Choose your own Electric Vehicle

A friend of mine messaged me saying they were thinking about getting an Electric Vehicle as their next car, and wanted to know which would be right. As an early adopter of both Hybrid and Electric Vehicle technology I’ve been asked by my friends and family this exact question a number of times, and unfortunately it’s not a quick conversation. So, to answer my friends question, and hopefully give myself (and anyone wandering the web) a reference, here is my buyers guide.

There are a number of factors towards getting the right vehicle. For these questions, answer based of whether or not you would need your new vehicle for the purpose listed. If you have another vehicle that can stand in, feel free to ignore the need:

Why go Electric?

  • Environment: EV/Hybrid vehicles aren’t yet perfect but are a step in the right direction for both short term (cleaner air) and long term (encouraging investment in renewable energy and sustainability) environmental goals.
  • Storage: EV’s (unless they are conversions) have no need for many of the bulky mechanics of their ICE counterparts, and so feature floor, trunk and even “Frunk” storage that makes them roomier.
  • Infrequent maintenance: EV’s don’t require as much maintenance as gas engines. No fluids to regularly change, and brakes last past 100k miles thanks to regenerative braking.

There are more reasons, but if you are here, you probably already know.

Does the vehicle need to tow? (Do I have to go gas)

  • Electric: The Model X can tow 5000 lbs (ski boat or airstream), this is more than any Hybrid I’ve seen, but comes with a pretty severe range limit (100 miles or so round trip). Unless you a really patient I wouldn’t bother trying to use a supercharger with a boat attached as you can’t back into the chargers with a trailer. This is your only options for big loads in the electric category.
  • Hybrid: There are a handful of hybrids that can tow, and the limit seems to be 2500 lbs. Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the best example so far. This is fairly limiting (small trailer like a pop-up camper, or a 3 seater jet ski) but allows you to fill up quickly along the way, while still benefiting from better gas mileage from regenerative braking.
  • Gas: If you don’t have one and need to tow a large load any appreciable distance then you should probably just buy a Gas truck. Fingers crossed for an electric Truck with serious range to come out, but earliest contender is likely to be Tesla and that’s in a few years.

Unless you need a big truck bed for cutting your lumber, there should be an electric or hybrid option for you below. Keep reading to see which one is right for you.

Can you charge at home or at work?

Charging at work or home is a must for Electric vehicles. You don’t want to wait around for your car to charge, or make constant stops to remote charging stations. If you don’t currently have charging however there are still some options:

  • Rent a home: If you rent, but have a garage, check your garage for a 220v 20a Dryer outlet. This would mean charging up in around 8 hours while you sleep, and would be acceptable for most use cases. If you don’t, a 110v outlet will charge your car, but at half the speed, meaning daily long commutes might not be possible without supplemental charging.
  • Own your home: Totally worth having an Electrician come out and install a dedicated charging circuit and charging unit. I love my 50a JuiceBox charging station, and it cost around $1,200 installed. Charges more than twice the speed as the dryer 20a charger.
  • Hybrid: Hybrids are a good choice if you don’t have an EV charging option readily available. Plug-in Hybrids offer additional gas savings if you have a 110v.

Does this vehicle need to do long road trips?

If this is your only family car or you just have a wild spirit, then some of the shorter range options are out.

  • Electric: Gotta go Tesla. Their supercharger network is the only tolerable way to do cross country travel (US). It’s present on all the major highways, will often juice you up enough to get the next few hundred miles in as little as 20 minutes, and is reasonably priced or free in some cases. HACK: If you do a lot of travel Search the used market for a Tesla that has the feature “Unlimited Lifetime Supercharging” — This is a feature that transfers with the vehicle from owner to owner (for the lifetime of the car) and provides free supercharging. Used model S with this feature can be as cheap as 25k, and means you can travel the US to your hearts content for FREE! Combine that with the “camper” feature and you can comfortably (if under 6 feet) sleep in the back with the seats folded down while the Tesla keeps the air circulating and at your preferred temperature…
  • Hybrid: Any will do. You’ll need to gas up, but most hybrids have a similar or longer range than their gas only counterparts.

Now, lets consider some of the choices among electric vehicles

Does it need to drive a big family? (>5 passengers)

Only a few choices here

  • $$$$: For 7 seaters, Model X is the only real electric choice, with range and easy maintenance. There are also Hybrid options from Lexus and Volvo hybrid 7 seaters.
  • $$: Toyota has a few reasonably priced hybrid options, the Prius+ MPV and the Toyota Highlander, the 3rd row in the highlander is kind of a joke however, and likely only comfortable for small children. HACK: If one or two of your passengers are between 35 and 75 lbs, a Used Model S with the trunk seat option is pretty awesome. The seats are designed for small children, and are rear facing with 5 point built in harnesses.

Car Seats and Tall drivers

I’m 6'4" and have 2 little ones so this is a special consideration, but it may apply. If you plan to have 2 rear facing car seats (and the LO’s rear face for longer now than when we were kids) then you may feel a crunch in smaller EV’s if you are a tall driver. I’d recommend going to the dealerships with your car seats and trying yourself. My wife (5'8") was able to drive pretty much all of the cars even with a rear facing seat behind her, but my options were more limited. I found the Tesla Model X and Model S to be spacious enough, but wasn’t able to find any other configuration that worked for me. Best is to bring the seats and try it.

Drive in the snow?

Just don’t get a Prius :)

Okay, only slightly serious here, but for mountain cars you want to go with AWD. The “D” series (dual drive) Teslas (X, S and 3) handle in the snow like billy goats, with the extra weight and fine tuned traction control and a nice set of all weather or snow tires you’d think you were glued (but remember all cars are sleds when they slide so drive careful out there). Hybrids and EV’s that have been converted from their gas counterparts often have awful weight distribution and balance, and will need chains for bad snow. Also for mountain driving make sure you have a decent (30%) surplus of range for the trip, mountain driving sucks battery and nobody wants that anxiety.

Not near service?

If you are considering an electric vehicle or hybrid, note that while the electric parts break down less than gas vehicles (which is fairly rare for new cars, and a little more common for used) there aren’t as many shops that will work on the electric bits competently or under warranty as you would find for gas vehicles. For Tesla there are service centers which have an interesting model where the tech comes to your home as an option, but if you aren’t near one then you’ll be forced to look on yelp for a mechanic who has a specialization for your particular EV brand or Hybrid. It is worth figuring out where you’ll go before buying for any car.

On a Budget

I recommend Tesla pretty hard here, and there are lots of good reasons for it beyond the console games and self driving features. Other companies in the US have been making “compliance cars” to check the box for having done electric vehicles, and there are few if any contenders for electric vehicle manufacturers that are dedicated to solving the real problems. I was an early owner of Nissan Leaf, and poor engineering even after multiple recalls had the battery worn to a nub (34mi range) before 100k miles. Tesla Batteries hold strong for 200k+, due to a thoughtful liquid cooling system. Tesla has revolutionized every part of the car ownership experience and beats their competitors every almost every category range, longevity, safety, features, support, service, buying experience. But to get more you have to pay more, and for many buyers the cost per mile is a major consideration for cutting gas. I definitely feel some guilt over the luxury of driving my Model X fairly regularly even with all the justifications I’ve made for doing so (Tall, Car seats, boat towing, mountain snow trips), but Daddies deserve nice things too. Another real issue with Tesla is that thanks to their success, they’ve hit the “cap” on the Federal Tax credit. For the rest of 2019, the normal $7,500 EV buyer Federal credit is halved for Tesla (and tesla alone) and starting in 2020 won’t be available at all. Other manufactures still have more cars to sell before hitting that cap (it was setup as cars per manufacturer).

  • Used: Because older non-Tesla EV’s have battery issues, I’m only going to recommend Tesla for EV here. A used Model S direct from the dealer will run just shy of 40k, but if you go 3rd party, you can find 25k and even some Model 3’s. This is a steep discount from original price, but still hearty as far as used vehicles go. Used Hybrids are also a good choice and can be much cheaper as well, just don’t get one that is an early model for the manufacturer. Toyota is a safe bet.
  • Compliance Car: The big manufacturers (like Ford) have been converting their existing vehicles to Electric and Hybrid vehicles, and if you don’t need to do snow driving (see above) and have more limited range needs you can benefit by having a car that has a fully thought out interior while still being affordable. A new Ford Focus Electric is about 20k after rebate and has a 115 mi range, my wife loves hers, and it fits our car seats as well. Another downside here is these tend to have less storage than their gas counterparts, as the layout was not thought out for electric motors but shoe horned (for instance some of the trunk used for battery space while the “frunk” is used for electric motor).
  • Hybrid: Toyota has been selling these for a long time and they’ve got it down. The vehicles are hearty, will do everything you want a car to do with long range and a good price. Plug in models can cut your gas consumption, but not eliminate it, and with gas comes oil changes and maintenance as well as EV fixes.

Hopefully that was helpful, if this gets popular I’ll make a chart to help. Please clap (is that the Medium thing) if you appreciated, or add feedback with your findings and opinions in comments.

Kevin Lohman, Software Engineer, Father, Story Teller, and former US Navy Sailor (who never set foot on a ship)

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