Gas prices are sky high, workers are starting to commute to work again, and public concern about the climate crisis is growing. It seems like the perfect time to buy an electric car.
Before you jump in, though, there are some questions to ask yourself.
What kind of car should I buy?
A major factor to consider is how much range you need. Before you shop, try keeping a mileage journal, tracking how often and how far you drive each day for a couple of weeks.
You’ll also want to decide whether you want an all-electric car, or one that can switch to gasoline in a pinch. All-electric battery electric vehicles are generally expensive, but they yield the biggest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the greatest savings on fuel.
Plug-in hybrid electric cars, which are often cheaper to buy upfront, have both medium-sized batteries and back-up gas-powered engines. (These are not to be confused with standard hybrids, which run on gas engines paired with very small batteries and don’t save as much money or carbon.)
Fuel-cell electric vehicles, which use hydrogen gas instead of rechargeable batteries, are another alternative. But they have to be filled at special hydrogen charging stations, which aren’t that common in Massachusetts.
Another important consideration: Do you want an EV outfitted with plugs for rapid chargers, which can shave hours off your charging time? Not all vehicles have them.
To help consumers choose the right EV for their needs, Green Energy Consumers Alliance has created a tool called Drive Green.
“You can sort and filter and say [something] like, I want an all-wheel-drive SUV that gets at least 200 miles of electric range, what are my options? And we’ll present those to you,” said Anna Vanderspek, electric vehicle director at Green Energy.
How do I get a rebate?
Both the state and federal governments have rebate programs for electric vehicles. You’ll want to understand how they work before you make a purchase.
Massachusetts offers $2,500 rebates for fully electric cars and fuel-cell ones, and $1,500 for plug-in hybrids. You can check out a list of all cars that are covered on the program’s website. Once you buy your car, you have 30 days to fill out an application online, and then can expect a check in the mail within a few weeks. But keep in mind no rebates are available for used cars, or for vehicles that cost over $50,000.
The federal government also offers tax credits of up to $7,500 for EVs. You can redeem them when you submit your taxes by filling out IRS Form 8936. The exact amount you can receive depends on the size of your car’s battery and your income tax. If your tax liability is under $7,500, then you’re only eligible for the amount you owe — meaning if you owe just $4,000 in annual taxes, you can only receive $4,000 back — and you can’t get a refund for the rest or a credit toward next year’s taxes.
Like the state EV rebate program, MOR-EV, the federal incentive doesn’t apply to used cars. It also doesn’t cover all brands. Since the program was created to jump-start the industry, it only applies to manufacturers that have sold fewer than 200,000 units. Both Tesla and General Motors — which manufactures Chevrolets, Buicks, and Cadillacs — have passed that threshold, so their tax credit is phased out. Nissan and Toyota are nearing that mark, too.
President Biden is proposing a policy that would increase that federal tax credit and extend it to all manufacturers, which may be something to watch in the coming months.
Where and how do I charge my car?
EV charging takes much longer than refueling a gas-powered car, so you’ll want to plan to charge when you’re parked for a while. There are three speeds of EV chargers: Level 1, which deliver roughly 2 to 5 miles per hour; Level 2, which give you about 10 to 20 miles of range per hour; and DC Fast Charging, which can charge a car by over 80 percent in half an hour.
Massachusetts is home to 4,589 public charging stations. Vanderspek said the easiest way to find them is to download an app called PlugShare, which maps where each station is located and shows what kinds of chargers are available at each.
The Department of Energy has a similar tool on its website.
“It even tells you whether each charger is available or in use, which is really neat,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “It’s really useful for planning road trips.”
Many new EVs also come with built-in apps for finding chargers. But relying on public chargers alone might not be tenable, especially as more EVs hit the streets. Though National Grid estimates there need to be around 21,000 public chargers on the road by 2025 to keep pace with Massachusetts’ electric vehicle goals, today, there are fewer than 25 percent of that number across the state.
What if I want a home charger?
If you want to charge your car at home, you may need a consultation to see if your electrical system has strong enough current and voltage, and whether there’s enough space on your circuit breaker. Sometimes your utility company will have this information, but you may need an electrician for a consultation.
Many homes can already support Level 1 charging units, available for under $150, which plug right into exterior 120 volt outlets. Level 2 chargers usually cost $500 or more, and many homes require an electrical system upgrade to support them, which can cost thousands more. DC Fast Chargers require a 440-volt power supply, so they aren’t a viable option for home use.
If you don’t have an outlet outside, you can simply use a long extension cord, but make sure you have one that can handle the current.
At the moment, there’s not much financial help available to help offset the cost of buying a charger. Some utility companies are currently petitioning the state Department of Public Utilities to offer direct incentives for installing home chargers, so they could become available in the coming months.
What if I can’t afford any of this?
On the whole, electric cars cost more than gasoline vehicles. That’s especially true right now, since prices of some vehicles are going up because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased raw material prices. Existing rebate programs don’t make EVs cheaper than gasoline-powered cars. The $1,000 you can save annually on gas doesn’t make up for that increased cost. As a result, as The Boston Globe recently reported, more rebates are going to wealthier households.
Several pending legislative proposals could ease the financial stress of buying an EV for Massachusetts residents. One bill would expand state rebates for EVs and extend them to used cars. Another would create more incentives for low- and moderate-income households, authorize more funding for the state’s rebate program, and expand public charging infrastructure.
Since many can’t afford the upfront cost of an EV, Rubin’s organization is also advocating for the state to make incentives available at the point of purchase. And on the federal level, President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal would lower the cost of buying an EV by increasing tax credits and allowing dealerships to collect them on the buyer’s behalf, enabling them to lower prices.
Dharna Noor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.