Are you confused about which plug-in cars qualify for electric vehicle tax credits? You're not alone. To add to the uncertainty, it seemed for a while that EV tax credits might not survive the massive tax reform bill passed and signed in December 2017. But they did.

To clarify the rules, here's our plug-in electric vehicle tax credit guide. It answers some crucial questions you might have.

The Chevrolet Bolt is one of the top-selling plug-in cars. It qualifies for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500.

The Chevrolet Bolt is one of the top-selling plug-in cars. It qualifies for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500.

How Much Is the Credit?

You'll often hear that a credit is worth "up to" a certain amount. "Up to" is the critical modifier. The federal incentive is usually referred to as a flat $7,500 credit, but it's only worth $7,500 to someone whose tax bill at the end of the year is $7,500 or more. Let's say you buy a Tesla Model 3 or other eligible vehicle and you owe $5,000 in income tax for a particular year. That's all the tax credit will be. Uncle Sam's not writing a refund check for the other $2,500. And an unused portion of the credit can't be applied against the following year's taxes.

If you are leasing the vehicle, the tax credit goes to the manufacturer that's offering the lease, not you. The carmaker will likely factor the credit into the cost of the lease to lower your monthly payment, but it isn't mandatory.

The credits also are based on the electric car's battery capacity. For some models, the maximum can fall well below $7,500. For example, the Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid hatchback, only qualifies for a $4,502 federal tax credit.

What Vehicles Currently Qualify for the Federal Credit? (As of January 2018)

Here are some popular models:

Electric Vehicles Federal Tax Credit
BMW i3 $7,500
Chevrolet Bolt $7,500
Fiat 500e $7,500
Ford Focus Electric $7,500
Hyundai Ioniq Electric $7,500
Kia Soul EV $7,500
Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV $7,500
Nissan Leaf $7,500
Tesla Model 3 $7,500
Tesla Model S $7,500
Tesla Model X $7,500
Volkswagen e-Golf $7,500

Plug-In Hybrids Federal Tax Credit
Audi A3 e-tron $4,205
BMW i3 with range extender $7,500
BMW i8 $3,793
Chevrolet Volt $7,500
Chrysler Pacifica $7,500
Ford C-Max Energi $4,007
Ford Fusion Energi $4,007
Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid $7,500
Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid $4,919
Kia Optima Plug-In $4,919
Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4 $4,001
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV $5,836
Toyota Prius Prime $4,502
Volvo XC90 T8 $4,585

The entire list is maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy. You can sort by vehicle type or manufacturer.

Is There Any Fine Print for Federal Electric Vehicle Tax Credits?

Of course there is. In addition to the rule that limits the federal tax credit to the original buyer of a qualified advanced technology or alternative fuel vehicle, you should know about a few other conditions:

  • As noted earlier, if you're leasing a vehicle, the credit stays with the manufacturer that's offering the lease since it is the actual owner of the car. In most cases, however, the tax credit has been factored into the cost of the lease, so the customer still benefits.

  • The federal tax credit isn't applicable to an electric vehicle being purchased for the purpose of reselling it. That's a gray area, though, and would be tough for authorities to prove.

  • The vehicle must primarily be used in the United States.

  • Plug-in and battery electric vehicles must be built by qualified manufacturers to be eligible for the full $7,500 credit.

  • Plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles also must have battery packs that are rated for at least 4 kWh of energy storage and are capable of being recharged from an external source.

  • The IRS says that manufacturers are not required to certify to the agency that vehicles meet the requirements to qualify for the various credits. For vehicles not listed on the Department of Energy site or on the IRS list of qualified vehicles, a buyer can generally rely on the manufacturer's representation that the vehicle is eligible. That statement can either be in writing or on the company's website. The same thing goes for electric motorcycles, plug-in and EV conversions, three-wheel EVs and low-speed EVs.

  • The IRS, of course, always reserves the right to reject a claim for a tax credit.

Do Electric Vehicle Tax Credits Run Out?

Yes. The government is phasing out the electric vehicle tax credits as sales volume increases, on the theory that the high initial cost of adding new technology to a vehicle will come down as economies of scale improve. That's supposed to eliminate the need for subsidies. This phase-out period is individual to each manufacturer and comes only after an automaker sells 200,000 qualified vehicles. Tesla hit the milestone first, announcing on July 12 that it had delivered its 200,000th vehicle. The full $7,500 tax credit for Tesla vehicles will now only be available on those delivered on or by December 31, 2018. That might disappoint people who have deposits on the base $35,000 Tesla Model 3. Edmunds analysts say that production on that version won't begin until November or December 2018 at the earliest.

Tesla vehicles delivered from January 1 to June 30, 2019, are eligible for a federal credit of $3,750. Tesla vehicles delivered from July 1 to December 31, 2019, are eligible for a federal credit of $1,875. There are no federal tax credits for Tesla after that.

GM also may max out this year or in 2019 if sales of the Bolt and the Volt continue at their current pace. Beyond that, it's a slow process given the very low sales rates for plug-in electric cars.

Can Electric Vehicle Tax Credits Be Passed On?

This question occasionally pops up: Who gets to claim the tax credit in the case of low-mileage electric cars that dealerships sell after having used them as demonstrators or loaner cars?

The answer is pretty simple: EV tax credits cannot be passed on. Only the original registered owner of an eligible vehicle can claim the federal tax credit. Even if the original registered owner didn't apply for the credit for some reason, it cannot be passed along to a subsequent buyer.

This is useful to know because it can be a bargaining point in a used-car purchase negotiation. It might turn out that a new model with the tax credit is a better deal than a used one if the federal tax credit program means the list price for the new model is reduced by up to $7,500.

Have Any Programs Expired?

You might be thinking: Don't hybrids and clean-diesel cars qualify? They once did, but no more. The federal tax-credit clock ran out on December 30, 2010, for clean-diesel vehicles and conventional hybrids, meaning gas-electric models such as the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid or the Toyota Prius. These vehicles don't have batteries that can be plugged into the power grid.

And at the start of 2012, Congress also let die a federal credit of up to $2,500 for four-wheel, low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs), which are limited to a top speed of 25 mph. But if you're interested in those vehicles, you might want to check individual state and regional programs.

Are There Tax Credits From States or Other Sources?

Yes. While the federal tax credits for plug-in and natural gas vehicles get the most mention, there also are dozens of state and regional incentives on plug-in vehicles and those that use alternative fuels. Many states have a dozen or more programs. Many, however, apply only to businesses. Some credits come in the form of exemptions from fees and inspections. Others are nonmonetary incentives such as carpool lane access and free parking.

EV buyers in a number of states can get some cost relief in the form of tax credits, rebates, reduced vehicle taxes or registration fees for buying a qualified alternative-fuel or electric-drive vehicle.

In California, for example, people who buy or lease a new electric car such as the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric or a Tesla can get a $2,500 cash rebate. That's in addition to the federal tax credit, and it reduces the out-of-pocket cost of the car by as much as $10,000. Plug-in hybrids are a little different. Because they have smaller batteries and burn petroleum-based fuel part of the time, such cars as the Chevrolet Volt, the Honda Accord Plug-In and the Toyota Prius Prime are eligible only for $1,500 California rebates under the state's clean vehicle rebate program.

Plug In America, an advocacy group, has an interactive U.S. map that shows plug-in car incentives in each state. The U.S. Department of Energy also has an interactive chart of state incentives.

It's a good idea to be sure about available state and local incentives before you shop. Just because a state had a program doesn't mean it will continue indefinitely. A notable example is Georgia, which once had a generous program but eliminated it as of July 1, 2015. California has changed its rebate program by taking income levels into consideration. As of November 1, 2016, California residents with individual annual incomes of $150,000 or more ($300,000 for a joint return) no longer qualify for plug-in vehicle rebates. People with low incomes, on the other hand, can qualify for an additional $2,000 rebate for both full EVs and plug-in hybrids.

How About Fuel Cell Cars?

There's bad news for fuel cell enthusiasts: Only those shoppers who purchased before January 1, 2017, qualified for a base federal tax credit of $4,000, plus additional federal credits from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the vehicle's fuel efficiency rating.

Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, such as the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell and the Toyota Mirai, do qualify for a $5,000 state rebate in California, though only the Mirai is available for purchase.