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We don’t need to tell you that buying a new a set of wheels can be stressful endeavor. Throw in a monkey wrench like buying a car powered by an unconventional power source you’re unfamiliar with — electricity for example — and you’ve got an ordeal you could probably do without. But with gas prices at or near the $4.00 mark nationwide, now might be the right time to take that drive down Electric Avenue. If you’ve looking into buying an electric car, or want to know more about them, our guide to purchasing an electric car is here to help walk you through the entire process.

One is the loneliest number, that’s why there’s three

Before you get carried away and overwhelmed with all the talk of batteries, zero emissions, hybrid this and electric that, know this: There are really only three types of green cars out there that you need concern yourself with. For now.

Plug-in hybrids: Plug-in hybrids delve further down the electrical rabbit whole, so to speak, when it comes to alternatively powering a car. They are the middle child of the green car family. Plug-in Hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt, operate in much the same way as a hybrid by providing an all-electric driving range using a battery pack. Once the battery has been depleted, the vehicle can slip back to being a regular fuel-fed hybrid and recharge its batteries using the gasoline-powered motor as a generator. The big difference here is that you can also plug it in and recharge the electric motor instead of using the engine to charge it up. Depending on your driving needs, if you can plan your trips and just drive on electricity and then charge back up, you can go a very long time without having to gas up.

All-electric (EV): All-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model X, Ford Focus Electric and Chevy Spark EV run on, you guessed it, electricity and use electrons as their solitary source of energy. They are known an Electric Vehicles, or EVs. The more you drive an EV, the more the battery charge is depleted and there’s no gas engine built in to rescue you if you run out the battery completely. Because all-electrics EVs use no gas, they must be recharged either at your home or at an EV charging station (more on charging options later). At present, fully electric vehicles are primarily city cars due to their limited range, which is typically 80 to 100 miles on a charge. Only the Tesla Model X goes farther but as time goes on, expect the range of EVs to improve.

Charging: Easy as Level 1, 2, 3

Now that you’ve decided on a car — either plug-in or all-electric — you’re gonna need to charge it up. There are really only three types of charging types or “levels” supported right now by electric car manufacturers.

Level 1: Level 1 charging works like any standard three-pronged household outlet, meaning you can plug your EV into the outlet in your garage and charge its battery. Virtually every EV on the market supports this type of charging. The bad part: it’s painstakingly slow. For example, a Nissan Leaf using a standard 120-volt charger will take roughly 18 to 20 hours.

Level 2: Level 2 charging is much faster and uses special equipment specific to EVs. This is the type of charging you will want to use most often. To borrow again another example from the Leaf, a full charge using a 240-volt Level 2 charger ranges between 8 to 12 hours.

Level 3: Level 3 charging (DC Fast Charge or DC Combo) uses industrial-strength chargers, which can bring battery levels up to 80 percent capacity in as little as 20 to 30 minutes by zapping your battery with 480-volts of electricity. Not all EVs support this type of charging, and currently there are no commercial-grade electric cars on the market that are capable of charging faster than Level 3 although that may change in the future.

It’s important to remember that charging times will depend greatly on what the current state of charge your battery is at. In addition, how often you need to charge will invariably come down to how far you drive and what your vehicle’s electric range is. Electric cars will be able to travel further due to their larger batteries and need to be plugged in more often in order to recharge, while plug-in hybrids will travel fewer miles on electricity and may require less charging due to their gasoline-powered on-board generators.

Like all lithium-ion batteries found inside the majority of hybrid-electric vehicles (including the Toyota Prius Plug-in, the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Ford Focus Electric), the ability for the battery to hold its charge capacity will diminish over time. What this means is that in a 10-year period the gradual loss could reach as much as 30 percent or more. Using a Level 3 charger too often can accelerate that loss in a shorter amount of time.

Considering the costs, is it even worth it?

Okay, so an EV is more expensive to buy, and there are a lot of things to consider, like charging and vehicle range. But once you have one, how much will it cost to operate? Is it actually cheaper than your typical gas-guzzler?

Is an EV right for me?

Answering the following questions should help you decide what kind of car is right for you. If you answer yes to some or all, then an all-electric or plug-in hybrid just might work.

  • Is the charging infrastructure established enough in my city? (Yes / No)
  • Do I generally travel less than 80 miles a day? (Yes / No)
  • Do I have reliable access to a secondary vehicle for longer trips (does not apply to plug-in hybrids) (Yes / No)
  • Are environmental factors a driving force behind wanting to purchase a “green” car? (Yes / No)
  • Am I concerned over the volatile nature of foreign oil? (Yes / No)
  • Can I afford it? (Yes / No)

You decide

The future of cars is electric – at least until we find an even better source of alternative energy — and happens to represent the next step in automotive evolution. Electric cars are now gaining ground both in popularity and market share with consumers. And with oil prices continually in flux due to limited supply and all the political issues surrounding major oil-producing regions, a concentrated effort from the government to promote alternatively powered vehicles is already in full swing. The simple truth, or hard truth, depending on your stance, is that electric cars are here to stay. But whether an EV is right for you is another story.

At the very least, we hope our guide will prove useful in helping you come to that decision. Happy Sunday in advance guys.

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