(cabriphoto.com / September 28, 2012)

If you're considering a new car purchase, an electric car might be worthy of consideration for the first time since the Turkey Trot was a national craze. While the thought of never visiting a gas station again holds appeal, there are things to consider before you take the plunge.

How will you use it?

An electric car can be an ideal choice if your daily driving needs are modest. According to studies done by General Motors, on average, most Americans drive fewer than 40 miles a day. Now consider that, according to the EPA, the Nissan Leaf has a range of 73 miles before it needs recharging and the Mitsubishi i goes 62 miles before its battery pack is drained. The Chevrolet Volt — a plug-in gas-electric hybrid — travels 35 miles before its gas engine kicks in for the next 250 miles, but it's running almost exclusively on gas during that time.

If you only have one car, an electric car may not be for you given the modest range. For example, the 84-mile round trip to Busch Gardens from downtown Norfolk, Va., is beyond the EPA range of most electric cars without a recharge at the park.

Beyond a weekend outing, consider where and when you can plug your electric vehicle in. Do you have a place to recharge at your office, or are you going to have to wait until you get home? Given that, a Chevrolet Volt would be a better solution if it's your only car. Most days, you'd never burn gas. For other drivers, the Leaf or an i would make the perfect daily second car.


All of the cars in this story are recharged by plugging them into an electric outlet. Recharging times vary depending on the size of the car's battery pack and how much of its power is depleted.

All electric cars can be recharged using a conventional 120-volt electrical outlet, also known as Level One charging. But it can take as long as 20 hours to fully recharge a depleted battery. Most electric vehicles can be recharged faster using a 240-volt outlet, the sort used for an electric clothes dryer. Usually, this requires that your garage or carport be wired for a 240-volt outlet and the use of special chargers for the car. This is known as Level Two charging.

The difference in charging time is noticeable. The Nissan Leaf, which can take up to 20 hours to recharge at Level One, takes eight hours at Level Two.

Also consider if you can recharge your car while at work and what sort of charger is available — Level One or Two.

And finally, remember that the vehicle's battery size makes a difference in charging time. While the Leaf takes eight hours to recharge at 240 volts, the Chevrolet Volt, with its significantly smaller battery pack, recharges in five hours at 240. Chargers can be purchased from automakers or third-party vendors.

Take a test drive

An electric vehicle may seem similar to a conventional car, but the differences start the minute you hit the starter button.

Most noticeable is what's missing. Start it up, and there's no noise or shudder. Lights come on, but you feel and hear nothing. There is a transmission lever or knob, but no clutch pedal. It's not needed; the car uses a continuously variable automatic transmission. There are no fixed gears. Since electric motors lack engine braking, there's a separate gear to help slow the car.

There is no tachometer showing engine speed. Instead, a gauge shows the percentage of remaining charge. Another readout shows distance remaining until total battery discharge.

Usually, EVs have a normal driving mode and an eco mode, which restricts acceleration to conserve battery charge. The drive line of these cars shuts off when stopped for a light, but accessories such as radios, climate control and wipers still function.

Acceleration is quick off the line. Unlike gas engines, where power builds up gradually, electric power comes on instantly, like flipping a light switch. However, driving aggressively quickly depletes battery power. Weather, ambient temperature and accessory load (climate control, audio system use) can greatly affect range.

All electric cars use regenerative braking, which captures energy from braking to help recharge the car's batteries. As a result, the brakes grab quickly and the cars decelerate quicker than most drivers are accustomed to.

On the car's exterior, you'll find an electric charge port in place of an opening to gas up.