Want to Take an Electric Car for an Extended Test Drive? Check Your Local Utility Company

Many electric utility companies offer opportunities to get behind the wheel of an EV without the high-pressure sales tactics of a dealership.

Volkswagen ID.4 driving down highwayVolkswagen

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The Tesla Model 3 was mine for the entire weekend—unlimited miles in a nearly new car as clean and well-detailed as it could be, all for free. However, I had to return the electric vehicle by Monday evening no matter what, even if I fell madly in love with the idea of owning an EV.

The Tesla was one of about a half-dozen EVs my local electric utility company makes available for its customers to test drive for free. You get three nights with the car if you make a reservation for a Friday or one night any other weekday. Either way, there’s no babysitting. I could even take a drive out of state if I wanted. Best of all, there was no pressure from a car dealer to purchase this vehicle. I could finally figure out what it would be like to own an electric car in my everyday life and whether it was worth all the hype.

Programs like the one I sampled in Georgia exist around the country. In Gunnison County, Colorado, residents can spend a night with a Chevrolet Bolt EV and take shorter, chaperoned drives in a Tesla Model 3. If your local utility offers this opportunity, it’s a great way to see how an EV fits into your daily routine.

Why Would an Electric Utility Company Offer EVs for Test Drives?

Electric companies want you to buy an electric car. The more you charge that vehicle with electricity, the more money they make to maintain their infrastructure. It’s a potential win/win situation—I estimated driving the Model 3 would likely cost me about 80% less than what I spend at the pumps for a gas-powered weekend of driving.

Still, whether new or used, a modern EV like a Tesla Model 3 isn’t cheap to buy compared to its gas-powered rivals. The Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt EV, or Tesla Model Y are available options in my electric company’s test drive fleet. Deciding if an electric car is right for you is a personal decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The more I drove the Model 3, the more I valued the opportunity to get a taste of the electric life without ever stepping into a dealership in person or making a long-term commitment.

EV Expos and Test Drive Events

Even if your electric company lacks a fleet of loaner electric cars, test drives can be a great source of information on ways to save on the purchase or lease of an EV. Many utilities provide rebates for installing home charging equipment and offer discounted electricity rates when a vehicle is charged during off-peak hours. They may also have an EV expo event that will offer short test drives and a chance to talk to electric car owners. Las Vegas utility provider NV Energy recently hosted an event that included the Audi e-tron, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Subaru Solterra EV, Tesla Model X, Tesla Model Y, and Volkswagen ID.4. My local electric utility hosts an Earth Day event where I got the chance to see some more affordable used EVs, such as the Ford Focus EV, the Chevy Spark EV, and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (one of which is now in my garage).

Friends, Relatives, Neighbors, Lend Me Your EVs!

Most of the early adopters who own EVs today are happy to share their enthusiasm for and knowledge of electric cars with anyone who will listen. If you are willing to put a vehicle on your insurance with full coverage and a low deductible, you may be able to convince a friend to let you drive their EV around for an afternoon to see if it’s worth buying one yourself.

Given its high price tag, don’t expect every Tesla owner to toss you the keys. But a more affordable EV may be entirely possible. I have a best friend who wouldn’t hesitate to offer me access to his Nissan Leaf if I asked. And as a courtesy, I would be sure to have the best insurance possible for that afternoon drive.

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Steven Lang
Steven Lang is a special contributor to Capital One with nearly two decades of experience as an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction. Some of the best-known auto publications turn to him for his expert insight. He is also the co-developer of the Long-Term Quality Index, a survey of vehicle reliability featuring over two million vehicles that have been inspected by professional mechanics.