11 Things You Always Wanted to Know About EVs But Were Afraid to Ask

Don't be bashful: We've got answers to even your most obvious EV questions.

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U.S. sales of electric vehicles continue to soar, with EV registration numbers rising more than 250% in the last five years. More new-car shoppers are open to EVs, and growing numbers of used EVs are becoming available as well. But many shoppers might not know where to start — and some may worry that asking the most basic questions will make it look as though they haven't been keeping up. So here's our guide to the basics of EVs.

Are electric cars real cars?

Yes! They travel at highway speeds, they have the safety and convenience features of many other vehicles, and most have EPA-rated ranges of more than 200 miles. The part you may not know: EVs can be smoother and quieter than gasoline-only cars, and they often accelerate much faster.

Are there electric trucks?

Yes, though only a few are on sale today. The best known are the Ford F-150 Lightning, an all-electric version of the F-150 full-size pickup truck, and the Tesla Cybertruck, which was unveiled in 2019 but hasn't gone into production yet. There's also the Rivian R1T, a midsize electric pickup. Chevrolet says its Silverado EV will go on sale before the end of 2023, and several other automakers have EV trucks on the horizon, as well.

Where do you buy electric vehicles?

Startup brands such as Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid have their own "stores" (which are not technically dealerships), generally separate from their service locations. You can usually buy the vehicles online. For EVs from pre-existing brands (e.g., Chevrolet or Volkswagen), you can often go to the dealership just as you would for a gasoline-powered vehicle. Also, some manufacturers have opened reservation lists for their newest EVs. For highly anticipated vehicles, these reservations can be one of the only ways to get your hands on a first-generation model.

How far can EVs go on a charge?

All but a very few electric vehicles on sale in the U.S. for 2023 have EPA-rated ranges of more than 200 miles. An increasing number will have more than 300 miles, and the EPA rates one version of the Lucid Air at a whopping 516 miles. Actual range varies with the type of driving you do. Sustained highway speeds and cold-weather use can reduce range by up to one-quarter.

How do I charge an EV (and where)?

Today, new-car buyers in four out of five households have dedicated off-street parking. That means they could potentially charge an EV at home, overnight, for the bulk of its miles — similar to charging a cell phone while you sleep. However, it's much tougher today to charge at home if you live in a condo or a townhome, or have to park on the street. For road trips, most EVs allow for DC fast charging, which uses special high-powered stations often found on or near major highways and trunk roads.

How long does it take to charge an EV?

The number of miles added per charging hour varies depending on how you charge and the car's hardware. A standard 120-volt household socket may only add 2 or 3 miles an hour. A 240-volt charging station, whether at home or at a public location, can add from 8 to 25 miles per charging hour. And DC fast-charging stations can charge to 80% of battery capacity in 20 to 45 minutes.

How do you take an EV on a road trip?

Some EVs, most notably Teslas, have charging-station locations built into their navigation systems. You enter your destination and the car is intended to route you there via the nearest stations; it's even possible for the software to tell you how many minutes to stay at the station. EVs without that feature require drivers to use phone apps that let them plan routes that include charging stops right in the app, among them Plugshare, A Better Route Planner, and Chargeway.

Do EVs work well in winter?

Although battery range diminishes in sustained cold weather — by up to 25% in extreme cases — EVs fitted with more efficient heat pumps for cabin heat lose less range than those with resistance heating (similar to electric baseboard heaters). Also, depending on their level of charge, the batteries may be able to hold enough energy to keep the cabin warm for about 12 to 30 hours — which could help you stay comfy if you're stranded in a snowstorm.

What happens if an electric vehicle gets wet?

Nothing! Despite your potential visions of toasters in bathtubs, EVs can handle car washes, rainstorms, wet roads, and all the rest of the water-related situations other automobiles face. Carmakers rigorously test their EV models for these conditions.

How long do EV batteries last?

Because so few EVs were sold in the early years, there is little real-world data on long-term battery life at this time. EV batteries are warranted against failure for eight years or 100,000 miles, sometimes longer. Automakers and battery manufacturers suggest EV batteries should last longer than that, though there will be some capacity loss over years of use — just as there is with your cell phone, but more slowly.

How much does an EV cost?

Electric vehicles cover a wide range of prices, and the cost could be made lower due to federal, state, and other incentives. (Federal tax credits changed in 2023, so it's complicated.) The 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EV compact hatchback starts at less than $30,000; the cheapest Tesla Model 3 is now about $43,000; and the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup starts around $57,000 (prices change frequently, so check for updates). In general, EVs are still somewhat pricier to buy than comparable gasoline vehicles, but their running costs per mile can be lower. If you pay $0.16 per kilowatt-hour at home (that's the national average; you can check your own state) and your EV gets 3 miles per kWh, 100 miles costs you about $5.30 in energy. A 25-mpg car using $3 per gallon gasoline costs $12 for that same 100 miles.

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John Voelcker
John Voelcker is a reporter and analyst covering electric vehicles, auto technology, and energy policy. He has written or edited more than 12,000 articles on low- and zero-emission vehicles and the energy ecosystem around them. His work has appeared in print, online, and radio outlets, and he is frequently quoted as a subject-matter expert. He splits his time between the Catskill Mountains and New York City, and still one day hopes to become an international man of mystery.