GreenCars 101
Electric Cars

Shopping for Your First EV

Chad Yee
Apr 2024
Are you ready to buy your first electric or electrified vehicle? The process can seem daunting at first, but these tips will help make purchasing your first EV easier and more fun.
A Ford Lightning electric truck parked at a showroom

Shopping for Your First EV

So, you’ve made the decision to buy your first electric vehicle. Congratulations! You’re about to join the millions of North Americans who have made the move to electric motoring. But, where do you start? What should you be looking for? Is the buying journey different from that of a regular gas-powered vehicle?

Here are some tips to help you get started on your EV shopping journey – and help you choose the right electric or electrified car that fits your needs.

Two people looking at blue EV in store

EV Shopping: Start With the Basics

While there are some things to consider that are unique to EVs, the good news is that the overall shopping journey for an electric car isn’t too different from that of a conventional vehicle.

As with any large purchase, start off by looking at your budget. If you’re planning to lease or finance, determine the monthly payment that you can afford. This will help narrow down the list of vehicles you can consider.

It’s always a good idea to factor in the operational costs of a vehicle, such as maintenance and fuel, as well as the monthly payment. You’ll find that EVs can have a much lower total cost of ownership than gas-powered vehicles – which should open up a wider range of vehicles that can fit your budget. Whether you’re considering a battery-electric vehicle (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), or hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV), you’ll be able to save thousands on the cost of gas.

Once you’ve established your budget, determine what type of vehicle you need, how you’ll be using it, any must-have features, and any preferred models and brands. If you’re looking for a simple commuter vehicle, perhaps a sedan or crossover will fit your needs. Or, if you live in a colder climate and need to carry passengers or large items, perhaps an SUV with all-wheel drive might be best.

Track Your Driving Habits

Many people who are new to EVs are concerned about range anxiety – the fear of not having enough battery power to get to your destination. Yet, many modern EVs have a range comparable to many gas-powered vehicles. Most battery-electric vehicles have an EPA estimated range of 250 miles or more. If you really drive a lot, plug-in hybrids and hybrids can offer extended range beyond their electric mode, with the convenience of being able to use gasoline when needed.

Regardless of the type of EV that you’re considering, it’s always a good idea to have a detailed understanding of your driving habits. What is your daily commute like? If you have multiple drivers using the same car, what do those trips look like? If you do frequent longer trips, what is the typical distance taken on those trips?

Surprisingly, many people don’t track their mileage – and often overestimate the actual range that they need. Indeed, the average American’s daily round-trip commute to and from work is only about 40 miles.

One of the best ways to determine your mileage needs is to use a mileage log or spreadsheet. Over the course of a few weeks, write down your daily destination, starting mileage, and ending mileage. For the frequent or occasional longer trips, find the distance to those destinations – and estimate how many times you take those trips. You can then use your log to determine your average daily, monthly, and annual mileage. You might be surprised about the mileage that you actually drive, versus what you think you need in an EV.

Why is this important? After all, you probably don’t do this for your gas-powered car. Understanding your real-world mileage will help you determine the range you really need in an EV – and help ease any range anxiety that you might have.

It will also help you determine whether a battery-electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid, or a hybrid fits best with your needs. You may find that an EV with 250 miles of range is more than sufficient and fits within your budget, while an EV with 500 miles of range might be way more than you need and outside of your budget.

Determine How You Will Use the Vehicle

EVs today come in a variety of body styles, features, and capabilities. Once you understand your mileage requirements, determine how you’ll be using the vehicle.

As with gas-powered vehicles, certain types of EVs may better fit how you actually use the vehicle. For example, if you have a relatively short commute from home to work, all EVs will likely be suitable. If you use your vehicle for the occasional hauling of large items or towing over short distances, then battery-electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning, Rivian R1T, or Tesla Cybertruck are more than capable.

However, if you’re frequently hauling or towing those loads over longer distances, then a hybrid pickup truck like the Toyota Tundra or a plug-in hybrid pickup like the upcoming Ramcharger REx, might be more suitable.

When tracking your mileage, make note of whether you’re using the vehicle in the city, highway or both. If you’re driving mostly in the city, battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will allow you to drive in electric-mode alone. If you’re travelling longer distances on the highway, all EVs may be suitable, but plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids will provide extra range without the need to visit public chargers.

EV charging display in store

Understand Your Access to Charging

Your ability to access charging will help determine which type of EV is right for you.

While it’s true that charging stations aren’t as common as gas stations yet, the charging infrastructure is constantly improving. Additionally, EVs can uniquely offer the convenience of charging at home. In fact, many owners of battery-electric and plug-in hybrids can charge at home 80-90% of the time and take advantage of lower electricity costs and available off-peak electricity rates.  

If you are a homeowner or have the ability to install a Level 2 home charger where you park, this will likely serve most of your charging needs. If you live in a multi-residential building, such as a condo or apartment, you may want to see if it’s possible to have a Level 2 charger installed at your parking spot or within the property. Many workplaces are also installing chargers for their employees as EV ownership increases.

Revisit your mileage log and observe the routes that you take. You can use apps like PlugShare or A Better Route Planner to determine the number, type, and locations of public chargers along your routes. These public chargers can help extend your range if you have a long commute, or help you keep your EV charged if you don’t have access to a home charger.

If charging is readily available at home or at work, then choosing a battery-electric or plug-in hybrid will allow you to fully take advantage of electric motoring and significantly reduce your operational costs. If you don’t have access to charging at home or work, you can still take advantage of public chargers for battery-electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. If you have longer distances and don’t have readily available access to chargers, a plug-in hybrid or conventional hybrid vehicle might be more suitable.

Take an Extended Test Drive

As with any other vehicle, it’s always best to take a test drive. Each vehicle drives differently, and a test drive will help determine whether it fits your preferences for ride comfort, handling, acceleration, and range. If you’ve never driven an EV before, it’s important to take the time to experience one. Acceleration and braking, for example, can feel very different from that of a conventional gas-powered vehicle.

Make sure to try different types of EVs. Conventional hybrids drive similarly to conventional gas-powered vehicles but only offer a few miles of electric-only range. Depending on the model, plug-in hybrids can usually provide up to 40 miles in electric mode. A battery-electric will allow you to experience electric-only motoring at all times.

In addition to taking a short test drive from a dealership or retailer, you may also want to consider renting an EV for a longer period of time. It will give you an opportunity to try out the EV along your regular commute or to experience it during a family road trip. Renting different EVs will give you a better idea of the type of EV that fits your lifestyle and needs. Some dealerships offer longer term test drives or rentals. Companies like Turo or Hertz also offer a wide range of EVs to rent.

While you’re test driving the vehicle, test out the public charging infrastructure along your frequented routes. Be sure to try out a variety of Level 2 and Level 3 DC fast chargers that are publicly available. This will help familiarize you with different charging networks and charging speeds. It will also help you assess your need for charging along your regular commutes.

Do Your Research

Shopping for your first EV can be an exciting experience. Taking the time to determine your vehicle, mileage, and charging needs will go a long way to ensuring that you find the right EV. In addition to your online research and visiting dealerships, talk to existing EV owners about their experience. Friends and family members who own an EV are always a great resource. You’ll also find that EV owner clubs and EV associations offer events where you can engage with owners and their EVs.

Once you’ve determined which EV is right for you, remember to research the various incentives that are available. There are many federal and state or provincial incentives available to you when purchasing an EV. Also check for incentives for purchasing and installing home chargers. Check out the GreenCars incentive tool for more.

A young couple admiring the forest and trees next to their RAV4 Hybrid

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