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Getting a Charge With Electric Vehicles

So, you’ve decided to buy an electric vehicle. But any discussion of EVs needs to address how to recharge your car, observes David Muhlbaum, Kiplinger's Personal Finance.

Recharging remains the Achilles’ heel of electric vehicle ownership.

Progress is being made on many fronts: Longer vehicle ranges, faster charging protocols and more places to recharge are closing the gap on the simple process of going to the gas station.

Even so, “for most people, home charging is going to be the default solution,” says Jonathan Elfalan, director of vehicle testing for Edmunds. “And by the time they become accustomed to that routine, they’re never going to want to go to a gas station again. It’s just too convenient to top up overnight at home.”

Home charging requires some planning, though. The power needs of an electric are such that connecting to a 110-volt plug as if you were recharging, say, your leaf blower isn’t going to cut it for most people. You’ll likely want to have a dedicated 220-volt line, and then, hooked up to that, a recharger unit from either your carmaker or an aftermarket manufacturer. The cost of the rechargers can range from $300 to $700, although some states offer rebates on purchases.

Home charging also allows for the possibility of using your own rooftop solar panels to charge, which can potentially reduce your car’s energy cost to zero. EVs also have lower maintenance costs, so, depending on how many years you own it, along with several other variables, an EV can cost you significantly less than a gas car. Research by Consumer Reports shows thousands of dollars in savings, enough in some cases to make up for EVs’ generally higher up-front cost.

EVs often serve as a household’s second vehicle, minimizing range concerns. But we are a road-tripping people. If you’re going to leave the safety of a circle defined by your vehicle’s range divided by two (and leave some margin for error, please), you’re going to need to confront the public charging network. By one count, in January 2022, there were about 113,600 charging outlets in the country. But roughly one third are in California.

Further complication: Access to the system is more or less bifurcated, with Tesla owners having access to the proprietary Supercharger network that others do not. And within the non-Tesla world, there’s a range of vendors selling subscriptions (the truly thrifty can hunt out locations where charging is free). Websites and apps such as Plugshare can help, but finding a convenient, available charge can still be a hassle. The term of art for this is range anxiety.

Editor’s Note: David Muhlbaum is senior online editor at Kiplinger.com.

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