• Free charging for Nissan Leaf buyers in Texas
  • Tax incentives that vary by state
  • Access to high-occupancy-vehicle lanes

The popularity of electric vehicles is growing, but the market for these vehicles still makes up only a tiny portion of new car sales. Still, both automakers and policymakers are anxious to encourage more people to try zero-emissions vehicles, and they're using financial incentives to bolster their arguments. Free use of public EV charging stations, tax incentives and access to high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes are all among the programs that have become common, but perks vary by state. So before you run out and buy an EV hoping to save cash and avoid sitting in traffic, it's important to check the availability of incentives in your area.

One of the newest benefits to EV drivers comes not from a government organization but from Nissan, the automaker behind the most popular electric vehicle on the market. The Nissan Leaf is available nationwide, but new Leaf buyers and lessees in select Texas markets can now enjoy one year of free charging at certain public charging stations. Nissan calls the program "No Charge to Charge." Through a partnership with the NRG eVgo charging network, Nissan is providing the perk for two markets: Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston.

The Dallas area has 23 such stations, and Houston boasts 17 eVgo locations. The stations include Level 2 chargers that can provide 12 to 25 miles of range in one hour, plus DC fast chargers that can provide an 80 percent charge in less than 30 minutes. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the annual fuel cost for the Nissan Leaf at $500, so Texas drivers could save at least some of that money by taking advantage of the free charging offer. It's available on new Leafs purchased or leased from now until March 31, 2014.

More common and widely available incentives for EV drivers are tax benefits. More than half of U.S. states now offer a tax incentive for electric vehicles, and that's in addition to any applicable federal credits. California's tax break -- up to $2,500 for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids -- was set to expire, but the state extended the offer and will continue providing rebates until the budgeted funds are exhausted.

Two other incentives for EV drivers include rebates for installation of charging equipment and access to HOV lanes. A break on charging equipment can allow electric vehicle drivers to top off batteries more quickly, saving time. Access to HOV lanes can be a huge perk for drivers who regularly face heavy traffic, saving time and improving quality of life.

What it means to you: Because these extras vary so widely by region, shoppers should check the benefits in their state and community before committing to an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. The U.S. Department of Energy provides a comprehensive, state-by-state breakdown of incentives here.

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Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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