The Unexpected Pros and Cons of Electric Cars: Your Go-To Guide Before Buying

Here's what to keep in mind before investing in an EV.

male hands driving.Travel concept
Carol Yepes / Getty Images

It's not hard to find advocates of electric vehicles raving about the money one can save driving an EV, the low-maintenance and environmental benefits, and other common joys. You can just as easily find EV detractors expressing their range anxiety, criticizing the expensive upfront costs, or worrying about the long-term reliability of the batteries.

But there are also unanticipated pleasures and frustrations that new EV owners discover only after they've purchased their vehicles. Knowing some of the hidden pros and cons can help potential buyers make their decision more wisely.

Your Mileage Will Vary

If an EV buyer relied only on EPA estimates of an electric vehicle's range when considering their purchase, they might be surprised that, as the saying goes, “your mileage may vary.”

EPA estimates are based on 45% city driving and 55% highway driving, while their tests are conducted at room temperature. If you live in a cold environment, the battery range can possibly decrease by more than 25%. Your range may be greater than the EPA estimate; however, if you buy an EV for almost exclusively city driving, since EVs are far more efficient in stop-and-go traffic (where idling uses minimal electricity) than they are in non-stop, high-speed highway driving.

Easier Commuting

In certain states, electric vehicles are allowed to use the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) or carpool lanes, even if the driver is the sole occupant of the vehicle. Most commutes in the United States are done in single-occupant vehicles, meaning few drivers can use carpool lanes, so access to them can be a boon for EV commuters.

True Car Camping

A VW camper converted to run on electricity

Westend61 / Getty Images

You can sleep easily in any electric vehicle that can fit a mattress—any time of year. On a road trip, you can save on lodging by parking your vehicle in a safe spot and setting the climate control to a comfortable level. If you're able to find a place to plug in your EV, even better, but your climate control will not have a huge impact on your battery's state of charge.

For even more convenience, some people are converting campervans to run on electricity. Electric campervans are bound to make it to market in the coming years.

Depreciation and Resale

One factor that buyers of all types of vehicles forget to factor into their purchase is resale value. On average, a vehicle's value depreciates by 10% once it's driven off the lot. It will lose 20% of its value after one year, and by five years, it will have depreciated by 60% of its original purchase price. Depreciation depends on how much the vehicle model is in demand, however, so depreciation values may vary.

This is where the surprises come in: Resale value of used EVs can vary significantly, depending on the model. A study by the used-car website iSeeCars.com found Tesla's Model 3 to be the “top car with the smallest price difference between new and lightly-used versions,” losing only 2.1% of its value after one year.

Even better, in August 2021, demand for Tesla vehicles was so high and the wait times for delivery were so long that in Tesla's own used inventory, a three-year-old Model 3 with 41,712 miles on its odometer cost more ($65,000) than a brand new Model 3 ($61,990) with similar features. Most other Model 3's listed were offered for higher than their original sales price.

However, electric vehicles generally depreciate much faster. While gas-powered models change little from year to year, the fast pace of technology improvement in electric vehicles, especially batteries, means there is often a significant difference in the same model from year to year. For example, a 2015 Nissan Leaf with 84 miles of the range had lost more than 70% of its original purchase price by 2021, in large part because newer models had over 200 miles of range.

Leasing vs. Buying

With depreciation in mind, many first-time EV drivers lease rather than purchase their vehicles. Considering that EV technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds, it's better—so the thinking goes—to swap out an old EV in three years for a new one with a far better range or new tech specs.

But there's a hidden surprise for lessees of electric vehicles, too, unless they've paid attention to the residual value part of the lease that they are signing. The residual value is the estimated worth of the vehicle at the end of the lease, calculated as a percentage of the car's manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). The difference between the MSRP and the residual value makes up a large portion of the lessee's monthly payment.

Leasing companies are passing on the depreciation value to the lessee, meaning there's little difference between leasing and buying an electric vehicle in terms of resale value.

Cartapping

Self-driving vehicles using radar and vision to navigate

Igphotography / Getty Images

Electric vehicles are essentially computers on wheels. With few moving parts, the main function of the vehicle is moving electrons around. And what happens to all that electronic data passing through an EV's computer chips is not in the owner's control.

This has its pros and cons, as it's the equivalent of having location services enabled on your phone at all times, tracking you wherever you go. Tesla, for example, derives billions of bytes of data from its internet-connected vehicles and uses it to improve its safety and other features, especially as it attempts to develop autonomous driving technology. Having recently entered the car insurance business, Tesla also uses an EV owner's driving data to derive presumably more accurate and thus less expensive insurance rates.

Telematics companies like SiriusXM and OnStar provide entertainment and security to car owners, but they can also be compelled by court order to supply the data they collect to law enforcement in what's colloquially called “cartapping.” This isn't exclusive to EVs, but it is a hidden feature to them.

No Noise, No Vibration

Without an internal combustion engine, the only noise and vibration that an EV makes are from wheels hitting the road and wind noise at higher speeds.

This can be either a pro or a con. Some people miss the rumbling of an engine, and the visually impaired take longer to identify the sound of an oncoming EV, increasing their risk as pedestrians. But research has shown that the quiet and smoothness of the ride reduces stress, especially on long trips, and decreased noise pollution also has environmental benefits on drivers and non-drivers alike.

Either way, it is often initially disconcerting to pull up to a stoplight and hear nothing. New owners may check to see if the car is still running when, of course, nothing is "running:" it's just “on.”

No Going Back

Transitioning from a gas-powered vehicle to an electric one is like switching from a touch-tone phone to a smart one. You may dislike some things and love others. But as with smartphones, the vast majority of EV owners swear they will never go back.

View Article Sources
  1. A vehicle on a daily commute in the United States in 2017 carries on average 1.2 people. Davis, Stacy C. and Robert G. Boundy. Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 39. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, 2021, Figure 9.2.

  2. J.D. Power. “Majority of Electric Vehicle Owners are Intent on Purchasing Another One in the Future, J.D. Power Finds.” Press Release, January 21, 2021.