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Electric Vehicle 101

Written by Caitlin Ritchie

Edited by Hannah Hillson

Last updated 10/13/2022


Monty Rakusen/ImageSource/Getty images

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What is an EV & how does it work?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are vehicles that are powered by a battery and electric motor instead of a gasoline tank and internal combustion engine. EVs (sometimes referred to as battery electric vehicles, or BEVs) have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years as manufacturers have expanded their lineup of sustainable, battery-powered vehicles.

EVs consume electricity from the power grid (similar to other household appliances like a refrigerator) and store that energy in rechargeable batteries. These batteries power the electric motor, which turns the wheels and moves the car forward.

Why choose an EV?

There are a variety of reasons why more consumers are turning to electric vehicles. Here are a few of the most popular benefits of EVs:

  • More environmentally friendly. Because EVs run on electricity, they don’t emit exhaust from tailpipes or rely on gasoline, a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide when burned.
  • Lower maintenance requirements. EVs require very little maintenance compared to traditional gas-powered vehicles. They don’t need oil changes, the breaks wear out much slower, and there are fewer moving parts in need of routine repairs or replacement.
  • More affordable fuel costs. With an EV, you fuel your car with electricity from your home or a public charging station. You can skip the fuel pump entirely and therefore will be less susceptible to spikes in gasoline prices.

What are the different types of electric vehicles?

When it comes to EVs, there are a few different options to choose from. Some EVs are completely electric — these are the ones that are sometimes referred to as BEVs. There are other types know about if you are considering an electric vehicle.

  • Plug-in electric vehicles: These vehicles are powered entirely by a battery and electric motor. You plug this vehicle into an outlet or charging station for it to receive the electricity it needs to run. Electricity is the only fuel source for EVs. 
  • Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs): With a plug-in hybrid, the vehicle’s main fuel source is electricity. However, it also has a traditional fuel engine that can use gasoline if the electricity supply runs low.
  • Hybrid vehicles: Hybrids are similar to plug-in hybrids, but their main fuel source is gasoline. They do have a smaller electric battery, which is charged through regenerative braking. Hybrids let you switch between a regular gas-powered vehicle and “EV mode,” which will normally only work at slower speeds or short distances. You cannot plug these vehicles into a charging station — the battery receives a small charge when you brake.

How to charge your electric car at charging stations

One of the primary benefits of EVs is the variety of charging options. Consumers can charge their vehicle at home or use public charging stations. Here is a breakdown of the different charging methods available.

What are the different levels of charging

There are three levels of charging: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. The higher the level, the faster the charge time because more electricity is flowing into the vehicle.

Level 1 charging (120-volt). Level 1 charging uses a household outlet, which is why this is the slowest charging level. With Level 1 charging, you can expect your vehicle to receive between three and five miles of range per hour. If you own a hybrid vehicle, Level 1 charging might work fine because hybrid vehicles have smaller batteries that hold less charge. But for consumers who own a fully electric vehicle that they drive daily, Level 2 or Level 3 charging are better options for everyday use.

Level 2 charging (208-volt to 240-volt). Level 2 charging is the most common form of charging for EVs that are driven daily. Consumers can purchase and install a Level 2 charger at their home. Many public charging stations also use this type of charger. With a Level 2 charger, a vehicle can charge between 12 and 80 miles of range per hour. For consumers charging their EV at home, this means you can plug your car in at night and it will be fully charged by morning. 

You can shop for Level 2 chargers through SaveOnEnergy.com. We partner with top-tier energy, solar, and EV companies to bring electricity solutions to your home.

Level 3 charging (400-volt to 900-volt). This is the fastest charging available, delivering between three and 20 miles of range per minute. Level 3 chargers use direct current (DC) electricity instead of alternating current (AC) electricity and deliver a much higher voltage than Levels 1 and 2. Level 3 chargers are often called DC Fast Chargers. Tesla refers to its Level 3 chargers as Superchargers. These chargers are rarer than Level 2 chargers due to the  high price tag and high-voltage requirements.

What are the different types of connectors

Level 1 and Level 2 chargers use AC connectors to power vehicles. There are two types of AC connectors:

  • Type 1 — a single-phase plug that allows you to charge your EV up to 7.4 kilowatts (kW) and 25 miles per hour of charging.
  • Type 2 — a triple-phase plug that allows you to charge your EV up to 22 kW and 75 miles per hour of charging. Type 2 connectors are most common for new cars.

Unlike Levels 1 and 2, Level 3 chargers use DC connectors. There are three types of DC connectors:

  • CHAdeMO — This is the original DC connector developed in Japan and is only sold by Nissan and Mitsubishi in the U.S. Because it is compatible with Level 3 chargers, this connector allows you to charge up to 100 kW and 150 miles for every 30 minutes of charging.
  • Combined Charging System (CCS) — CCS connectors are more common in North America and are used by most auto manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Jeep, Dodge, and many others. This connector enables up to 350 kW and 525 miles for 30 minutes of charging.
  • Tesla/Type 2 — Tesla Superchargers are currently the only chargers compatible with Type 2 connectors. These connectors result in up to 250 kW and 375 miles for 30 minutes of charging. 

EV charging cost

The cost to charge an electric vehicle will depend on several factors, including your electricity rate, how many miles you drive on average, and the time of day. The average EV gets between three and four miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. To calculate the cost to charge your vehicle at home, you’ll need to do some math. 

In 2019, the average American drove 1,188 miles per month. In July 2022, the average U.S. electricity rate was 15.46 cents per kWh. If we assume an EV receives four miles per kWh, we know that the EV will use about 258 kWh in a month. This will cost $45.94 to charge at home each month.

Electricity rates vary greatly by state, as do the average miles per kWh for various EVs. In general, the cost to charge an EV at home overnight will usually be the cheapest charging option, although the cost to charge at public charging stations remains lower than the average cost to fuel a gas-powered vehicle. 

Electric vehicle FAQs

  • Yes, there are tax credits and incentives for electric vehicles. The recent Inflation Reduction Act provides a tax credit of up to $4,000 for used EVs and $7,500 on certain new EVs. Many states also offer tax credits and incentives for consumers who purchase electric vehicles. 

  • Private and public EV charging stations work a lot like cellphone chargers. When you plug your EV into a charging station, the charger converts AC electricity from your home into DC electricity, which powers the electric battery in the vehicle.

  • The time it takes to charge an EV will depend on the level of charger. Level 1 chargers can take between eight and 40 hours to fully charge an EV, while Level 2 chargers cut that time down to between four and 10 hours. Level 3 chargers are by far the fastest charging option (although they come with a very high price tag) with a charge time of between 30 and 60 minutes.

  • Historically, some venues offered free public charging stations. Whole Foods, for example, offers free charging stations at select locations. However, the majority of public charging stations are not free. The cost to use a public EV charging station will depend on the charging network. Most charging stations require payment in some form, whether it’s per kWh of electricity you consume, per minute of use, or through a subscription fee. 

  • California has by far the highest number of public charging stations in the U.S. with nearly 13,500 available public stations across the state. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a map of all the public charging stations located across the country.

  • Yes, you can plug an EV into a 120-volt household outlet with a Level 1 charger. This outlet should be dedicated to only charging your EV. However, upgrading to a Level 2 home charger will speed up your charge time significantly. 

  • The average cost of a new electric vehicle in 2022 is approximately $66,000, but that cost will vary greatly depending on the manufacturer and additional upgrades. For example, the base price of a Nissan Leaf is less than $28,000. Meanwhile, the starting price for a new Tesla Model S in 2022 is $104,490. 

  • The government mandates manufacturers offer warranties on EV batteries for eight years or 100,000 miles. Some states require longer warranty periods, including California, which extends the warranty requirement to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Consumer Reports estimates the average EV battery lifespan is 200,000 miles, or a little more than 15 years if driven the average 1,060 miles per month. 

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