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What's the Difference Between an Electric and Gas Car?

Here are all the things that separate EVs from gas cars

The benefits to getting an electric vehicle may seem obvious: no more filling up your car with expensive gas, fewer items on your vehicle to regularly maintain, and no tailpipe emissions. But you can't beat the convenience of knowing there will be a gas station just a few miles down the road when your tank is low, and gas-powered vehicles are familiar to most car buyers. We're going to cover all the differences between electric cars and gas cars in this article so you can decide which is right for you.

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Cost

How much you pay for your vehicle, whether it's gas or electric, can vary wildly. But electric vehicles typically cost more to purchase than their gasoline-powered counterparts. That said, a Consumer Reports study found that the total cost of ownership for an electric car is far lower than a gas car when factoring in things like purchase price, maintenance and fuel. So what gives?

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Fuel cost

Electricity typically costs a lot less than gasoline. The cost of charging an electric car is influenced by a lot of factors, including whether you charge at home or use a public charger, the price of electricity, and the efficiency of your electric car. But the fuel savings with an electric car can be immense. The Department of Energy released a study that says electric vehicle owners can save nearly $15,000 over a 15-year period, a huge savings for most owners.

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Maintenance costs

Not only do electric cars have fewer wearable parts than gas cars (you'll never have to do an oil change on an EV), the wearable parts they do have often need less frequent maintenance. Because of regenerative braking, you'll likely get a longer life on brake pads and rotors. The way you drive and where you live impacts how much maintenance your EV needs, but we've got an article that can help you keep it in tip-top shape.

Government incentives for purchasing an electric car

You might be familiar with the $7,500 and $3,750 government incentives and rebates for purchasing an electric vehicle. You may be less familiar with all the rules and regulations that determine which shoppers and which vehicles are eligible for those incentives. Thankfully, Edmunds has a guide that can walk you through all the red tape and give you the confidence to make the right purchase.

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Emissions

Electric vehicles do not have tailpipe emissions, but that's not the only place where a vehicle's emissions are created. The construction of EVs — particularly their batteries — can be very carbon-intensive. And the generation of electricity in many states is done at plants that use dirty energy sources like coal. So, are electric vehicles really as environmentally friendly as they're made out to be?

Sort of. Significant greenhouse gas emissions are produced at the beginning and end of an electric vehicle's life, primarily related to battery technology. But those emissions are typically surpassed by the daily use emissions created by a gas-powered vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency has a useful chart that shows just how significant day-to-day tailpipe emissions are to the overall greenhouse gas emissions produced by gas-powered vehicles.

A lack of tailpipe emissions doesn't just benefit the environment — it benefits our health. A report from the American Lung Association explains that transportation and electricity generation are the two biggest contributors to pollution. Taking gasoline cars and their tailpipe emissions off the road can dramatically impact pollution. Breathing in polluted air is linked to health problems ranging from asthma to heart attacks, so EVs driven with electricity generated from carbon-neutral sources can make a big difference to our health.

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Driving electric cars vs. gas cars

Driving an electric car both sounds and feels different than driving a gas car. Electric cars don't have an engine or a conventional multi-gear transmission, making their acceleration smoother and quieter. (It's up to you to determine whether or not that's a good thing.) The instant torque delivered by electric vehicles can make them a lot of fun to drive, whether they're the ultra-sporty Tesla Model S Plaid or the more chilled-out Hyundai Ioniq 5.

You may have heard of one-pedal driving on electric vehicles. This is directly related to something called regenerative braking, which is exactly what it sounds like. When you slow down in an electric vehicle, the energy generated from braking is added back to the battery — this is another way EVs are much more efficient than gas-powered vehicles. You can use regenerative braking in some electric vehicles to bring them to a complete stop. So, by using only the accelerator pedal, you can both get your EV to easily pull away at a stoplight and also bring it to a smooth stop at the next one.

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Convenience

If you're able to recharge your electric vehicle at home every night, it can be every bit as convenient as driving a gas car. But if you can't charge at home or if you want to take your EV on a road trip, you may encounter some hurdles. There are not electric vehicle charging stations conveniently located every 15 miles on state highways like gas stations, and it takes much longer to charge an EV than it does to put gas in your car.

Thankfully, the EV charging infrastructure in North America is improving. More charging stations are being built and in more remote locations. That will make planning a road trip, or even a lengthy day trip, a much more pleasant experience. But that doesn't directly impact how long it takes to charge your car.

There's good news there, too. Some newer electric vehicles, like the Edmunds Top Rated Kia EV9, use advanced 800-volt charging architecture, allowing them to quickly replenish their batteries. The EV9 can charge its battery from 10% to 80% in as little as 25 minutes using a high-powered DC fast-charging station. No, that's not as quick as filling up a Telluride with gas, but it's not an interminable rate when you consider the EV9 boasts more than 300 miles of electric range.

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Storage

Electric cars don't have two things that take up a lot of space on gas cars: transmissions and engines. The batteries and motors that come on EVs take up a fair amount of space, but they're increasingly spread out along the bottom of the vehicle rather than lumped together under the hood of your car. That gives EVs a potential advantage when it comes to storage.

The lack of a transmission tunnel going through the middle of your car can improve interior space and comfort. It's a lot easier to stretch out your legs in the back seat without a big bump getting in the way. Some EVs have clever storage bins in the front row in the space that would normally be taken up by the transmission. The Rivian R1T has a "gear tunnel" (pictured above) that goes through the middle of the truck, offering a convenient storage spot.

Some electric vehicles even have a "frunk" (front trunk) where a gas car's engine would go. Frunks can range from cavernous, like on the Ford F-150 Lightning, to almost comically small, like on the Genesis GV60. Keep in mind that some electric vehicles, like the BMW iX, do not have frunks. You'll just have to store your gear in the trunk.

Electric trucks vs. gas trucks: Towing

Electric pickup trucks are becoming more common, with the Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T as prime examples. And while both trucks boast impressive maximum towing capacities, their driving range takes a sizable hit while towing. In one Edmunds test, our long-term Ford F-150 Lightning saw its range drop by 26%. That's not a deal-breaker, but needing to stop to charge while towing can be a bit of a chore in a way that putting some more gas in the tank is not.

If you're only planning on modest towing, or towing for short distances, an electric truck may suit your needs. But you'll be giving up a lot of the convenience and flexibility that we now take for granted on an all-gasoline pickup.

Electric cars vs. gas cars: Variety

You may have noticed we've talked about a lot of electric SUVs and even a couple of trucks. There's a reason for that: Most new electric vehicles are SUVs. There are sedans available, notably the Tesla Model 3 and Edmunds Top Rated Electric Car, the BMW i5. But they're not exactly common. And remember when we talked about the high price of electric vehicles? Well, part of that boils down to them skewing toward SUVs. But it doesn't help that many electric vehicles are either made by luxury manufacturers or, at the very least, priced like luxury vehicles.

There's reason to believe that will change in the coming years as more electric vehicles are made by more manufacturers. But for now, you'll find a little less variety when shopping for an electric car vs. a gas-powered one.


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