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Answers to your electric vehicle questions — part 2

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Randy Wheeless of Duke Energy talks about the different types of electric vehicle chargers at the 2021 Charlotte Auto Show.

Electric vehicles only account for about 2% of current auto sales in the U.S. But as more Americans think about whether to buy an electric car or truck, there's a lot to consider. With help from WFAE climate reporter David Boraks, FAQ City answered some common questions about electric vehicles. (Read part one of this FAQ here.)

What are the different kinds of electric vehicle chargers? 

There are three types of EV chargers, often called Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.

Level 1 is a standard, 120-volt wall outlet. It's the slowest of the three and sometimes referred to as a "trickle charger.” Most electric vehicles come with an adapter for this kind of charging. Level 2 is a faster, 240-volt outlet, like what your appliances are hooked up to. Most public chargers at parking garages, public buildings, shopping centers or malls are Level 2 chargers. Level 3, also known as a “fast charger” or “DC fast charger” is, not surprisingly, the fastest of the three. Tesla uses these chargers for its global Supercharger network. For now, it's only open to Tesla owners, but CEO Elon Musk has said that could eventually change.

How long does it take to charge an EV battery?

At least overnight and maybe a day or more for Level 1 chargers. For Level 2 chargers, it could take between six and 12 hours to fully charge, depending on which EV model and battery you have. Level 3 chargers provide up to 200 miles of range with just 15 or 20 minutes of charging.

How can you find charging stations? 

A lot of electric vehicles come with a built-in app that helps you locate a charger. Tesla will plan your whole route and incorporate a stop for charging. You can also find maps of chargers on ChargePoint, PlugShare, ChargeHub and Google Maps.

Generally, you’ll find more chargers in urban areas and along interstates — and few or none in rural areas. Remember: The U.S. is still building out its charging network. The infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November includes $7.2 billion for charging stations. State and local governments, private companies and electric utilities are planning for more chargers, too.

How much does it cost to charge up and how do you pay?

If you charge at home, it’s part of your electricity bill — about 12 or 13 cents per kilowatt hour in North Carolina or around $6 to fully charge a basic Tesla 3.

If you use a public charger, the cost varies widely. Some chargers are free, and prices at others will depend on how much electricity costs where you live, how large your car battery is and how much you drive. In general, though, expect it to be less than the cost of filling up a gas tank — up to $80 cheaper each month, according to one estimate.

Can you install a faster charger at your home?

Yes, you can install a Level 2 charger at your home, but it won’t necessarily be easy and could cost $500-$2,500. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $1,000, and some companies, like Duke Energy, are working on rebate programs. You’ll also need an electrician to determine whether your residence’s electrical service is sufficient.

You can’t install a Level 3 charger at your home without upgrading to a commercial level of electrical service and paying tens of thousands of dollars to purchase the actual charging unit and have it installed.

What if my apartment doesn’t have an EV charger? 

You’ll have to be strategic. Some experts suggest trying to find a standard outlet near your parking spot and using an extension cord. You could also try charging your car during the day, like when you’re at work or a coffee shop.

But you may not need to get crafty: Many newer apartment buildings offer EV chargers in their parking lots or garages.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Polestar 2, an electric vehicle by a company owned by two partners, Volvo and China's Geely, is seen at the 2021 Charlotte Auto Show. The Polestar 2 starts at $46,000 and gets 265 miles on a charge.

Are EVs expensive to maintain?  

EV owner Jeff Bogan says no. There's no engine — just electric motors that don't require a lot of maintenance. Bogan has a 2018 electric model with almost 80,000 miles.

“I just put my second set of tires on the car, and I have put two sets of wiper blades on the car,” Bogan told WFAE’s David Boraks. “Other than that, I took it in for the scheduled checkup for the electric motors, year two, and they were in perfect condition.”

Online calculators, like from the U.S. Department of Energy, show how much it would cost you to own and maintain an EV based on where you live and your driving habits.

Why are so many EVs missing a spare tire? What do you do if you get a flat?

The EV's battery takes up space traditionally used for the spare tire. Spares also add weight which reduces range. If you take care of your tires and they're not too old, that shouldn't be a problem.

If you do get a flat tire, many EVs come with a tire repair kit so you can do a quick fix and limp to a repair shop. Manufacturers like Tesla may also tell you to just call their road service. If you're lucky, the wrecker that responds will have a loaner tire and rim. If not, you could be in for a longer delay than you expected.

Are there any other electric vehicle quirks? 

Tesla drivers can lock, unlock and start their cars with a smartphone app. Recently, a server outage caused some Tesla drivers to be locked out of their cars. ( Musk apologized on Twitter.) You don’t have to use the app: Teslas also come with a key car or key fob, —but if you get used to the convenience of the app and don’t take your key, you could get stuck.

What about insurance? Is it the same as my gas-powered car? 

Insurance for EVs is generally more expensive. Insurance premiums for the Tesla Model 3 are 40% higher than the national average for car insurance, according to a NerdWallet study. Generally, the cars are more expensive to begin with, so you're buying more insurance.

Does EV manufacturing produce more emissions than the EV will save?

Manufacturing new electric cars and batteries in some cases may be less climate-friendly than conventional vehicles — and sometimes worse. That’s because more energy is used to build them — particularly the batteries.

But EVs have a better carbon footprint over the life of the vehicle — from manufacturing to charging and driving to retirement. It really depends on where each state or country gets its electricity, and some are more climate-friendly than others.

How long does an EV battery last? 

Most EV batteries come with a warranty of something like eight years or 100,000 miles. Some are calculated according to the battery's remaining capacity. For example, the warranties on many Tesla models are triggered when batteries fall to 70% of their original capacity. In general for most drivers, though, the battery should last as long as you own the car.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Electric bikes for rent sit along the Charlotte Rail Trail.

Can the batteries be recycled? 

Yes, but there's still a lot of research to be done, and we need to build out the infrastructure for recycling. Batteries that have degraded may be reused, or some of their components, like lithium, can be recycled into new batteries. According to the Department of Energy, reusing materials from lithium-ion batteries could help cut production costs by up to 30% by reducing demand for newly mined minerals.

What’s the deal with hydrogen-powered cars? 

Hydrogen fuel cell cars produce electricity through a reaction that frees up electrons to power your electric motor. Hydrogen can be made using wind or solar power, and it can be delivered via filling stations, just like gasoline. Hydrogen-powered vehicles don't require plugging into the electric grid. The technology has been around for decades but has never really gotten momentum.

Are there other alternatives to gas-powered cars?

Yes! Ebikes are the fastest-growing type of electric vehicle, according to The New York Times. Other small electric vehicles, like golf carts and scooters, also help you get around without burning fossil fuels. As these get more popular, we may see new rules or special lanes. And then there’s the idea of ditching your car altogether and using a bicycle or public trains and buses.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.
David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.