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Is Now the Time to Buy an Electric Car?

With gas prices soaring and so many more plug-in vehicles available, you may be considering this switch

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Electric vehicles have been touted for their low impact on the environment and their high performance (especially the lightning-quick acceleration). But with gas prices reaching record highs this year, the biggest reason you might want to consider one now is this: To refuel, it connects to a charger, instead of a gas pump. Estimates show that the costs to power an electric vehicle are less than half of a gas-powered car; the savings may be even greater as gas prices climb. Maintenance costs are lower too.

Luckily, the auto industry got its timing right. Just as this gas crisis is upon us, more manufacturers have entered the electric vehicle (EV) market. For years, the market has been dominated by Tesla, whose mostly high-end EV cars brought style and panache to the trend. But now you can find plug-in vehicles from such mainstream manufacturers as Volkswagen and Hyundai, among others. Even the venerable Ford Mustang and Ford F-150 pickup are made in all-electric versions now.

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But we understand: Anyone who has driven a standard gas-powered car their whole lives may be hesitant to adopt this new technology, especially when gas stations remain prevalent and public EV chargers few. If you’re in the market for a new car this year, or are just “EV curious,” here are facts to consider.

What’s an EV like to drive?

EVs are also exceptionally quiet, which makes it easier to carry on a conversation with a passenger at a normal tone of voice. And, because electric motors are smaller than gas engines and because the batteries on new EVs are typically positioned under the chassis, carmakers can give over more space to passengers and luggage. So a midsize EV typically has more room inside than an equivalent-size gas car.

How much do EVs cost to buy?

It’s complicated. That’s because you need to consider more than the sticker price, which will likely seem high compared with similar gas-powered vehicles.

To start, some states offer incentives on certain EV models. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a state-by-state breakdown.

New Jersey, for instance, will waive its 6.625 percent sales tax on the purchase of an electric vehicle, which would amount to $2,650 off a $40,000 EV. You should also look at incentives for installing EV charging equipment, often offered by your local utility. In California, if you live in Anaheim, you can shave $3,000 off the cost of installing faster, Level 2 charging at your home. But if you live in Oklahoma, the best utility incentives amount to $200 for installing EV charging equipment. 

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More commonly, EVs can qualify for federal tax credits, but that can vary by brand. The law that established the credits gave a fixed allotment to each manufacturer, and both GM and Tesla have exhausted theirs (though their vehicles might qualify for some state rebates). But for other brands, federal credits can greatly reduce the sticker price. Also note: To qualify for the full tax credit of $7,500, you have to actually owe at least that amount in taxes in a year. A person drawing on retirement savings and Social Security may have a relatively low tax bill and not meet that threshold, says Jay Halpern, a CPA in Kingston, New York.

How much do EVs cost to operate?

We already mentioned the difference in “fuel” costs, but EVs also have fewer moving parts than do their gas-powered relatives, with no pumping pistons, no complicated gear boxes, no fuel injectors, no radiators, no crankshafts and so on. And that means less maintenance and fewer repairs. The Department of Energy has a good calculator to compare costs for what you’re driving now vs. an EV. ​As for operating costs, a front-wheel-drive gas-powered Honda CR-V, which gets decent fuel mileage at 28 mph city/34 highway, will run about $2,988 a year in gas if driven 15,000 miles in California, while the Department of Energy says an all-electric Audi Q4 driving that same distance will cost about $1,250 a year for electricity. In Michigan the gas cost falls to $2,362 — but the kilowatts cost a mere $954 — again, less than half the money.

What about range?

“Ten years ago, when the first crop of electric cars came out, you had Tesla’s, which had 200 miles of range. But mass-priced electric cars had ranges of around 75 miles. And most people just won’t buy a car with 75 miles of range,” says EV industry consultant Voelcker. But times have changed. “Today the new normal is rapidly approaching 250 or 300 miles.”

But considering that you can recharge your EV at home each night, that range may be far more than you’ll need (except on a long road trip). Voelcker advises spending a month of resetting your gas car’s odometer every Sunday morning and penciling down the distances you actually drove in a week. “People are always really shocked to find out how far they didn’t go.” 

Where to charge an EV?

Nearly 90 percent of EV owners say they always or mostly charge at home, according to a February 2021 survey by J.D. Power. That’s due both to convenience and cost. At home you aren’t paying a surcharge to a third-party provider. Still, public EV charging is frequently cheaper than fueling up on gasoline. And if you hunt carefully, you can increasingly find free charging stations, offered both by governments and by retailers like grocery stores that want your loyalty. Phone apps can help you locate them. If you’re charging away from home, find something to do while you’re waiting. Even high-speed chargers need a half hour or more to “tank you up.”

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Also ask your dealer about free public charging options. For its ID.4 crossover, Volkswagen gives free refills for the first three years of public charging on its own Electrify America network.

As for home charging, while you can plug in to a standard wall socket, that experience will be slow, at a rate of just about 5 miles of range per hour. Or installing higher-capacity wiring (costing as much as $1,800) can get you up to 250 miles of electricity during an overnight refuel.

Will weather affect range? 

A 2020 study from the Norwegian Automobile Federation found that the average EV lost about 20 percent of its range in cold temperatures. This isn’t very surprising. Heating the cabin air also decreases a gas-powered car’s fuel efficiency, but such cars have the benefit of using excess heat from the engine for warmth. Electric cars don’t make as much heat (in winter) from their systems. EVs will also have less range if you’re driving in Las Vegas in the heat of summer — but so will a gas-powered car, since running the AC uses energy.

What about a plug-in hybrid? 

First, they’re hybrids, and that means they use the electric motor to supplement the gas engine. While they tend to run on pure electric power first, if you exhaust the battery, you’re not stuck. Also, because plug-in hybrids have relatively small batteries, the other advantage is that you likely won’t need to add a faster home charger; a regular wall plug should be enough to juice the vehicle overnight.