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What to consider before buying an electric car

September 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Can electric cars give gas-powered cars the jolt? If you drive a lot in Southern California, an electric car can save you a ton of money by not filling up your tank with gas.The much-anticipated Chevy Volt is expected to be available in November and the Nissan Leaf will go on sale one month later.

But before you get charged up to buy one, there's a lot to consider.

Electric cars' limited driving range is a key consideration, says Consumer Reports. The Chevy Volt can go 40 miles on an electric charge, but it does have a small gas engine that can go another 300 miles on a tank of gas.

The Nissan Leaf, powered solely by an electric battery, has a 100-mile range before it has to be plugged in.

"But driving isn't the only thing that's going to drain your battery," said Consumer Reports' Jake Fisher. "Headlights, wipers, the heat, the air conditioning -- it all uses electricity, even just playing the radio. So how far you can actually go on a charge, it's going to vary."

Recharge time is another important consideration. On a regular household 110-volt outlet, the Chevy Volt takes about 10 hours to recharge. With the Nissan Leaf's larger battery, you need about 16 hours.

The Chevy Volt retails for $41,000, while the Nissan Leaf costs around $33,600. But there's a $7,500 federal tax credit available for both.

"Electric cars hold a lot of promise. Clearly two big pluses are the ability to reduce gasoline consumption and run cleaner cars. But there's a lot to consider before you know they're right for you," said Fisher.

Consumer Reports says you can cut down the recharge time on electric vehicles by installing a 220-volt circuit in your home, but that could cost a couple of thousand dollars.

The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are just the first of many electric cars due out. In the next year and a half, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota will all introduce new electric vehicles.

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