Before you get started, however, there are a few questions to ask yourself.
What type of car should I buy?
An important factor to consider is the range you need. Before shopping, try keeping a mileage log, noting how often and how far you drive each day for a few weeks.
You will also want to decide whether you want a fully electric car or one that can switch to gasoline in the blink of an eye. Fully electric battery-electric vehicles are generally expensive, but they reduce greenhouse gas emissions the most and save the most fuel.
plug-in hybrid electric cars, which are often cheaper to buy in advance, have both mid-size batteries and backup gasoline engines. (These should not be confused with standard hybrids, which run on gasoline engines coupled to very small batteries and don’t save as much money or carbon.)
Fuel cell electric vehicles, which use hydrogen gas instead of rechargeable batteries, are another alternative. But they must be filled at special hydrogen filling stations, which are not so common in Massachusetts.
Another important consideration: do you want an electric vehicle with outlets for fast chargers, which can save you hours on your charging time? Not all vehicles have them.
To help consumers choose the right electric vehicle for their needs, Green Energy Consumers Alliance has created a tool called Drive Green.
“You can sort and filter and say [something] for example, I want an all-wheel-drive SUV that has at least 200 miles of electric range, what are my options? And we’ll introduce them to you,” said Anna Vanderspek, director of electric vehicles at Green Energy.
How can I get a discount?
State governments and the federal government have rebate programs for electric vehicles. You will want to understand how they work before making a purchase.
Massachusetts offers rebates of $2,500 for all-electric and fuel cell cars, and $1,500 for plug-in hybrids. You can consult a listing of all cars that are covered on the program website. Once you’ve purchased your car, you have 30 days to complete an online application, and then you can expect to receive a check in the mail within a few weeks. But keep in mind that no discounts are available for used cars, or for vehicles that cost more than $50,000.
The federal government also offers tax credits for up to $7,500 for electric vehicles. You can redeem them when you submit your taxes by filing IRS Form 8936. The exact amount you can receive depends on the size of your car battery and your income tax. If your tax payable is less than $7,500, you are only eligible for the amount you owe – meaning if you only owe $4,000 in annual taxes, you can only receive $4,000 back – and you can’t get a refund for the rest or a credit for next year’s taxes.
Like the state’s electric vehicle rebate program, MOR-EV, the federal incentive does not apply to used cars. It also does not cover all brands. Since the program was created to revive the industry, it only applies to manufacturers who have sold less than 200,000 units. Tesla and General Motors – which make Chevrolets, Buicks and Cadillacs – have passed that threshold, so their tax credit is being phased out. Nissan and Toyota are also approaching this mark.
President Biden is proposing a policy that would increase this federal tax credit and extend it to all manufacturers, which may be something to watch in the coming months.
Where and how do I charge my car?
Charging an electric vehicle takes much longer than refueling a gas-powered car, so you’ll want to plan to charge when you’re parked for a while. There are three speeds of EV chargers: Level 1, which delivers around 2 to 5 miles per hour; Level 2, which gives you around 10 to 20 miles of range per hour; and DC Fast Charging, which can charge a car to over 80% in half an hour.
Massachusetts is home to 4,589 public charging stations. Vanderspek said the easiest way to find them is to download an app called PlugShare, which maps the location of each station and lists the types of chargers available for each.
The Department of Energy has a similar tool on its website.
“It even tells you if each charger is available or in use, which is really nice,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “It’s really useful for planning road trips.”
Many new electric vehicles also come with built-in apps for finding chargers. But relying solely on public chargers might not be sustainable, especially as more electric vehicles hit the streets. Although National Grid estimates there should be about 21,000 public charging stations on the road by 2025 to keep pace with Massachusetts’ electric vehicle goals, today there are less than 25% of that number in the state.
What if I want a home charger?
If you want to charge your car at home, you may need a consultation to see if your electrical system has strong enough current and voltage, and if there is enough space on your circuit breaker. Sometimes your utility company will have this information, but you may need an electrician for a consultation.
Many homes can already support Level 1 charging units, available for less than $150, which plug directly into outdoor 120-volt outlets. Level 2 chargers typically cost $500 or more, and many homes require an electrical system upgrade to support them, which can cost thousands more. DC fast chargers require 440 volts of power, so they’re not a viable option for home use.
If you don’t have an outlet outside, you can just use a long extension cord, but make sure you have one that can handle the current.
Currently, there is not much financial assistance available to help offset the cost of purchasing a charger. Some utility companies are now asking the state Department of Utilities to offer direct incentives for the installation of home chargers, so they may be available in the coming months.
What if I can’t afford all this?
Overall, electric cars cost more than gasoline-powered vehicles. This is especially true right now, as prices for some vehicles are rising because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed up commodity prices. Existing rebate programs do not make electric vehicles cheaper than gas-powered cars. The $1,000 you can save each year on gasoline doesn’t make up for this increased cost. As a result, as the Boston Globe recently reported, more discounts are being given to wealthier households.
Several legislative pending the proposals could ease the financial stress of buying an electric vehicle for Massachusetts residents. A bill would expand state rebates for electric vehicles and extend them to used cars. Another would create more incentives for low- and middle-income households, allow more funding for the state reimbursement program, and expand public charging infrastructure.
Since many cannot afford the upfront cost of an electric vehicle, Rubin’s organization is also advocating for the state to make point-of-purchase incentives available. And at the federal level, President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal would reduce the cost of buying an electric vehicle by increasing tax credits and allowing dealers to collect them on behalf of the buyer, allowing them to lower prices.