EV 101: Know Before You Buy

All of the EV basics, all in one place

Know before you buy

If you're considering buying an electrified vehicle, you may not know where to start. With all of the unfamiliar acronyms, definitions, specifications and other things to consider, it can seem more complicated than it actually is. If you're looking for guidance, Edmunds is here to say: DON'T PANIC. The EV landscape really isn't that complicated if you have someone to talk you through it, and we're here for you.

At the highest level, there are several types of electrified vehicles to be aware of: hybrid cars (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and fully electric vehicles (EVs). Each of these vehicle types come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks. After you've decided which type of electrified vehicle you're interested in, you'll also want to know more about range, charging and what it's like to drive one. Read on for everything you should know before you buy.

Table of contents

Am I Ready for an EV?

  • EV ownership works best if you can charge at home (240V outlet) This typically means a 240V home installation, or other places your car is parked for several hours each day. Don't expect a regular household outlet (120V) to suffice.
  • Adding a home charging system is estimated to cost $1,616 in
    This is an estimate for your area. Using your address and the answers you provide, Treehouse can provide a more accurate price.
  • Edmunds is partnering with Treehouse, an independent provider of home EV installation services. Learn more Edmunds customers receive a 10% installation discount and 4% smart charger discount. Discount excludes permit, hosted inspection, and load management devices. Valid for 30 days.
Need to install a charger at home?

Types of electrified vehicles

HEVs, MHEVs, PHEVs, BEVs, EVs — there are a lot of acronyms used to describe electrified vehicles, and first-timers might find the nomenclature confusing. In a nutshell, there are really three types of electrified vehicles: those that only use gasoline as a fuel input, those that only use electricity, and those that are somewhere in between.

  • All-electric EVs
    Battery electric vehicles (BEVs, or simply EVs) are what most people think of when the term "electric car" comes up. These vehicles do not have conventional engines at all — fossil fuels are simply not involved in their operation. Instead, EVs rely on electricity from large battery packs, which must be recharged by plugging the car in. When you accelerate in an EV, electricity flows from the battery pack to the electric motor (or motors) driving the wheels. EVs can be recharged using a conventional three-prong outlet, but this method only adds a few miles of range per hour. Using a dedicated wall charger or stand-alone charging station is much faster (more on that below).

  • Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)
    Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, are an intriguing halfway point between EVs and regular cars. They offer both a gasoline engine and an electric battery pack that can be recharged by, you guessed it, plugging the vehicle in. Typically, PHEVs use the electricity stored in the battery pack first, then switch over to the gas engine when needed. PHEV battery packs are smaller than the packs in pure EVs, but you still get usable electric range before the gas engine kicks on. If you recharge every night and don't travel very far, it could be quite a while before you have to visit a gas station again.

  • Hybrids (HEVs)
    Finally, hybrid electric vehicles, or HEVs, feature a gasoline-powered engine paired with an electric motor (or motors) — but unlike PHEVs, they cannot be plugged in. In other words, you top the car off at a gas station and ... that's it. No plugs, no cords. Nonetheless, the driving experience is typically quite different from conventional norms because the point of an HEV is to deliver big-time improvements in fuel economy. Toyota hybrids, for example, use a special transmission type that elicits a monotonous drone from the gas engine during hard acceleration. That's part of the price you pay for getting 50-plus mpg in a Prius. In short, you won't have to change your refueling routine if you drive an HEV, but you'll definitely feel the difference from behind the wheel.

Search EV tax credits and rebates in your area
See Electric Vehicle Rebates


Unless you've driven for long stretches through a desolate part of the country, you probably haven't had to think much about your maximum driving range in a gas- or diesel-burning vehicle. Running low? Just stop at the next filling station and you're set. But since EV charging stations can be few and far between, and it takes a while for your vehicle to charge once you reach one and plug in, EV range is a whole new ballgame.

Very few EVs on sale today offer less than an EPA-estimated 100 miles of range, with even wallet-friendly options such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and Chevrolet Bolt EV delivering well over 200 miles on a full charge. The U.S. Department of Energy's website for alternative fuel vehicles lists all vehicles currently on the market, in addition to their EPA range estimates. At Edmunds, we test every significant new EV on our real-world driving route to see how realistic the EPA projections are — you can see our latest results here.

Financial considerations

Electric vehicles and PHEVs are generally more expensive than an equivalent gasoline vehicle — a Kona Electric SE, for instance, costs about $11,500 more than a regular Kona SE. But federal, state and sometimes even local governments put up tax credits and other incentives to help persuade shoppers to go electric. If you and the vehicle you're considering qualify for these credits and incentives, the cost of buying an EV or PHEV drops dramatically. However, with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, federal EV tax credits have become pretty complicated. Never fear, though: We have a helpful guide that lays it all out right here.

There are a few other financial aspects to consider. Because they have fewer running parts, EVs have lower maintenance costs. A typical service visit for a Chevrolet Bolt EV, for example, consists of just a tire rotation and an inspection. And as long as you aren't refueling at a rapid-charging station (which commands a price premium for its quick electricity payload), it's generally less expensive to top off a battery pack than it is to refuel a gas tank. That said, the actual cost savings will vary based on electricity and gas/diesel rates in your area.

Driving experience

Electric vehicles are engineered to drive like fuel-burning ones, but there are some key differences worth noting. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque without revving up and most EVs have only one transmission "gear," acceleration is instantaneous and often very quick. While not every electric vehicle makes the most of the potential power, most feel quite sprightly from behind the wheel. Case in point: A base Tesla Model 3 rockets to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, and that's about the slowest Tesla you'll find.

Braking is also a little different. All hybrids, PHEVs and EVs harvest energy that is usually lost during braking to help charge the battery. When you lift off the accelerator or use the brake pedal, the electric motor that drives the wheels essentially runs in reverse, acting as a generator to convert braking energy into storable electricity. Traditional friction brakes are still used when braking hard, and sometimes during the last few feet as your vehicle comes to a stop. Because regenerative braking can significantly benefit range in stop-and-go situations, some manufacturers dial in a fairly aggressive regenerative braking action when you lift off the accelerator pedal. Others deliver a more natural "coasting" feel and leave the stopping duties up the driver's brake pedal. But many PHEVs and EVs these days allow the driver to customize the level of regeneration for a more tailored driving experience.

Edmunds says

EVs have made great strides lately, so now is an excellent time to test-drive the latest models and explore what's out there. As a next step, head over to Edmunds' EV rankings for our testing team's latest verdicts on today's best electric vehicles.

Electric vehicle stories

See all car news 
Try this quiz!

Is an EV right for me?

Do you need to tow or haul heavy items often?