Electric Vehicles Explained

Dear Car Talk:

I read and enjoy your column regularly. Will you please explain electric cars? How do you measure their mileage? Do you need to go to an appointed station to charge, or can it be done at home? What special equipment is needed? How long does it take to charge? How much does it cost to charge?

I hear a lot of people talking about electric cars these days, but I need someone to cover the basics. -- Sam

Great questions, Sam. Let's start with charging an electric vehicle (EV). You don't have to go to an appointed charging station. You can use any public charging spot you like. You'll find them now outside supermarkets, in parking lots, at malls and at office buildings.

But home is the best place to do most of your charging. Most EV owners charge their cars overnight, when electricity rates tend to be lowest and when the car is sitting unused anyway. You can use a standard 110-volt outlet, but it's slow. You'll get about 3-5 miles for each hour of charge.

Most people will want to install a Level 2 220-volt charger in the garage or next to the driveway. A 220-volt outlet is what your dryer uses. It costs around $1,000 to have one professionally installed, but it charges a lot faster. You'll get 15-40 miles for each hour you charge.

How long does charging take? Obviously, it depends on the type of charger you're using. But it also depends on the speed of the internal equipment that comes with your car and the size of your car's battery. But anyone with a Level 2 charger should have no trouble fully charging their car overnight from empty.

Some cars can take advantage of Level 3 "DC fast charging." You don't see those chargers everywhere yet, and it's not something you can install at home. But with DC fast charging, some cars can add an 80% charge in less than an hour.

In terms of mileage, you have to forget all about "gallons" and miles per gallon. You'll see something called MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), but I think the more useful figure is the kilowatt hours it takes to drive the car 100 miles (kWh/100 mi.). The Environmental Protection Agency requires all EVs to list that figure on their sticker.

With that, you can figure out how much driving an EV is going to actually cost you. For instance, take the 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric car. It uses 31.6 kWh to go 100 miles. So your first number is 31.6.

On your electric bill, you can find out what your local electric company charges per kWh. The rate is often lower at night. But let's say it's 15 cents per kWh, which is a little above the national average. So your second number is 15. You multiply 15 cents times 31.6 kWh, and you find out it costs you about $4.75 to drive the car 100 miles.

By comparison, if gasoline cost $3 a gallon, a gas-powered car that gets 33 mpg would cost you $9 to go 100 miles.

Hope that answers your questions, Sam. Write to me again and I'll try to explain bitcoin.

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