Frequently asked questions about buying an electric car
Which EVs are available in Texas? How exactly do tax credits work? How do you charge at home?
Happy National Drive Electric Week!
I’ve been an advocate for electric cars for more than 20 years, but I only actually bought one this summer – a 2020 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid (yeah, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I drive a minivan now). Now I’m a straight up evangelist for electric vehicles (EVs). They’re so great! Everyone should drive one!
But I also recognize there are still barriers for a lot of folks. And one of those barriers is an information deficit. When my wife and I started the process of buying an EV, we had plenty of questions. Which EVs are available in Texas? How exactly do tax credits work? How do we charge at home? Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to find answers. So I thought I’d share what I learned.
What electric vehicles are available in Texas?
My wife and I needed a bigger car to shlep three kids (and two carseats) around to school, soccer practice, dance class, etc. A seven-seater Tesla Model X would be big enough, but it was absolutely, completely, totally out of our price range. An electric VW bus would be fun, but they aren’t building those yet. We found some highly-rated electric SUV and minivan options, but the dealerships told us those models weren’t available in Texas. A lot of EV models are only available in California and other states that have stronger fuel economy standards than what’s required by the federal government. And, unfortunately, even if cars are technically for sale, some car dealers don’t actually want to sell you one.
According to cars.com, here are the new EVs available for sale in Texas right now:
- 2020 Audi e-tron Premium Plus (MSRP $80,075)
- 2019 Audi e-tron Prestige (MSRP $84,020)
- 2020 BMW i3 (MSRP $54,545)
- 2020 Chevy Bolt (MSRP $39,940, retailing between 25k – 31k right now)
- 2020 Chevy Bolt Premier (MSRP $44,350, but they are retailing around 35k)
- 2020 Chrysler Pacifica (MSRP $50,430, retailing around 44k)
- 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-Premium (MSRP $56,700)
- 2020 Jaguar I-PACE (MSRP $71,000, retailing around 66k)
- 2020 Jaguar I-PACE SE (MSRP $84,745, retailing around 79k)
- 2020 Kia Niro EV EX (MSRP $40,490, some retailing between 36-38k)
- 2020 Kia Niro EV EX Premium (MSRP $45,990)
- 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium (MSRP $45,255, some retailing around 43k)
- 2021 MINI SE Hardtop Cooper (MSRP $37,750)
- 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SEL (MSRP $40,595)
- 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT (MSRP $45,995)
- 2020 Nissan Leaf S (MSRP $34,690, retailing between 28 – 30k)
- 2020 Nissan Leaf S Plus (MSRP $39,520, retailing between 33 – 35k)
- 2020 Nissan Leaf SL Plus (MSRP $45,610, retailing between $37 – 41k)
- 2020 Nissan Leaf SV (MSRP $35,825, retailing between $28 – 31k)
- 2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus (MSRP $43,985, retailing between $28 – 31k)
- 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S (MSRP $135,430)
- 2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo (MSRP $183,280)
- Tesla Model 3 (MSRP $35,000)*
- Tesla Model S (MSRP $74,990)
- Tesla Model X (MSRP $79,990)
- Tesla Model Y (MSRP $49,990)
- 2021 Volvo S60 Recharge Plug In Hybrid (MSRP $63,150)
There’s also a thriving market for used EVs, with a number of models available for less than $15,000.
*To buy a Tesla in Texas, you have to do it on the internet, and the purchase is handled as an out-of-state transaction which must be completed before the vehicle ships to Texas. This convoluted process is due to Texas law, which requires car makers to sell new cars through franchised dealerships (which Tesla doesn’t use). Now that Tesla is building a new gigafactory here, there’s an obvious opportunity for the Legislature to change this law.
How does the federal electric vehicle tax credit work?
The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7500 for most EVs. The exact amount you’ll get depends on:
1) The car you buy. The credit amount is based on the vehicle’s battery size. Purchasers of Tesla and GM vehicles aren’t eligible, because the credit is only available for the first 200,000 EVs sold by a manufacturer, and both companies have already hit that milestone. Edmunds.com has a great list of the tax credits available by vehicle. My Chrysler Pacifica Plug In Hybrid is eligible for the full $7500, subject to my tax burden, which brings me to number two.
2) Your tax liability. Check line 12a of your IRS Tax Form 1040. If the tax credit available for your vehicle is less than that, you’ll get the full amount. If it’s higher, your credit will be only the amount on line 16. Unfortunately you can’t roll over the balance to the next year. And if you get solar installed in the same year (as we did), note that the solar credit gets applied first.
Are there other local or state incentives available?
Yes! The state of Texas offers a $2500 rebate for the purchase of a new electric vehicle (Teslas not included unfortunately). The rebate is available to up to 2000 Texans in every two-year budget cycle. As I write, there are 1187 rebates still available. Learn more and apply for a rebate through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
How does charging an electric vehicle work?
Your EV will come with a plug you can use to plug the vehicle directly into a regular, 120 volt wall outlet (referred to as a Level 1 charger). This is a slow way to charge, but we’ve done it overnight and had more than enough juice for the next day’s daily commute. It’s also nice to know that wherever you are, as long as you can find an outlet somewhere, you’ll be able to charge your car.
A faster option is a 240-volt “Level 2” charger. 240-volt is the kind of outlet into which you plug your clothes washer or refrigerator. Many EV manufacturers provide a portable 240-volt charger which you can use interchangeably for your car and the clothes washer. Or you can get a proper Level 2 home charging station for a few hundred dollars, plus installation. Some utilities, like Austin Energy, provide a rebate for the EV charger. We had a Level 2 charger installed at home, but my wife’s work (Dell Children’s Hospital) offers free EV charging — so we mostly just charge the car at the hospital (free fuel!). Level 2 chargers provide upwards of 25-30 miles of driving range per hour. So we have more than enough electricity for our daily commute after just two hours of charging (no problem while the car is parked during the work day).
Although about 84% of EV drivers charge primarily at home, there are also networks of Level 2 (a few hours to fully charge) and Level 3 (30 – 45 minutes to fully charge) chargers all over the place to back you up. You can sign up for a service like Chargepoint, EVGo, and Austin Energy’s Plug-in EVerywhere (which provides unlimited charging of 100% renewable energy at public stations for only $4.17 a month or $50 a year!) to be able to charge your car while getting BBQ, taking a hike in a state park, and, soon, while making a road trip pit stop at a Buc-ee’s.
Today’s EVs have long enough range for almost any trip most Americans take. According to the 2017 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. A study back in 2016 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.” Additionally, as a result of battery improvements, the newest EV models have ranges upwards of 300 miles.
Our EV has the range we need, and charging is easy.
Where to buy, where to charge
Austin Energy has put together a terrific EV Buyers guide including which local dealerships sell EVs, locations of charging stations, incentives and more. And they’ll soon be adding a list of new and used EVs available for sale (the actual car with color and features,not just the name and model).
We love our EV. It’s quiet, it’s odorless, it’s peppy (for a minivan) and it’s reliable. And it is already saving us money. When you factor in fuel, the monthly cost for our Chrysler Pacifica is lower than our leased Toyota Highlander, and that’s before the rebates and tax credits. We haven’t had to deal with maintenance yet — and another plus of an EV is that it is unlikely we will ever have much maintenance to deal with.
I’m an environmental advocate, so I have to say it: Cars account for 60 percent of our transportation pollution. I’m glad to report that EVs are a terrific alternative — and they are ready and waiting for us to use them.
Executive Director, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center
As the director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughter are working to visit every state park in Texas.