What you should consider before buying an electric vehicle
Transitioning drivers to electric vehicles is a big priority for Maine as it looks to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. Making the leap yourself — even if you believe in its benefits to society — can be intimidating.
Though the upfront costs of an electric vehicle can be steep and it might not be right for rural Mainers, odds are an electric vehicle would be equipped — and perhaps even better than a gas car — for your lifestyle. If you decide to purchase one, there are also a variety of programs you can take advantage of to reduce the cost.
Taylor LaBrecque has had a battery electric vehicle for six months and the car has been great for everyday travel.
“The car is very fun to drive,” said LaBrecque, resource management coordinator at the environmental office of the Maine Department of Transportation. “It has great pickup but otherwise drives very much like an internal combustion engine. The battery range of the vehicle I purchased allows me to make most of my daily trips with no problem.”
LaBrecque isn’t alone. Josh Caldwell, climate and clean energy outreach coordinator at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said that, according to the organization’s surveys, 96 percent of Mainers with electric vehicles find the cars are reliable and useful.
Aside from the environmental benefits of a vehicle that doesn’t run on fossil fuels, a fully battery electric vehicle has no need for gas. Mainers can save around $1.25 on every gallon of gas compared with charging an electric vehicle, according to the Department of Energy’s eGallon calculator.
“Mainers spend more on gas than any other New England state every year, so not having to pay for gas is a huge boon for people,” Caldwell said.
The upfront cost for the car can be prohibitive for some Mainers. The popular 2022 Chevrolet Volt, for example, has a base price of $32,495.
The lack of affordable used options on the market, because electric vehicles are such a new technology, also makes electric vehicles less accessible to Mainers. The earlier models that are available can be good deals, but they also don’t have the range that the newer models boast.
But electric vehicles have no need for engine maintenance and repair. Projections show that electric vehicles will reach cost parity with gas vehicles by 2025, Caldwell said, but between eliminating the cost of gas and reducing the cost of maintenance, electric vehicles cost less over their lifetimes even at current prices.
Despite the benefits, concerns about the cold draining batteries, as well as making it from point
A to point B on a charge without getting stranded in an area that doesn’t have a public charging station, plague many Mainers. Most experts, though, have said that they shouldn’t.
Though the cold can diminish the range of an electric vehicle — how far it can travel before it needs to be recharged — it is usually not enough to make driving impossible.
“While [electric vehicles] lose on average around 20 percent of range in winter conditions, gas powered vehicles lose 33 percent of their fuel economy in temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit,” Caldwell added. “So, cold affects driving conditions no matter what, gas or electric.”
Longer trips can require more advanced planning. Most new electric vehicles have an average 250-mile range before they need to be recharged, Siegel said.
Efficiency Maine has a map of the public charging station locations throughout the state, and more are coming online every day. There are currently few public chargers northeast of Bangor, but large transit corridors are well covered. People living in more remote areas may consider a plug-in hybrid with a gas tank as back up for extended trips, Siegel said.
Home chargers are also useful —- though not always necessary — for electric vehicle owners. Plus, they come at a cost.
Retrofitting a single family home with the capacity to charge electric vehicles costs between $300 and $700 for the charging system itself, and anywhere between $500 and $1,500 if you need to rewire the house, according to Jonathan Rubin, director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine
“That’s a real issue in my view,” Rubin said. “The more public charging is out there, it’ll be easier, but that’s not the most convenient way. On the other hand, you have to get a licensed contractor, and right now, it’s hard to find some of these people.”
Some types of vehicles are also not yet available in fully electric versions, such as pickup trucks and minivans. The supply-chain issues that plague all car manufacturers are also reducing the availability of electric vehicles in general right now.
However, there are big changes coming in electric vehicles, as well as the infrastructure in Maine. Electric pickup trucks will be coming soon on the market, Siegel said, and there are more chargers expected to come online in remote areas of Maine.
Efficiency Maine offers point-of-sale rebates at dealerships for $2,000 for a battery-electric vehicle and $1,000 for a plug-in hybrid, with higher rebates for qualified low-income customers on used electric vehicles. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7,500 for certain electric vehicles, too.
Only certain cars qualify for certain kickbacks, and only certain retailers participate in them. Visit Efficiency Maine’s website to check if your dealership and the car that you have your eye on qualify for the incentives.
Other than that, shopping for an electric vehicle isn’t much different than shopping for a conventional vehicle, looking for the type of car and the features that you want.
“A car is a big investment so it’s worth taking a lot of consideration and doing a lot of research but fortunately there is a big body of research on electric vehicles,” Caldwell said. “We’re really headed in the right direction.”