
  • kWh – Kilowatt hours. ICE equivalent to how much gas the car holds/how large the gas tank is. Also kWh is used when referencing the charging rate.
  • Range – US measurement is miles/kWh. ICE vehicles use miles per gallon (mpg).
  • Charging standards (US):
    • Tesla – specific to Tesla.
    • J1772 – found on most low-speed non-Tesla charging stations.
    • CCS – newer standard rolling out to more and more non-Tesla charging locations.
    • CHAdeMO – older standard that CCS is replacing.

EV’s are better for around-town and short distance travel than traditional gas based vehicle’s.

Counter to what we have always known regarding gas vehicles, EV’s “mile per gallon” are generally better due to regenerative braking. Regenerative braking happens when your foot lifts on the accelerator, causing the electric motor in the vehicle to feed power back into the battery pack. The more stop and go traffic you encounter, generally the more efficient the vehicle can be. On a Tesla, this is shown as a green line on the top of the screen, where the more regen that occurs, the larger the green line grows. The feeling of regen is like brakes being applied, which has led to what EV owners call “one pedal driving”, without ever needing to touch the brake pedal.

Side note: Many EV’s have an option for setting the aggressiveness of regen braking, with some providing the option to turn it off all together. My advice – not only should you leave the option on, you should set the aggressiveness level to the highest. This is a time when you should adapt to the newer way of driving that an EV thrives on. Turning off the regen braking only prolongs the driver to EV transition at the detriment of range.

EV driving necessitates a change in driving “lifestyle”.

Yes, and no. My around town and short distance driving has not been impacted negatively. My longer distance trips have changed, but in my opinion, for the better. This post illustrates how the trip to Memphis from Austin ended with me more relaxed, less stressed, and cured my range anxiety. I also think EV’s force a person to be a better driver, ensuring that a trip is planned out and the person is more prepared.

Another change that you will encounter is your “refueling” schedule will change. No more gas station stops, and if you adopt a proactive stance with regards to topping off your battery pack, you’ll always have a vehicle with energy without ever worrying about it. Realizing how I no longer had to stop at nasty gas stations was an unforeseen positive experience. On the longer road trips, most charge points are located next to restaurants or malls, convenient to food and drink. Some establishments even offer a free coffee or discount to EV owners who are charging.

Which EV brand and model should I get?

So, this is a tough one. As of late 2021, we’re starting to see an increase in brands and models being offered to the U.S. market. I own a Tesla Model Y, and it’s the only EV I’ve owned, so I am a bit biased.

  • At the top of your consideration is this: Try to keep an open mind on brands, but also, throw out everything you know about traditional automaker brands. Why? It all comes down to battery pack decisions by the manufacturers, and how they handle the design vs. engineering trade-offs. A vehicle can have the largest battery pack on the market, but also have the worst miles per kWh (the EV way of stating mpg). The manufacturer will market the hell out of the first point, and bury the second.
  • Worry about range over performance – Many brands have performance packages and/or trim levels. In my opinion, these are unnecessary, as EV’s have massive amounts of torque available as default. Put your money into options that increase the battery pack.
  • Shop for models the same as you would with a traditional vehicle – Need a crossover/SUV in your day-to-day life? Or is a four door sedan your preference? Same with EV’s.
  • Consider the charging network – Tesla has their Supercharger network throughout the US, and there are many other networks. Look into what is near your location, and along your frequented routes. As of November 2021, Tesla is either starting to open, or about to open, their SC network to other brands. This is obviously controversial for Tesla owners, but undoubtedly a boon to non-Tesla EV owners. Since the adapter standard is starting to coalesce around CCS, the reverse will be true for Tesla owners with the CCS adapter.

Charging rates, what to know and how to find where to charge the quickest.

One advantage ICE vehicles still have over EV’s is refueling speed. Depending on how your normal commutes are, this can be the largest deciding factor with switching to an EV or not. Generally, there are three main methods, referred to as Levels 1, 2, and 3:

  • Level 1 charging – The slowest, your car will plug into the normal home wall outlet (120V) and charge. Rate is around 3 to 5 miles added to the range per hour. Given your car is parked for around 10 hours overnight, you can add up to 50 miles back to your range. Every EV will come with this charging solution.
  • Level 2 charging – Medium speed, and most common rate found in public chargers. The charge rate is 12 to 80 miles added per hour. In the home, you can achieve this by plugging into what is commonly known as a dryer outlet, or have a Level 2 charger installed. 204-240V. Typically a level 2 charging solution will fully charge your EV overnight.
  • Level 3 charging – Known as DC Fast Charging or Supercharging. The rate of charge is adding 3 to 20 miles per minute (not per hour!). These aren’t available for homeowners, and are the major stops for road trips.

For battery health, the slower the charge rate the better, but this isn’t something a typical EV owner should worry about. Searching out where the Level 3 charging points are around you will be a nice to know. Opting to just rely on Level 1 at home, and occasionally topping up at the local Level 3, is what many EV owners choose to do and are just fine.

Something to note that’s more interesting than necessary to know is that the vehicle has the charging component built in, and the charging locations are just power “connectors”, providing the source of power. The principle behind this is that the car is best suited to know the state of its battery pack, and therefore is the one to make the call at how much power it can receive. Most of the time, that is the max deliverable from a Level 1 or 2 connector. For Level 3 connectors, the car will communicate with the station to deliver at a rate that the battery pack can handle. The more full a battery pack is, the slower the charge rate. This is best illustrated by this graph here. What all this means to the average EV driver is this – if you’re on a road trip and stop in at a Level 3 charger, you’ll have 10-30 minutes of charging before you’re good to go. If you’re at home with a Level 2 charge connector, you can go many days in between plugging in. And if you’re at home with only a Level 1 solution, you’ll probably plug in every night to “top off” the battery pack.

Most EV’s have integrated into their navigation the ability to find surrounding charging locations. Some apps to have on your phone add for flexibility external to the charging network your car prefers:

  • PlugShare
  • ChargePoint
  • Google/Apple Maps

This is probably enough for now. Do you have any questions or thoughts? Leave a comment.

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