What to Consider when Buying An Electric or Hybrid Car

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It’s no secret – electric and hybrid cars are a great way to be environmentally friendly, promote green living and cut down on gas costs. Advances in technology have improved the range and power of many models but here are few things to consider before making a purchase.

Companies are constantly improving upon and creating new electric vehicles and hybrid cars so staying on top of all the changes is important for potential buyers. They come in many shapes and sizes, such as the Nissan Leaf which seats five, the Toyota RAV4 electric that will be entering the market next year and the Fisker Karma which the automaker compares to “a Maserati Quattroporte but with better mileage and lower emissions than a Toyota Prius.”
While the pros of buying an electric or hybrid car may outweigh the cons for you, there are still some things you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

Be prepared to pay more: While you may be doing the environment a favor, you will still probably pay more for a car powered by electrons than you would a car powered by fossil fuels. In addition, consider the cost of a home charging station, which certainly adds an expense you don’t have with a gasoline car, but keep in mind it also adds convenience. For example, if you take the purchase price, add in the cost of three years of maintenance, three years of fuel and a home charging station, then consider the expected resale price, a Chevrolet Volt will cost you almost $9,000 more than a similar-size conventional-engine Hyundai Elantra. Also, California residents have to add $700 to $1000 in expenses for electric vehicles because they have to pay sales taxes on the cost of the car before any tax credits and rebates.

Philosophy or economics: Is it worth the added expense to reduce your dependence on oil? According to Federal estimates, The Leaf creates about 1.8 tons of carbon emissions in a year’s driving, or about 13,500 miles but if you drive a Volt on mostly electric power (the Volt has a gas engine to kick in and make electricity when the battery runs out) you will put up carbon numbers closer to the Leaf.

Think about your drive: Everyone’s driving habits are different and if you have a long commute, you may be better off in a hybrid or conventional fuel-efficient car. It is estimated that those who commute about 40 miles or less, or those who have easy access to a workplace charging station, will be able to make better use of an electric vehicle because they won’t be limited by the shorter range. On the other hand, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which will be on sale next year, will feature an all-electric range of only about 13 miles, after that the gasoline engine will start. If you drive more than 13-15 miles per day you may be better of buying a conventional hybrid or fuel-efficient gas-powered car and saving the premium you would pay for the plug-in and the expense of the ever-important home charging station. The Nissan Leaf, however, is great for longer commutes as it will go roughly 75 miles or more on one charge once it hits the market in the coming months. But because it is a pure electric car, there is no backup gasoline if you happen to drive further than the range.

Charging into charging: If you’re planning on getting a home charging station, electric vehicles do make the most sense. However, if you live in an apartment or condo this may not work for you. Home charging stations can cost around $2,000 (and possibly even more depending on the wiring in your house). Also don’t forget electricity rates – do your research before buying! According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Leaf owner who drives 13,500 miles annually will pay anywhere from $393 to $725 for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power electricity, depending on off-peak or peak charging schedules.

Know the incentives: Many electric vehicles that are already on the market or coming to the market soon do qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit. However, beyond that, various state and other incentives can get confusing and you should do research on the appropriate government agency before you settle on a car. Some buyers are expecting tax credits only to find out funds have run out, so make sure you don’t expect too much and ask a lot of questions to the appropriate people.

When to jump in: Knowing when to buy a car is never easy, assuming you’re aware of the ever-changing advances in technology. Should you buy now or wait for something better to come along? When considering electric or plug-in hybrids, the main question should be how long can you go before the power runs out. That is all dependent on the size of the battery and its energy density. In addition, many automakers think that advancements to batteries in the near future will be minimal and the price will go down as manufacturing volumes increase, but you shouldn’t expect to see anything too drastic in terms of range increases anytime soon.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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