Should People Be Buying Electric Cars?

A year ago, a dream of mine came true. I bought a minivan.

I always envied kids who got to ride in a minivan with screens. I wanted my kids to enjoy riding in a car with me and make it easier on them for long road trips. I naively assumed there would be an electric minivan I would be able to purchase.

In the United States, there are no fully electric minivans. But there is the Chrysler Pacifica PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). It gives us 32 miles on a pure electric plug-in engine and then reverts to a basic gas-powered van. We saved $11K on the MSRP as well, thanks to federal and state tax credits. I’ve been happy with the car as it allows us to use electricity for our daily trips with the ease of gas for longer road trips.

I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint and buy an electric vehicle, but is this the right direction for society?

The Common Cons

Most educated people now know about electric cars, but they may not purchase one for the following reasons.

Shorter Range

The average MPG for combustible engine cars is 25.7 MPG. The average tank is 17.5 gallons which yield a range of 450 miles. In general, this is not a consideration for most car buyers. If they get a smaller car, it will usually have a smaller tank but greater fuel efficiency. If they buy a large truck or SUV, its fuel efficiency will be offset by a larger tank.

The average American drives 13,500 miles a year, 260 miles a week. Therefore they don’t expect to fill up their car more than every ten days.

Electric cars are generally closer to 200-250 miles. Tesla is trying to push this upper limit, but the longer-range model X and S cost over $75K. The Tri-Motor Cybertruck is expected to yield over 500 miles, but it is still not in development.

Another caveat is that these numbers are based on a combination of city and highway driving. Braking regenerates the battery, but you will see a significant reduction closer to only 120-170 miles if you’re doing highway-only driving.

In theory, this seems satisfactory as you would generally be fine to drive all day and not run out of energy. The issue comes when people drive more than 200 miles in a single day.


Filling up a gas tank generally takes around 5 minutes and at roughly $3/gallon costs $30 per week. In most cities, it’s hard to go five minutes without seeing a gas station. So people ignore their tanks, knowing that they can always stop and fill up when the light goes on.

An electric car “fills up” on electricity. So you can plug it into an outlet (120V) in your garage and charge. But, unfortunately, you only recharge about 2-3 miles per hour when you’re charging. Since my van only gets 32 miles, if I plug it in at night after I’m done using it, it will be fully charged in the morning. But if you’re driving a Tesla 3 to empty, you’re looking at multiple days of charging to get to full capacity on a standard 120V outlet.

Fortunately, there are options if you own your home and are willing to install a 240V outlet and/or wall charger. These can charge between 30-45 miles per hour, and therefore an overnight charge will easily get you back to full. There are also a fair number of electric charging stations available in major cities that could be of use if you need a faster charge.

But what if you want to go on a road trip? If you don’t own a Tesla, you currently are going to be limited to only a few hours of driving followed by a few hours of waiting to charge. But if you do purchase a Tesla, you can use one of their over 25,000 supercharging stations.

A Supercharge can give you 200 miles of range in 15 minutes. So if you just drove for three hours, you probably should be taking a 15-minute break anyway. This, of course, requires planning and being familiar with the supercharger locations, but I don’t think that’s too much to ask if you are going on a long road trip.

The average price of electricity is $0.13kwH. For example, a Tesla 3 long-range has an 82 kWh battery with a 353-mile range. $13.59 for 450 miles. Almost a fourth of the cost of gasoline.

The Unspoken Cons

There are many positives to the environment with electric cars, which hopefully you are aware of. If you own a home, have the finances, and have an electric car model that interests you, it seems simple to say yes to electric cars. But what about the negatives that people aren’t talking about? New technology means new concerns.

American society has chosen to ignore the fact that creating electric vehicles means mining for and transporting new materials. We’re so focused on zero-emissions after the car has been purchased that we have glossed over that an electric vehicle will have generated 65-100% more emissions by the time it is ready to be driven for the first time than a gas counterpart. Also, If your electricity comes from a coal plant, you may be doing more damage than driving a gas vehicle.

We need to mine the seafloor for cobalt and nickel. Lithium needs will continue to increase exponentially. Don’t forget about copper.

What type of emissions will this new mining generate? Do we have enough material to meet demand?

The Verdict

Some studies show the trade-offs will be worth it.

The Wall Street Journal article sums it up best. I highly recommend viewing this article.

The article shows many possible futures, and significant change is needed to ensure we have a future with reduced carbon emissions.

Americans take pride in their automobiles, and buying an electric vehicle shows a commitment to a cleaner future. By purchasing and talking about your electric car, you educate others on the positives of electric vehicles. You’re helping promote change.

If you do not have the financial resources, you should purchase vehicles made with renewable materials and exceptional gas mileage. However, no matter your financial situation, you should be aware of your carbon footprint.

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