Frequently Asked Questions
Driving a Plug-in Car
Are there different types of electric cars and are they similar to today’s hybrid cars?
The popular abbreviation "EV" encompasses two major types of electrically powered, plug-in cars: all-battery electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf; and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) including the extended-range Chevy Volt. These EVs differ from a conventional hybrid in two important ways: larger battery capacity, and the ability to plug in to the electrical grid to recharge the batteries.
What kind of gas mileage can I get in a plug-in hybrid?
That depends on the size of the car, the size of the battery, and how you choose to drive. As with any car, the larger and heavier the car, the lower the efficiency. If you have a PHEV with a 40-mile range in EV mode, and you rarely drive more than 40 miles without recharging, you would almost never need to buy gas. Your gas mileage could improve to several hundred miles per gallon, plus electricity. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard formulas to calculate fuel economy, it's been reported that the Chevy Volt averages over 100 mpg. If you choose to drive your Volt in gasoline-only mode, fuel economy would drop to about 48 miles per gallon. Conversely, in an all-electric car, you'll never buy gas. For most people, an EV with a 100-mile range between recharging will be sufficient. If you routinely drive long distances, a plug-in hybrid may be the best choice.
Are plug-in cars dependable?
Battery electric cars are the most dependable cars. Well-made production EVs have the potential to last as long or longer than gasoline automobiles, with less required maintenance since there are fewer moving parts in an EV. Brake life is significantly extended since the motor is used to slow the car, recapturing the kinetic energy and storing it back in the battery. Electric motors will outlast the body of the car. Major automakers are offering warranties on the batteries of 8 years or 100,000 miles of driving.
Recharging Plug-in Cars
How long does it take to charge a plug-in car?
That depends on the amperage of the charging system and the size of the car's battery. Keep in mind that most of the time, the battery will not be empty when you plug in, thus reducing charging time. To recharge a completely depleted car battery at a 240-volt charging station, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid would need 4 hours and the Nissan Leaf EV would need 7 hours. Charging times would be roughly double using an ordinary 120-volt wall outlet.
Is plugging in a hassle?
Not at all. Plugging in literally takes just a few seconds. You can charge anywhere there is an electric outlet (120 volts), or use special 240-volt Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) for quicker charging. Most drivers plug in when they get home and forget about the car until the next morning, when the fully charged EV is waiting for them. Overnight home charging results in the most environmental benefits and the most efficient use of the electric system in off-peak hours.
Where do you recharge a plug-in car?
Most people recharge overnight in their own garage, carport or driveway, but public charging stations are being introduced in growing numbers by major employers, local governments, parking garages and shopping centers.
How much does it cost to charge a plug-in car?
Much less than it costs to buy gasoline. The exact amount varies depending on the car and electricity rates. On average, it's less than $1 to charge a plug-in hybrid and $2-$4 for an all-electric car. EVs are the most efficient cars on the road and their cost per mile driven is significantly less than with a gasoline-powered car. Go to fueleconomy.gov for fuel cost profiles of plug-in hybrids and all-electrics.
Batteries for Plug-in Cars
How often do you have to replace the EV’s battery?
Not for many years. GM and Nissan offer warranties covering 8 years or 100,000 miles of driving on the lithium-ion batteries in the Volt or the Leaf. Nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH) in the previous generation of EVs are proving to have very long lives. Several electric cars with over 100,000 miles have been reported with virtually no range degradation.
Are batteries a realistic transportation alternative?
Yes. According to an Electric Power Research Institute report, battery durability testing sponsored jointly by EPRI and Southern California Edison demonstrate that current lithium-ion batteries are likely to retain sufficient capacity for more than 3,000 dynamic deep-discharge cycles – that’s about 10 to 12 years of typical driving. As with any new technology, battery costs will likely decrease as the technology advances and EVs are in mass production. Research is under way for new applications that promise an exciting future for plug-in cars.
Where do batteries end up, in landfills or recycled?
Car batteries have an excellent recycling record that will get even better with plug-in cars. Every car in the world has a lead-acid battery, the most toxic metal used for batteries. Even with its low value as scrap, the recycling rate for lead-acid batteries is about 98% in the U.S. Plug-in cars use newer battery chemistries with metals that are inherently more valuable than lead. It is illegal to dispose of these batteries in a landfill and their value will ensure they are recycled. But even before they're ready for recycling, plug-in car batteries will have a second life in other uses.
What happens when the batteries run out of power?
You charge them back up, either at home or away from home. There is a small but growing network of public charging stations. Other areas of the country use federal funding to build charging infrastructure. In the Northeast, local governments, businesses and retail establishments offer free or low-cost charging to residents and customers. Studies indicate that 80% of Americans have ready access to plugs where they park at night. Although plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt can operate in gasoline mode if necessary, all EV drivers will do well to plug in whenever possible to minimize pollution and fuel cost.
Pros / Cons of Plug-in Cars
Are plug-in cars practical?
EVs can meet the driving needs of many people. Research shows that more than 90% of U.S. drivers average less than 100 miles per day, and most of us drive less than 30 miles per day (U.S. Department of Transportation data). Some early adopters prefer all-electric models and others prefer plug-in hybrid EVs for added flexibility. The deciding factor is often how far they drive and where they'll recharge.
Why would I want a plug-in car?
Three words: cheaper, cleaner, domestic.
Cheaper: Electricity is much cheaper than gasoline (about a third of the current cost of gas) and electric cars require next to no maintenance (no oil changes, no muffler, no catalytic converter, etc.).
Cleaner: Even with the nation's mainly coal-fired electrical grid, driving on electricity produces less carbon dioxide and other pollutants than driving on gasoline. In New England, the regional power grid is roughly 30% cleaner than the national average. Plus, plug-in cars give you the option of driving on renewable electricity sources such as solar, wind, or geothermal energy.
Domestic: Electricity is made in the U.S. By driving electric, you'll help reduce consumption of fossil fuel and increase the nation's energy independence. Bonus: Plug-in cars are fun to drive!
What’s the downside of EVs?
The biggest limiting factor is the sticker price, which is why a $7,500 federal tax credit is available for new EV purchases. Because of their advanced battery technology, EVs are more expensive to buy or lease than a similar gas-powered car. Some people are happy to pay the upfront premium in exchange for significant fuel savings and minimal maintenance costs, as well as other advantages of not using petroleum.
The Energy to Charge Your Plug-in Car
What about overall emissions, including the car and the power plant?
Even today, with more than 50% of U.S. power coming from coal plants, plug-in cars reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and most other pollutants compared with other car types. EVs also allow you to use 100% clean renewable electricity from sources such as the sun or wind, eliminating emissions entirely. Getting more plug-ins on the road could help incentivize society to move more rapidly to clean and renewable generating methods. EVs get cleaner as the electrical grid gets cleaner. Gas cars only get dirtier as they age.
Will plug-in cars lead to more power plants?
Today, more than 50% of U.S. power, nationally, comes from coal plants. In New England, the use of coal to generate electricity has been significantly reduced to just 3 percent. Plug-in cars reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and most other pollutants compared with other car types. EVs also allow you to use 100% clean renewable electricity from sources such as the sun or wind, eliminating emissions entirely. Getting more plug-ins on the road could help incentive society to move more rapidly to clean and renewable generating methods. EVs get cleaner as the electrical grid gets cleaner. Gas cars only get dirtier as they age.