Electric vehicles (EVs): An update

Chuck Roberts

Many of us have noticed the bombardment of advice by government officials and environmentalists that we should get an electric vehicle (EV) to save the planet. It is worthwhile to take a look at the status and economics of EV technology. The average EV costs about $10,000 more than the equivalent gas vehicle. The government provides a nonrefundable tax credit of about $7,500. If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get the credit. Insurance costs are higher because the price is higher. Figure an additional cost of around $2,000 for a 220-volt hook up in your home to charge the vehicle in a reasonable amount of time.

EV maintenance costs are about 20 percent less than gas-powered vehicles over a drive distance of 45,000 miles. Battery replacement costs are not included in this estimate. It should be noted that battery capacity drops over time, reducing the range of the EV. Manufacturers warrant the battery for most EVs to last 100,000 miles. This assumes you get a free replacement if the battery capacity drops to 70 percent or less during the warranty period. New batteries cost from $4,000 to $20,000. It is interesting to note that very few cost analyses consider the cost of new batteries if the vehicle is to be used after the warranty expires. 

Fuel costs about 50 percent less for an EV than for gas-powered vehicles, based on 45,000 miles driven and current electricity costs. The savings depend on vehicle efficiency and gas pricing. If the next administration is energy-friendly, then gas prices will drop, and the savings will be less. 

Charging stations are becoming available in cities, but they are scarce in the country. Long trips must be planned with waypoints that contain charging stations. It costs more to charge an EV on the road than at home. At this time, it is unclear if the electric grid will be able to handle a large population of EVs. Recently, in California, EV drivers were asked to avoid charging their vehicles during peak regional electricity consumption periods.

EVs are about 30 percent heavier than their counterpart gas-powered models. The heavier vehicle has the advantage in a vehicle/vehicle accident since the occupants in a heavier vehicle have a better chance of surviving a collision than those in the lighter one. This has been a concern at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding the safety of drivers of gas-powered vehicles. There is also a concern among building designers that as EVs become more common, parking garages will not be able to support the additional weight of EVs.

Media coverage suggests that electric vehicles are prone to catch fire. Actually, the percentage of EV fires is slightly less than that of gas powered vehicles. What makes headlines is the severity of an electric vehicle fire that is very difficult to extinguish. Gas-powered car fire temperatures are about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. EV fire temperatures are around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Some parking garages ban EVs because of this difficulty in extinguishing the fire, which could destroy several other vehicles, resulting in an expensive insurance claim against the garage. There are other concerns if you are involved in an accident where a fire develops in your EV. Fire departments will attempt to cool the occupant compartment you occupy in the hope of extracting you after first verifying there is no shock hazard from the high voltage system. The burning batteries will continue to burn even after having been deluged with water. During the last Florida hurricane, EVs were still burning while flooded. The most recent fire department procedure to handle an EV fire (with no occupant) is to throw a chain around the EV, drag it out of the garage, and let it burn itself out.

There are other environmental issues related to electric vehicles.  Like any other electrical equipment, EVs emit ozone, especially during charging. Mining of lithium for batteries devastates the environment of countries providing lithium. Charging from an electric grid connected to a fossil-fueled power plant just transfers the pollution to another source.  It is not clear how to properly dispose of used EV batteries as they contain various poisonous chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

As discussed above, if you plan to purchase an EV, there are pros and cons. Keep these in mind when talking to EV salespersons. An internet search may be helpful but may also be biased in favor of EVs because of the left-leaning influence of some search engines. Best of luck with your EV!