"It's a huge challenge," said Doug Brauner, a certified mechanic who runs two auto shops in the Sacramento, Calif., area. "We're just now after all of these years seeing an acceptable number of techs that have the appropriate amount of hybrid training."
When it comes to fully electric vehicles, he said, "I have yet to see anybody in this marketplace who has received appropriate and reasonable training."
Analysts said consumers pondering the purchase of an electric vehicle will need to be more proactive in asking questions at dealerships. Kicking tires and raising the hood won't cut it.
A buyers' checklist should include: What is the warranty on the battery? How much does it cost to replace key electric system components? Are all or some of those components under warranty? Do I need a 240-volt charger? Do you have a number to call if the car just stops on the roadway? What happens if I accidentally detach the plug from the vehicle? Should the vehicle be moved if something like that happens?
Brauner recommends that prospective electric vehicle buyers get online and tap into the ocean of information available on the latest EVs.
Brauner and other mechanics agreed on one other break with the past: EV owners should never grab a wrench and start tinkering with the electronic components of their car.
"If you wouldn't take the back off your TV, then don't delve into your electric car."
Electric/alternative fuel vehicle glossary:
Note: Emission classifications are general definitions, as some language differs in state and federal standards. Some standards apply to conventional engines.
—AFV: An alternative fuel vehicle is powered by fuel other than gasoline or diesel.
—BEV: A battery electric vehicle is one powered by electricity stored in batteries.
—Charging station: An external power source that can be used to recharge an electric vehicle equipped with a plug.
—Electric "horsepower": In the electric car industry, 1 horsepower is defined as 746 watts.
—Electric vehicle or EV: A vehicle with an electric motor driving the wheels.
—Fuel cell: The onboard mechanism that converts fuel into electricity.
—Full hybrid vehicle: A hybrid auto that can be propelled by the engine's electric component alone.
—Hybrid electric vehicle: One that combines conventional power production and an electric motor.
—Low emission vehicle: One with relatively low levels of tailpipe emissions.
—Lithium-ion battery: Rechargeable battery technology used in electric and hybrid cars. When a lithium-ion battery is charging up, lithium ions move from a positive electrode to a negative electrode. When the battery is discharging, the process is reversed.
—Mild hybrid vehicle: A hybrid auto with an engine that has an electric component that can assist an internal combustion engine (improving gas mileage) but is incapable of propelling the vehicle on its own.
—Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or PHEV: A vehicle that utilizes rechargeable batteries, or another energy-storage device, that can be restored by connecting a plug to an external power source.
—PZEV: A partial zero-emission vehicle is one with a 15-year or 150,000-mile extended warranty for the emissions system and has zero evaporative emissions.
—SULEV: A super ultra-low-emission vehicle is one producing emissions typically 90 percent less than gasoline-fueled equivalent vehicles.
—ULEV: An ultra-low-emission vehicle is one producing 50 percent fewer polluting emissions than the average of new cars released in a given model year.
—ZEV: A zero-emission vehicle is one with no emission pollutants produced by the power source.
Sources: Electric Auto Association, California Air Resources Board, McClatchy Newspapers research.