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Electric Cars: Benefits and Disadvantages

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2013

Choosing a new car is hard. And it's even harder if you're trying to make the decision between a traditional gas-powered car or an electric car such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric or Tesla Model S. So we've listed some of the pros and cons of electric vehicle ownership to help you make an informed decision before you sign the papers for your next car.

Benefits

The biggest benefit of electric cars is obvious: You no longer need gas. That's a big deal, since the average American spends between $2,000 and $4,000 on gas every year. With fully electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, that cost is eliminated -- though electricity isn't free. A plug-in hybrid eliminates a major portion of your gas bill, as well, but it still uses a gasoline engine as a range extender.

Beyond the fuel-saving benefit, EVs offer another major cost savings: maintenance. Since an EV is fully electric, it no longer uses oil to lubricate the engine. That means oil changes are a thing of the past. The same is true for a lot of other expensive engine work that could afflict a gas-powered car. Brakes won't wear as quickly, either, so you won't need to replace pads as often as you do on a normal car.

Electric vehicles aren't just less costly to own, they're often inexpensive to buy, too. The Nissan Leaf, for example, starts around $30,000 -- no small number, until you factor in the available tax credits. Those include a whopping $7,500 federal income tax credit. Many states offer tax credits, as well. As a result, the $30,000 Leaf can easily get below $20,000. Lease payments can be even more enticing, since the leasing company takes the tax credit and passes on the savings to the driver.

Of course, there's another major benefit to owning an electric car. For many drivers, just knowing that they're doing their part to save the planet will be reason enough to take the leap into an EV.

Disadvantages

The main disadvantages of electric car ownership concern range anxiety: the fear you'll run out of juice when you're nowhere near a charging station. Indeed, both the Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf offer a range of approximately 75 miles. For most drivers, that's more than enough to get around -- but many will require a second car, if only to calm their nerves.

Another big disadvantage is that many drivers will have to install a charging station at home. It's not necessary, however, as you can simply charge your EV at work or at various public charging stations. But most shoppers will want a charging station at home, cutting into the cost savings from owning an EV in the first place.

Although EV ownership eliminates many maintenance hassles, such as oil changes, it can also lead to big expenses. These are mostly because of batteries mounted in modern electric vehicles. Overall battery life is expected to be around a decade, and replacement battery packs can be costly. Most estimates put them well into the thousands of dollars.

Finally, EV ownership doesn't eliminate fuel costs entirely. As mentioned, electricity isn't free -- and charging during peak hours can add to your utility bills. Still, many drivers won't see costs increase more than $20 per month, at most.

While it can be difficult to decide between electric vehicles and gas-powered models, we hope our explanation of the benefits and disadvantages can make the choice a little easier.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Electric Cars: Benefits and Disadvantages - Autotrader