Stories & Features

Fear not the electric car: 4 myths busted

Image of Chevrolet Bolt connected to a home charger
The Chevrolet Bolt has an average range of more than 375 km. Credit: Chevrolet Canada

Drivers will tell you they don't think about dead batteries or how far they can go

Blaine Kyllo
For bchydro.com

I've been writing about electric vehicles (EVs) for the past four years, and in just that short time it seems like everything has changed. More manufacturers are developing and selling EVs, the vehicles that are on the road can travel further on a charge, and there are more charging stations in more places.

And then there are the perks, such as primo parking spaces, and the freedom to travel in HOV lanes on the highway even when you're driving by yourself.

Over this time I've also talked about EVs with many people. Some have been curious. Some have been skeptical. Some have been ardent fans. But one thing that's consistent is that once people try an EV, they become fans.

I've also learned that owning and operating EVs is not like owning other cars.

It's not just that you "fill them up" by plugging them in. If you want to really get a sense of why EV drivers become such boosters, start by dismissing these four myths.

Myth 1: Drivers worry about how long it takes to charge their EV

It doesn't really matter how long it takes to charge an EV. Because every time you get in an EV it usually has a "full tank".

Stopping at the gas station to fill up our carbon-emitting cars is a nuisance. That's why we tend to drive them until the tank is nearly empty before filling up.

But when you drive an EV, if you're parked, you're usually plugged in and charging. Because of that, EV drivers are rarely charging an empty battery. It's also why EV gauges don't provide an "empty-full" reading, but an estimate of the number of kilometres the vehicle can travel.

Most of us drive our vehicles from home to work, and back home again. And most of us have a commute that is under 50 km. Most EVs have a range much greater than that. The new Chevrolet Bolt, for example, can go more than 375 km on a single charge.

Myth 2: Drivers worry about how far an EV can go on a single charge

The fact that most car trips take place within a small radius – few of us are travelling hundreds of kilometres every day – means that EV range isn't really an issue, day to day.

It's true that if you're going on a road trip with an EV, you will need to do some planning. Your route will shift based on the availability of charging stations and your travel will take a bit longer to accommodate charging time. Calculate the amount of money you're saving on not having to pay for gasoline, though, and you might find that an extra couple of hours to get from A to B is worth it. Some people even go for a local hike or explore a new town while their car is charging.

And as the EV charging infrastructure continues to improve – there are new DC fast charging stations opening every few weeks across North America – it's getting ever easier to road trip in an EV.

Myth 3: Drivers worry about replacing the battery

EV batteries are not like those 1980s-era rechargeable AA batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have a much greater capacity and don't have charging "memories" like early rechargeables.

It is true that over time, EV battery packs lose some capacity, and therefore range, but it's less of a loss than you might expect (and it's a big reason why buying used can be a great option). One Tesla driver I spoke with said his 2013 Model S, which he bought used last year, still has 96% of its original capacity.

Most EV manufacturers have eight year warranties on the batteries. They wouldn't do that if the batteries were going to give out in seven years or less.

On top of all that, battery technology is advancing rapidly every few months, bringing gains to capacity, charging speed, and life span. And the cost of a replacement battery is dropping consistently each year.

The truth is, many EV drivers are replacing their vehicles long before the batteries become a problem.

Myth 4: Drivers worry about vehicle maintenance

This is an often overlooked benefit of EVs. Most of the maintenance of our cars and trucks has to do with maintaining the engine and exhaust system. It's all about oil and fluid changes, new filters and gaskets, and replacing catalytic converters.

An EV has none of these parts. Eventually, you'll need to change the brake pads, but many drivers report that doesn't happen for 100,000 or more kilometres down the road. Why? EVs use regenerative braking to slow down, which takes the kinetic energy from the car and converts it to electricity that goes back into the battery. So your brake pads do very little work, and last much longer.

Blaine Kyllo is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to bchydro.com.