Should Your Next Car Be Electric?
With the national average cost of a gallon of gasoline currently hovering around $3.58 (or even $4+ in some areas), filling up your car may seem like a nightmare. Car fuel is one of the most volatile categories under most families' budgets, because prices fluctuate due to a variety of factors, from Middle East tensions to oil spills or refinery fires. (See also: 5 Simple Ways to Cut Your Car Expenses)
Luckily, there is an increasingly popular alternative to driving environmentally unfriendly, gas-powered cars — electric cars. Forbes reports that at least 47,500 electric cars were sold in 2012 and, although these sales only account for 0.4% of overall car sales in the U.S., electric cars are gaining popularity among American consumers. Whereas a few years ago, SUVs were all the rage, we are seeing a societal shift towards smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, and those vehicles powered by electricity are leading the way.
But are electric cars right for everyone?
One of the biggest factors people take into consideration when shopping for a new car is the cost. With electric cars, you're saving money right off the bat, thanks to federal electric car tax credits, which can reduce the initial cost of the car by $7,500. You also get to eliminate the cost of gas from your budget (unless you drive a gas/electric hybrid), which leads to long-term energy savings.
There are some downsides to the electric car, however. The purchase prices for these vehicles are much higher than similar model, gas-powered cars. For example, the hybrid 2013 Chevy Volt starts around $31,000, the 100% electric Nissan Leaf is "as low as $21,300" (after federal tax savings and without all the fancy add-ons), and the 2013 electric Ford Focus starts at $39,200. Even with the fuel savings, it might take several years to break even.
These high costs make electric cars unaffordable for many low and middle-income households, and even though they're electricity based, there are still more costs involved. For instance, you will probably need to install a charging station in your garage (factor in $1,000 to $5,000), and don't forget regular battery maintenance or replacement costs. All of these costs start to add up, and even without the added car accessories, the final price tag for an electric car is too high for many drivers.
One of the greatest advantages of electric cars is their energy efficiency. A new term was created for electric cars to determine their fuel efficiency — miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (MPGe). Most electric cars get over 100 MPGe, even larger vehicles like SUVs and station wagons.
The downside here is that electric cars can generally go only 250 miles on a fully charged battery. The infrastructure for public charging stations is scarce in the U.S., so long road trips are out of the question, and if you run out of electricity while on the road, you can't simply go to the nearest gas station and fuel up. This makes electric cars more of an inconvenience for their drivers, but they can still be valuable investments if driven locally and charged regularly.
There are few, if any, comparative disadvantages to electric cars where the environment is concerned. Whereas the EPA estimates that gasoline emits 8,887 grams of CO2 per gallon (PDF), electric cars have close to zero emissions. Regardless of your views on what causes global warming and how serious a problem it is, the fact remains that electric cars pollute the air much less than their gas-powered counterparts, and, as the driver of an electric car, you can vastly reduce your impact on the environment.
Multiple factors ought to be taken into consideration when buying a car, particularly when you're deciding between a gas or electric car. Although electric cars are more costly upfront, the long-term fuel savings could make it worth your while. And, as technology continues to develop and more car companies produce electric cars to meet the steadily growing demand for them, the cost will likely drop in the coming years.
Have you bought or are you planning to buy an electric car? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!
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