To EV or Not to EV? The Pros and Cons of Electric Vehicles

EV technology is advancing everyday, changing the balance of the pros and cons of electric vehicles. Source: Eduardo Arcos

Electric vehicles (EVs) are changing the ground transportation game. Should your next car be an EV? We did the grunt work to help you cut through the noise and understand the essential pros and cons of electric vehicles. 

Buying a car has never been an easy process. There have always been innumerable factors to filter in order to determine the best fit. Nowadays, we get the privilege (note the sarcasm) of adding another question: electric or traditional? It’s easy to work yourself into a full-blown which-car-should-I-buy meltdown.

On the bright side, this new vehicle category presents drivers with opportunities to embrace environmental consciousness, technology, and cost savings, depending on what makes you tick! Truthfully, EV aren’t for everyone at this point. But the technology has progressed substantially over the past decade to the point that it can meet the goals of more households than you might expect! And it continues to evolve every day. 

Interested in this new vehicle category but not sure what day-to-day changes it would require? Or whether an EV would meet your family’s demands? And not sure where to start? You’re in the right place for a 101 on the pros and cons of electric vehicles!

If you’re new to the EV game (as in, you’re a level 1 on understanding what exactly an EV is), don’t sweat it. Read on for the inside scoop on EV essentials: what they are, some of their trade-offs, and their many benefits. 

What Exactly is an Electric Vehicle?

When considering the pros and cons of electric vehicles for your situation, it's important to assess charging accessibility. Source: Mark Heckner

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words electric vehicle? Do you think of charging stations? Kissing cross-country road trips goodbye? Maybe even a self-driving, auto-parking, super-intelligent car of the future?

Some of your thoughts might be spot on. Some of them… well… not so much. So let’s take a quick look at a basic definition to build on a solid foundation of EV knowledge.

An electric vehicle is a type of automotive transport that relies solely on a battery, which stores electric energy that in turn powers a motor. An electric vehicle, often called an EV or a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV), can be charged by literally plugging the vehicle into an electric power source.

One of the most commonly known features of an EV is that its driver plugs it in to charge its battery via an off-board electric power source. It doesn’t (necessarily) rely on a gas tank to keep it movin’ down the road. But what are the different vehicle types under the broad “EV” umbrella?

All-Electric vs. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

There are a few different types of EVs, but the two main categories are all-electric vehicles (AEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). 

At a basic level, a PHEV’s powertrain consists of both an internal combustion engine (like a normal car) as well as an electric motor that uses energy stored in the battery. That means, because it has an internal combustion motor, a plug-in hybrid vehicle can operate on gasoline (like a traditional car) or travel a set number of miles on electricity alone.

An AEV is solely electric. That means it will not contain a gas tank like a PHEV. You’re all-electric all the time, pals. So charging up is an absolute must.

We should note that these both differ from the common hybrid vehicles (HEVs; think all the “hybrid” versions of conventional models), which owners do not charge. HEV’s use their battery to improve fuel economy and provide supplementary power to an internal combustion engine. They have an extremely limited all-electric mode (which is essentially for emergencies).

Why Consider an Electric Vehicle: A Few Pros

We’ve put our impartiality cap on in researching this post. Our goal is always to provide you the best information to make your own choice. While both pros and cons of electric vehicles still exist, the technology is evolving every day. And there are already notable benefits that EVs can provide for drivers and our society as a whole.

Environmental Benefits

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the whole “EVs are greener argument.” But EVs are greener than conventional gasoline-powered cars. That’s a fact.

In the grand scheme of things, charging your car’s battery can be associated with pollution at the power plant level. So EVs’ electricity-related emissions can vary based on region. But the total emissions associated with charging EVs are still typically much less than the emissions from gasoline cars. And EV’s produce no tailpipe emissions

On top of that, EVs run more efficiently. Electric motors convert 75 percent of chemical energy from their batteries. By contrast, internal combustion engines (ICE) only convert about 20 percent of the energy stored in gasoline.

There are concerns surrounding the lithium extraction process for EV batteries. But many automakers are committed to ethical lithium sourcing to mitigate those concerns.

With zero tailpipe emissions and 75% chemical energy conversion, EV’s present environmental and cost-saving benefits for owners. Source: Jan Kaluza

Cost-Saving Benefits

A common concern about EVs has been their incremental cost as compared to conventional vehicles. So you might be surprised to hear that over their lifetimes, EV’s can provide net savings as compared to conventional vehicles.

Because of the increasing interest in EVs—and because they’re becoming incredibly common—there are dozens upon dozens of manufacturers that now offer all-electric models. More people are investing in EVs: in 2010, only 1,919 EVs were sold in the US; and in 2018, sales hit over 233,000. And the interest in EV vehicles is only growing. A 2019 survey conducted by Consumer Reports and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that about 63 percent of prospective buyers in the US are interested in EVS—and further, 31 percent would consider one for their next purchase.

This demand is driving technology evolution; and technology evolution is driving vehicle prices down. That trend will definitely continue.

On top of falling upfront prices, EVs often end up being more affordable for owners to operate over their lifetimes. On top of lower fuel costs, reduced maintenance requirements provide long-term cost-saving opportunities that in many cases outweigh the upfront expense as compared to conventional vehicles.

Common EV Concerns: Some Could-Be Cons

Like we told you before, we’re not here to throw our own biased opinion at you—we’re committed to presenting both the pros and cons of electric vehicles to help you make the most informed decision possible. And—of course—the one that makes the most sense for your circumstances. With that in mind, we present a couple of the primary could-be cons of EVs.

Driving Range

Of the pros and cons of electric vehicles, “range anxiety” is perhaps the most common concern among people considering EVs. In fact, according to a AAA survey, about 58 percent of consumers said they were hesitant to commit to an EV because they were afraid the car would run out of charge during their drive. 

This concern is backed by the numbers… to a certain extent. AEVs have a median range of about 125 miles per charge, although some newer models boast ranges that rival ICE vehicles. Even that median range would more than cover most of Americans’ driving needs, given that Americans drive an average of 31.5 miles per day

So would an EV work for an average day of driving? Most certainly. But would you face challenges if you’re planning cross-country trips that are hundreds or thousands of miles? Probably. You’d certainly need to plan ahead to find charging stations along your route and bear in mind the time it takes to charge up. (It can take up to 8-12 hours to recharge completely depending on the charger, although DC fast chargers, which currently charge an EV battery to 80% capacity in 20-30 minutes, are increasingly prevalent).

That brings us to our next could-be con…

Charging Station Accessibility

On a related note, AAA has found that about 63 percent of people worry there are not enough places to charge. That was why they chose not to buy an EV. 

There are certainly substantially more gas stations than charging stations in the US. No argument there. But, as you can see from the U.S. DOE AFDC Charging Station Locator, there is a steadily increasing number of charging stations throughout the US (and that number is only growing).

While many are concerned about EV charging station accessibility, the number of charging locations is large and ever-growing. Source: U.S. DOE AFDC
There are over 30,000 public charging stations in the US, and that number continues to grow on a daily basis. Source: U.S. DOE AFDC

On top of that, it is quite straightforward to set up vehicle charging at home. On top of that, many office buildings offer workplace charging to employees. Between home and work charging, you are likely fully covered! No more trips to the gas station or tracking gas prices.

To EV or Not to EV?

Truthfully, we can’t sit here and tell you that an EV is the perfect vehicle choice for you, your life, and your circumstances. But we can say that if you are looking to significantly decrease your carbon footprint AND save money along the way, an EV could be just the thing. Already own an EV? We welcome you to share your experience in the comments. We want the good, the best, the bad, and the ugly!

Don’t stop at energy savings during your commute. Take those energy—and cost—savings home with our energy-saving strategies straight to your inbox. Subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog today! We’ve got all the eco-conscious insights, advice, tips, and tricks regularly coming your way!

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