Want to Buy an Electric Car? Read This First

Thinking more seriously about buying an electric car now that gas prices are revving up? You and everybody else.

E.V.s are hard to find, especially now. The war in Ukraine hasn’t just caused gas prices to soar. It has also disrupted car production in Europe, which sends exports to the United States. And U.S. companies like Ford “basically got blindsided by how many people want to buy their cars” and can’t make E.V.s fast enough, Chris Harto, a senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports, told me.

When my partner and I moved to Los Angeles last year, we knew we would need to shop for a car, and we knew we wanted it to be all-electric.

After a lot of research, we managed to test all the cars we wanted to see in a day and drive home that night with our top pick.

Here’s what we learned:

Plan ahead.

Electric cars are in such high demand, few dealers are keeping vehicles around for test drives — we had to drive an hour to find one model. (Oh, and make sure to specify whether you want all-electric, so you aren’t surprised with a hybrid like we were.)

We made our appointments the day before. On the day of, we called ahead to make sure the car hadn’t been sold. A car being listed on a dealer’s website is no guarantee it’s on the lot.

Be ready to wait, or to pay extra.

We saw a handful of cars, but we ended up buying the first we test drove, the Kia Niro.

The markup on the Ford Mustang Mach-E, was an eye-popping $15,000. If we had wanted the Volkswagen ID.4, all we had to do was wait up to six months, our salesman said. The Chevrolet Bolt has been out of production for months, and a lot of the other models were nowhere to be found, either.

But because we didn’t buy the Niro as soon as we saw it, the salesman was unwilling to knock off a $5,000 price increase over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. C’est la vie, we thought, and moved forward anyway.

The E.V. credits are confusing.

We were dreading redeeming the incentive of up to $7,500 the federal government offers to E.V. buyers. It’s not an instant rebate; you have to wait until tax season.

We were prepared to finance the purchase, but the dealer talked us into a lease, which included the full government incentive as a rebate, plus a little extra rebate that covered the lease’s administrative fee. Our contract allows us to buy the car for whatever cost remains at any point during lease period, plus a $300 fee, so we’ll do that in a few months to avoid the pricey lease charges. We calculated we may come out a few hundred dollars ahead, but the real value was that we got the credit right away.

That was a risky move though. Chris Harto, a senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports, told me there could be a lot of gotchas. “I would definitely not do it without very closely scrutinizing all of the paperwork,” he said.

California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project is confusing, too. First, the program, which offers rebates of $2,000 or more if you buy an all-electric vehicle, is funded and there is no wait list, despite outdated messages on its website.

But the income cap recently changed: If you make more than $135,000 (or $200,000 filing jointly) you do not qualify — something your dealer may not know or tell you. And the cap on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price changed, too, to no more than $45,000 for sedans and $60,000 for S.U.V.s and trucks. That means newly purchased Teslas are not eligible. And those figures could change again.

There are other breaks out there, including a $750 credit that California dealers apply at checkout and incentives from electric companies.

Forget buying used.

We looked. There are exceedingly few used electrics unless you want to buy older models with lower ranges.

The Hyundai Kona we test drove was the cheapest late-model used electric we found — and was listed at more than $40,000, thousands over its original suggested retail price. And used cars aren’t eligible for the federal tax credit.

Be realistic about your savings.

Gas isn’t cheap, but neither is electricity.

At about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour, it will cost about $11.50 to fully charge our car’s 64 kWh battery. That’s a lot better than the $70 it costs to fill our Subaru Forester to get about the same distance. But factoring in the cost of the car, particularly with the markup, we may not really be saving much money over a conventional vehicle.

That isn’t the only reason to buy electric, which we were reminded of during a particularly smoggy day last week. And we expect to save on maintenance: no oil changes or spark plugs.

Compare the price per mile when using gas and electricity. The Department of Energy also has a good calculator that shows you the lifetime cost of various cars.

An alternative: Hybrids are in a lot less demand than full electrics. They’re also a lot cheaper; you can save as much as $10,000 to $15,000 at the dealer. Depending on your driving habits, you may still save a lot on gas.

In the end, we were happy we had been able to make it all happen in just one day. And as we drove the new car into our neighborhood, we were vindicated further: The price of gas on the corner had ticked up another 10 cents.

For more:

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Pelle P. Smits, who recommends the town of Sonora, about 90 miles southeast of Sacramento:

“With the Gold Rush bringing plenty of Mexican miners to the Mother Lode at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the early-1850s, they founded the town of Sonora. When visiting the town nowadays, it takes little imagination to experience Sonora as it was before economic deprivation initially led people and commerce to leave town. The center’s quintessential architecture is well-preserved and invites for a walk to see Sonora’s archetypal buildings, among which is the county courthouse, the home of the Union Democrat, and the Tuolumne County Museum, which all tell the story of the area’s fascinating past. The iconic Golden Chain Highway runs right through Sonora’s small but dynamic center, which houses numerous atmospheric restaurants and coffee houses where the local population blends with tourists on their way to Tuolomne County’s breathtaking Stanislaus National Forest.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

And before you go, some good news

The South Asian Network, an advocacy group based in Southern California’s Little India in Artesia, will soon receive $200,000 to expand its programs around mental health, citizenship assistance and small business support.

Bank of America today announced the five winners of its Racial Equity Award, part of its philanthropic efforts. One of the honorees is Manjusha P. Kulkarni, who in 2020 co-founded Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks anti-Asian harassment nationwide.

The award allows Kulkarni, who lives in Los Angeles, to direct $200,000 to a nonprofit of her choice — and she decided on the South Asian Network.

Part of the funds will go toward creating a small business mentorship program to help combat negative effects on local South Asian small businesses from the pandemic and anti-Asian hate. The program will get started in a few months with at least 50 mentors.

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