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My son-in-law and daughter have decided to move out of Pittsburgh and become suburbanites. Their new lifestyle will require them to purchase a vehicle. I have always enjoyed shopping for a car. As I prepared myself for this exciting event I realized quickly car-buying has changed.

First new decision: Should they buy an electric car? There are certainly advantages to plug-in electric cars, but there is one glaring reason to give pause: They cost more than their traditional gas-powered cousins. Is that initial expense worth it in the long run? Consider these things before buying an electric car.

Battery range: Most of today’s electric vehicles (EV) can travel over 200 miles on a full charge, when driving lower speeds such as city driving. Highway driving consumes battery reserve faster and may result in a range that is significantly less than what is advertised. Extended-range electric vehicles (EREVs) can increase mileage even more, and a plug-in hybrid, with a gas tank for backup, increases range, too. Remember: Adding an engine means adding gas costs and engine maintenance, including oil changes, which regular EVs don’t require.

Home charging: There are few options for charging an electric vehicle at home but the upfront cost can range from $0 to $1,200 or more, depending on what features the charging station is equipped with. While you can get by with a level 1 charging station, most homeowners choose to invest in a level 2 station. Some EV owners also invest in solar panel charging, for environmental and monetary reasons. Level 1 stations are included with the car and use 120-volt outlets; they can take up to 24 hours to charge a car fully. Level 2 stations require a 240-volt outlet and can be portable or mounted. A level 3 station is the commercial type you see in public. My new suburbanites’ new home will come with one level 2 charging station.

Charging station availability: According to the Associated Press, there are currently more than 26,000 public charging stations across the United States, though availability varies widely depending on where you live. Visit afdc.energy.gov to check availability in your area.

Cost to power: The average EV requires about 30 kilowatt hours (kWh) to travel 100 miles. Assuming the national average of 12c/kWh, that’s $3.60 per 100 miles – $540 annually for the average 15,000-mile-per-year driver, mainly charging at home. Compare that to $1,320 a year for a gas-powered vehicle, assuming 25 mpg at $2.20/ gallon. Plug in your local energy costs to personalize those numbers.

Tax and other incentives: Federal tax credits for new EV and Plug-in hybrids typically range from $1,000 to $7,000, depending on the vehicle model and battery size. Some utility companies provide special rates, and many states offer their own incentives, too.

Cost to insure: While EV vehicles are new to the insurance industry, standard rules should apply. More expensive vehicles cost more to insure. Over time the the industry will collect data on the number of accidents EVs are involved in and the cost to repair them to more accurately determine rates.

Lastly, consider your personal mix of highway and city driving and what you would like to use the vehicle for. The combination of charging availability, speed of charging and actual miles driven should be cross-referenced to what the electric vehicle manufacturer specifies.

All of these considerations can help you decide if an electric vehicle is the right fit for you.

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