Frequently asked questions: electric vehicles (EVs)

Electric vehicles are better for the environment and our health, but there are still many common misconceptions about electric cars. Find out the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about driving an electric car.

Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America Research & Policy Center


To tackle climate change, we must electrify cars. Transportation is America’s number one source of global warming pollution, with greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles surpassing every other source. We simply can’t solve global warming without changing how Americans get around.

A zero-carbon transportation system means that every car on the road will need to run on clean, renewable energy by 2050. To get there, we’re calling for all new cars sold after 2035 to be electric.

As drivers make the switch to electric cars on the road to Destination: Zero Carbon, there are bound to be questions about owning an electric car. Though electric vehicles (EVs) have a certain ‘cool’ factor that make them attractive to many people, for most consumers there are barriers – real and imagined – that stand in the way of fully embracing the transition to EVs. To reduce pollution from our cars and transition to electric vehicles, we need to eliminate these barriers.

Below you can find the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about electric cars.

1. What is the difference between an electric car, a plug-in hybrid car, and a hybrid car?

Electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions and run solely on electricity. Plug-in hybrid cars have both a battery and an engine and can run on either electricity or gasoline. Hybrid cars also have a battery and an engine but rather than plugging in to charge the battery, the engine generates electricity for the car’s battery. Read more about the differences and benefits of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars.

2. How expensive are electric cars compared to fossil fuel-powered cars?

People perceive EVs as outside of the budget of the typical consumer, but there are affordable options already on the market and more on the way. Many electric cars are available between $30-40,000.

As the result of low fuel and maintenance costs, EVs are typically cheaper to own than conventional vehicles over the vehicle’s lifetime.

Electric vehicles have fewer parts since they don’t have an engine, making them easier and cheaper to maintain. EVs are also more efficient at converting electricity into motion than fossil fuel-powered cars, which can lead to further savings. Electricity costs and the costs of charging vary by state, but the Department of Energy found on average it costs about half as much to fuel an EV.

There are also financial incentives available like the Federal Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle Credit of up to $7,500. Many states have additional incentives to sweeten the deal.

3. How far can an electric car travel on one charge?

People are concerned that an EV won’t be able to take them where they need to go, which is often referred to as “range anxiety”. In reality, today’s EVs have long enough range to serve the vast majority of the trips most Americans take.

A 2016 study found that the 2013 Nissan Leaf, with a range far below most EVs on the market today, could “replace 87% of vehicles driven on a given day without recharging.”

According to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey, 75 percent of car trips were under 10 miles and 95 percent of trips were less than 30 miles.

Additionally, as a result of battery improvements, the newest EV models have ranges upwards of 300 miles.

4. Where will I charge an electric car?

For electric vehicles to become mainstream, they need to be easy to charge. People correctly notice that there are not nearly as many EV chargers as gas stations.

One 2019 survey found that a majority of consumers considering an EV purchase believed there were too few charging stations around their home and work areas, suggesting that lack of a ubiquitous charging network presents a barrier to wide scale adoption.

Public charging infrastructure doesn’t meet current, or future, demand, and residents without at-home charging options will need public charging. The good news is that smart public policies can help streamline how we charge EVs, making it easier for more people to participate in the electric vehicle revolution.

By expanding the number of stations in public places, particularly in dense residential areas and locations where people frequently travel, policymakers can support the adoption of more electric vehicles.

Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, America is investing $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle charging stations, which will make it a lot easier to find a place to charge in the years to come.

5. What is the environmental impact of an electric car?

Even when considering manufacturing and charging using today’s electric grid, EVs still emit far less global warming pollution than gasoline-powered vehicles over their lifetimes. Based on our current electricity mix, the average EV produces just a third of the pollution that a gas-powered car does. EVs will only get cleaner as we transition to renewable energy.

Electric car battery manufacturing relies on rare earth metals and the harsh reality is that heavy metal mining is almost always environmentally damaging. Lithium mining requires huge quantities of water, damages the soil, and lowers air quality. Cobalt mining is also known to contaminate nearby waterways and emit air pollution. In the future, anticipated technological advancements are expected to reduce lithium and cobalt usage in batteries by up to 75 percent.

Compared to gas-powered cars, a recent study found that EVs use far less resources and materials. Still, limiting and reducing the environmental impact of mining must be an important consideration for EV manufacturers, and further research and development is needed for battery recycling and energy storage.

6. What about hydrogen fuel cells?

Hydrogen-powered cars produce their own electricity and have zero tailpipe emissions. But not all types of hydrogen are created equal. Learn more about hydrogen fuel cells.

Cover Photo Credit: Staff.



Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America Research & Policy Center