You have questions about electric cars. We have answers (Part 1)

While visiting my wife’s brother a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he had recently seen a Rivian R1T on the road and it looked pretty cool. So he started asking us about electric cars. After peppering us with questions for a while, I suggested that he write them all down and I would do my best to answer them.

Part of me was hoping he might be busy at work and forget to reply to me, but a few days later the list appeared in my inbox. And now I have to hold my end of the bargain.

One of his questions was why there is not one place where a person can learn about electric cars. I know Clean Technica has published hundreds, if not thousands, of articles on electric cars (I feel like I’ve written a hundred myself), but they’re scattered all over the place and are over a decade old in certain cases. There is no complete, comprehensive, “everything you wanted to know about electric vehicles” article. Hopefully the following will fill that gap.

Let the electric car questions begin!

The following is the list of the 16 questions I received in my email, slightly edited. If this article becomes too long for practical reading (I think it might be), I reserve the right to split it into 2 or more articles.


Tesla Model 3 Springers at the AmpCharge EV charging station.

The first section contains questions about charging an electric car.

Q. Let’s say I spend about $200 a month on gasoline for my combustion engine vehicle. Approximately how much do I have to pay per month to charge my car?

A. Assuming gasoline costs $3.50 a gallon, two hundred dollars will buy 57 gallons of gasoline, enough to drive about 1250 miles in a typical car or truck. A modern electric car like the Ford Mustang Mach-E can travel 2.7 miles on one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, according to Google. This means that it would take 466 kWh to travel the same distance. The Tesla Model Y is one of the most efficient electric cars. It goes about a third farther over a kWh than the Mach-E.

Assuming a kWh costs $0.15, you would spend about $70 to have enough electricity to drive as far as possible on $200 of gas, which is why many people say driving an electric car is not costs only a third of the price of a conventional car.

Obviously, there are a lot of assumptions in the above calculations. As the fuel economy of a conventional car increases, the difference will be less. Likewise, as the cost of electricity increases, the difference will also reduce.

reddit has a very good forum for people interested in electric cars. Recently I found this comment on one of the threads: “I went from a Ram 1500. (Which was a great truck but not the point) to a Mach E. Literally saving $1000 a month d gas vs electricity I was losing between $1100 and $1200 a month on gas.

Not everyone will have the same experience, but it’s safe to say that driving an electric car will save a lot of money compared to buying gas.

Q, How much does it cost to charge my car at a public charging station?

A. To answer that question, you need some context. There are basically 2 types of public chargers. Level 2 runs on AC power (see our Level 2 charging guide for more info). Level 3 fast chargers run on direct current and can range from a minimum output of 50kW to a maximum output of 350kW.

In general, level 2 charging is used for cars that are going to be parked for a while – at work, in restaurants, shops, etc. Level 3 chargers are usually found along highways where people want to recharge as quickly as possible and get back on the road.

Just as gas prices are higher at highway rest areas, the cost of charging with a Level 3 station will be higher. Tesla Superchargers typically cost around $0.38 per kWh. Some other charging networks may charge customers $0.80 per kWh hour or more. Obviously, these higher prices significantly reduce the difference between buying gas and buying electrons.

If you spend your life on the super slab away from home, your cost of recharging at level 3 chargers will be similar to buying gasoline. But here is a good place to mention a significant difference between electric cars and conventional cars.

85% of all electric vehicle charging takes place at home. When your battery is low, you plug in, fall asleep, and wake up the next morning with enough battery power to drive for 3-5 days of normal driving. No trips to the gas station, no dirty pipes and no gas smell on your clothes. It takes 10 seconds to connect the charging cable and 10 seconds to disconnect it. Sweet!

And here’s something else you might not know. Many hotels, bed and breakfasts, inns, restaurants and shops want to do business with electric vehicle drivers. They therefore offer a free level 2 recharge to their customers. Although you’ll spend more to charge on the highway, you might be able to charge for free when you get to where you’re going. It’s awesome ?

Q. I understand that not all electric vehicles can be charged at a Tesla charging station. Are there any non-Teslas compatible ones? If so, who and why?

A. A quick history lesson is in order here. More than a decade ago, when Tesla was just getting started in car manufacturing, it reached out to established companies and asked if they wanted to help design a universal charging standard. They declined the offer, so Tesla went ahead and created his own.

Later, these traditional car manufacturers realized that they needed a charging standard of their own and they came up with something called the Combined Charging Standard or CCS. Everyone pretty much agrees that the Tesla standard is superior, but ego often plays an outsized role in business decisions, and so today in America we have two common standards – the Tesla Supercharger and the CCS.

Tesla has now created an adapter that allows non-Tesla cars to use a Supercharger. Teslas come from the factory with an adapter that allows drivers to use any CCS charger. The federal government is investing a lot of money in its plan to expand charging infrastructure for electric cars. Tesla would like to qualify for some of that federal money, but to do so it must make at least half of the chargers at any location compatible with cars that use the CCS standard.

So the answer is that convergence is happening in the industry. Decades ago, Sony had two proprietary technologies: Trinitron for color televisions and BetaMax for video recordings. Everyone agreed they were superior, but eventually cheaper color TV systems won the market and BetaMax succumbed to VHS.

We all know that having two different standards is silly, unnecessary and frustrating for drivers. But changes are coming. One of the features of the Tesla Supercharger network that is light years ahead of the competition is called “plug and charge”. When you insert the connector into your charging port, your car and the charging network do an electronic handshake, charging begins in seconds, a screen keeps you informed of charging speeds and the cost of your charge up to here.

When you sign out, the total is automatically charged to the credit card associated with your Tesla Account. Other networks are years behind. If you drive an electric vehicle that uses the CCS standard and use a Tesla Supercharger (after creating an account with Tesla), you’ll never want to go back to another charging network.

Q. Is anyone working on a universal industry standard for electric vehicle charging?

A. See above.

Takeaway meals

Apparently I’m on my way to writing an encyclopedia here. My fingers are tired and I have to take a break for dinner. Look for part two on this topic coming soon. Stay tuned!

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