A Few Reasons an Electric Car Might Not Be For You

Satish Kondapavulur
by Satish Kondapavulur
a few reasons an electric car might not be for you

When you live in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, owning or leasing an electric vehicle is fairly simple to justify. The state allows you to use HOV lanes with only one person aboard. Some cities allow you to park in metered parking spots for free. Charging your electric vehicle at the mall can be free. Some businesses might offer electric vehicle charging. There are additional rebates on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an electric car. Electric companies provide discounted power rates for electric car owners for charging in off-peak hours. Some counties offer rebates for installing 240V home charging systems for electric vehicles.

But sometimes, an electric vehicle may not be for you. Range anxiety is a big issue. Another large issue depends on where you live, either if you live in an apartment complex in Berkeley or a ranch in Killeen. It also depends on what you do for a living, whether you’re a high-tech worker in Silicon Valley or a homemaker in Kansas City. Some of the reasons below might not apply if you own a Tesla Model S, with its 200 mile range, a home charger, access to Superchargers, and its $60,000+ price. They also might not apply if the office is only 10 miles away and offers charging stations.

You live in an apartment complex.

Unless you live in one of those high-end condominium complexes that have garages in their underground parking garages for their residents, it’s difficult to own an electric vehicle when you live in the typical American apartment complex. Usually, a resident is allocated one spot in the carport and there are no other parking amenities. To install a 240V home charging station or using the charger that came with the car, it helps to have a dedicated power outlet nearby. You could plug in the charger to an extension cord leading from your apartment, but that would be unsafe. If you live fairly close to your workplace with charging facilities or have a nearby downtown with dedicated electric vehicle charging spots, having an electric vehicle is workable, but will require plenty of planning.

Your workplace doesn’t have (enough) charging stations.

This is big issue in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of the large companies like Google and Facebook have many charging stations for their employees. It minimizes range anxiety for their employees, makes sure the employees can drive in the carpool so they spend less time in traffic, gets the company some good PR coverage for being environmentally friendly, and also nets the company a healthy tax break. Now, even if your office does have charging stations for the employees, there might not be enough of them, leading to what the San Jose Mercury News calls “charge rage.” Since some people need to charge their electric car is make sure they get home, they might unplug another car in order to charge theirs. This has led to company-wide e-mails on charging etiquette and people angry that their car was unplugged. So if you can’t guarantee that you can charge the car once you arrive at the office and you wouldn’t be able to get home on what was left, an electric vehicle might not be the best choice.

Your daily errands consist of driving over 70 miles.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent with at least two kids who aren’t old enough to drive, covering over 70 miles in one day is possible. Even though most electric vehicles have at least 80 miles of range on a full charge, it’s helpful to have 10 miles in reserve. If you need to drive two kids to different schools and many different activities (“I think doing fencing, robotics club, karate, and volunteering at the hospital should be enough to get into Harvard these days”), drop off dry cleaning, pick up groceries, maybe a doctor’s appointment, and a trip to the mall, you might be pushing the limits of your electric vehicle range. Since a new errand might come up at any time, unless there is an SAE Combo or a CHAdeMO fast charging station nearby (even if you live in the Bay Area, there usually isn’t), an electric car isn’t the best vehicle in spur-of-the-moment tasks come up and your daily driving is already straddling the daily range.

You live in a rural area.

If you live in Wyoming on a 1,000+ acre farm, an electric vehicle probably isn’t for you. The nearest shopping center might be 50 miles away. The local high school likely isn’t as local as most Americans might think. Macy’s might be an authentic travel destination. Using the Plugshare app, when I look for charging stations in Sturgis, South Dakota, only one station is available, and it’s a 120V outlet at a local hardware store. But Sturgis is a town of less than 10,000 people. Meanwhile, northeast of Sturgis, in Fargo, North Dakota, a place with a population of over 100,000 people, the Plugshare map shows only one public electric charging station in the entire city, and it’s at the Nissan dealership. So most rural areas might not be the best environment for electric vehicle ownership.

Your state doesn’t have electric vehicle incentives.

Most American states provide some sort of benefits to electric car buyers in the form of additional tax credits, use of the HOV lane with a single passenger, and/or sales tax exemptions. The websites of Plug In America and the National Conference of State Legislatures provide a good breakdown of electric vehicle benefits by state, with some state providing income tax credits as high as $5,000. However, if you live in states such as Wisconsin, Kansas, or New Mexico, there’s much fewer reasons to buy an electric car, as they offer no incentives for electric vehicle buyers. There are no HOV lane benefits or tax credits, two benefits that would really push people towards electric vehicles. As a result, buying a gas-powered vehicle makes more sense in those states.

You don’t own another, gas-powered car.

Sometimes you need a vehicle to travel 100 to 200 miles in one day. Short of a Tesla Model S, there are few other electric vehicles that can accomplish the task. In my opinion, most electric vehicles currently on the market are good second or third cars. For many people, an electric vehicle is a good alternative for 80% to 90% of the driving they do every year. However, that 10% of high car use occurs on road trips or round-trip drives to the nearest international airport. FIAT has tried to address the issue by offering 12 days per year of free rental car access with its 500e, which is 3% of the year. Therefore, having a gasoline-powered car as a back-up or recreational vehicle provides the certainty that you’ll can drive long distances when you absolutely need to.

You’re on edge whenever there’s 50 miles’ worth of gas remaining in your car.

These are the people most susceptible to range anxiety. At any given point, there must be at least 100 miles worth of range in their car no matter where they go. To them, whenever their car shows them the range is 50 miles, they immediately head for the nearest gas station. That’s usually because 50 of miles of range in a normal car means a reserve of 1 to 2.5 gallons of gas left in the tank, which means it’s time to fill up with both gas and regain some peace of mind. Even though there may be a charging station at their home, these people with range anxiety might panic and possibly suffer a nervous breakdown.

Ultimately, an electric vehicle might be not for you. Any of the above could force you to look at fuel-efficient gas-powered cars, hybrids, or plug-in hybrids, the last of which might be the best compromise. As long as you live in a single-family home with a garage and nearby shopping malls in a state that provides many electric vehicle benefits, have access to a gas-powered vehicle, and don’t drive over 70 miles per day, having an electric car can be very convenient. But if you live in an apartment in Iowa where the nearest McDonald’s is 40 miles away with no other cars to use, your new car shouldn’t be electric. In fact, you’d better have range anxiety in those circumstances.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. Though he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, he knows electric cars aren’t for everyone, something he learned the hard way when his Spark EV had 22 miles of range when delivered and couldn’t use it for a lunch date.

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  • VenomV12 VenomV12 on Apr 14, 2015

    With the 70D the Tesla is now starting to look more reasonable, however until there are more superchargers and the charging times are still slow the car still has a lot of issues. For instance I did a 264 mile roundtrip yesterday where there were no superchargers anywhere along my trip and I really did not have time to stop for the amount of time it would take to charge the car if I had a Tesla, so if I had one yesterday, I would have been in trouble and likely stranded. A 2 to 3 year old 70D will make a great runaround car down the road.

  • Css28 Css28 on Apr 14, 2015

    38 mile round trip daily. My Volt handles it 9 months of the year without gasoline. 5 gallons/month the other 3 months. 42 mpg on summer road trips. Honestly folks, it isn't that hard!

    • See 4 previous
    • Css28 Css28 on Apr 15, 2015

      @highdesertcat There are used Volts out there for a little less than their annual income :-O. Obviously, the cheapest route is to keep the vehicles they have. A Volt purchase could only be justified by its fun factor.

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