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Disadvantages of Electric Cars: Pros, Cons, and Tradeoffs of EVs

Do the Advantages Outweigh the Disadvantages of Electric Vehicles?

EV charging hub - disadvantages of electric cars
Image c. Shutterstock

Soaring fuel costs and pending environmental catastrophe are at hand. Electric cars are becoming “normal” and, for many, the answer to climate change. However, do electric cars have a spotless reputation? There are plenty of pros and cons of EVs including some present-day disadvantages of electric cars.

Technology is moving fast, and what was once considered to be deal-breakers of electric car ownership aren’t the problems they once were. Still, there are plenty of rumors and misinformation that persist, muddying the realities of electric car ownership.

Statistically, only 3% of all cars on the road worldwide are electric — so you’re in the minority if you’re looking into electric vehicles (EVs). That number is predicted to change rapidly though — about 10 fold by 2030.

The main reason why many drivers are reluctant to purchase an electric or hybrid electric vehicle is that they’re not clued in with the current state of the electric automotive industry. The following are some commonly touted disadvantages of EVs. Underneath each entry, we’ll review these claims and tell you what’s really going on. So, without further ado:

Charging Woes

It’s in their name — “electric” cars require electricity — no surprise. What is surprising, however, is how poor U.S. universal charging infrastructure is. This is one of the real disadvantages of electric cars today.

An EV road trip requires a network of strategically located charging stations. There are a rising number of “DC Fast-Charge” stations, especially on the West Coast, which can boost an EV to 80% charge in under an hour. Otherwise, recharging can take 3+ hours, so you’ll want to bring a book.

Tesla is the exception to the rule. For Tesla owners, an EV road trip is a real possibility. Thanks to the Tesla superchargers, you can add as many as 200 miles of range in less than 15 minutes. A Tesla Cannonball Run was completed in 2021 in just 42 hrs and 17 min.

For now, the vast majority of drivers on the roads only drive to and from work or to run errands. It’s easy to charge your car at home overnight or outside your work without much impact on your life (besides a disappearing gas bill).

If you’re an apartment dweller, it’s not so easy. As an early adopter, sometimes owning an electric car didn’t seem worth it. Rentals in the city are hard to find with ANY parking let alone parking with an electric outlet. England recently announced legislation that will require all new-built construction to feature electric charging — but that isn’t going to fix the millions of old housing units that don’t have the appropriate infrastructure.

The next three years will see a huge change in national charging infrastructure. Momentum is building from automakers, the U.S. government (including the most recent infrastructure bill), and NGOs pushing for convenient charging for all. Further, the production of solid-state batteries may allow for much faster charging with longer battery life. But none of that helps the present situation, and for now, long journeys require patience and planning.

Traveling Distance (Range)

While my VW e-Golf can only manage 125 miles on a charge, the Lucid Air Dream Edition R was recently rated at 520 miles of EPA-certified road-tripping. At 70 mph, that’s a whopping 7+ hours of seat time. Your bladder will likely give out before your electrons.

The Lucid is an expensive outlier. Mainstream EVs are hitting 180-250 miles range. That’s enough to make many day trips easy, but you’re still limited by charging infrastructure.

It’s also essential to remember that your weather and driving habits can negatively impact your range. If it’s a cold, humid day, and you’re running heat and defrost while driving in the rain you might watch your range drop by 20%. If you live in cold northern climates, budget for at least a 25% drop in the winter. Other common additions like roof-racks or aftermarket tires and wheels can create a very noticeable drain on your range.

Range is no longer a deal-breaker or noteworthy as one of the disadvantages of electric cars. Sure, it won’t match gasoline for road trips yet, but the technology is improving day by day.

Lack of Power

In the early days, electric cars were glorified golf carts. Even the first mainstream Nissan Leaf was lethargic. However, the introduction of the Tesla roadster turned the idea that electric cars lacked power on its head.

Thanks to the use of brushless electric motors that can deliver unfettered power instantly and efficiently, acceleration is no problem for electric cars; in fact, some of the fastest cars in the world are electric.

Moving fast consumes a lot more battery, but the same can be said for gas cars. Because they don’t breathe air, EVs can even outperform at high altitudes (where the air is thinner) which is why they are so successful at events like the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb.

Battery Replacements Are Prohibitively Expensive

2022 GMC HUMMER EV Ultium battery (photo/General Motors)

At the heart of all-electric automobiles are batteries — literally, the entire car is designed around them, and they’re the most expensive part of the car. It’s encouraging that all EVs sold in the U.S. come with an eight-year/100k mile warranty. While that sounds like a great deal, keep in mind that the average age for a vehicle on the road in the U.S. is 12.1 years.

At some point the cost to replace the battery is more than your vehicle might be worth — estimates range between $6,000 and $20,000 depending on the model. On the other hand, 10 years from now a replacement battery might be able to double your range!

They Are Expensive

Electric does not mean equitable, and EVs are out of the price range of average citizens. There is no disputing this fact, electric vehicles are expensive — largely because of the battery — and a prohibitive entry price is one of the present-day disadvantages of electric cars.

Modern batteries require lithium, which can only be mined in a handful of countries. Once mined, producing thousands of small cylindrical cells — each of which must be carefully monitored — is not a trivial endeavor. Then you must add the cost of environmental and crash protection to prevent battery fires.

This forces automakers to start at a high price, which consequently means it will only appeal to upmarket buyers. That upscale demographic demands expensive luxury appointments which quickly push prices north of $45,000.

If Biden’s build-back-better incentives become a reality, however, some Americans could be looking at up to $15,000 in rebates between state and federal incentives. Trickle-down and the economics of scale manufacturing will eventually bring costs down for the masses. We’re still waiting for Kandi America to actually deliver on the cheapest electric car in America, but if they do you might be able to get a new ride for $5K.

EVs Cause Pollution and E-Waste

Yes, the “clean and green” electric cars cause pollution too, albeit indirectly. While EVs have zero tailpipe emissions, the energy used to drive them is only as clean as the power plant that services you.

This has been a point of contention over the past decade, but the science behind the “well-to-wheels” efficiency of vehicles has matured — EVs are unequivocally greener. With modern electric cars, even if you are serviced by coal power you are doing the earth a favor — and when the grid improves, so will your carbon footprint.

E-waste is a more insidious problem, and the industry is rapidly trying to find a solution for recycling used batteries. Lithium batteries are fairly benign when compared to Nickel-Cadmium cells or even other automotive compounds like brake fluid.

Nonetheless, it’s considered toxic in our waste stream, and no one is prepared for the volume of used batteries headed to scrap yards. The EPA reported last year that at least 65 landfill fires were caused by lithium-ion battery waste. If the industry doesn’t find a solution quickly, we may have mountains of lithium trash just waiting to catch fire.

They’re Big & Heavy

(photo/General Motors)

A Porsche that’s heavier than a Land Rover? It’s true, a new electric Taycan has several hundred pounds on the green oval’s two-door Defender. Customers demand range — range means more battery, and batteries are not light. That Taycan battery weighs 1,400 lbs alone — more than half a Mazda Miata!

Automakers have gotten good at hiding the weight by putting it low in the chassis so handling is quite good. There’s no hiding the added momentum — you’ll want to calibrate your brake foot to start early. The battery is actually changing the shape of our vehicles favoring long wheelbases that can fit a big slab of lithium energy.

Year over year, batteries are improving quickly. The confluence of better batteries, faster-charging technology, and improved charging infrastructure will make range anxiety a thing of the past.

Remember the first cell phones that looked like comically oversized movie props? Now, look at that svelte smartphone in your hand. Technology moves fast, and there’s good reason to be optimistic for the industry. In a recent interview, the founder of Lucid Motors, Peter Rawlinson, predicts a future where battery range actually decreases from the 520-mile capable Lucid Air because our charging network will be so prolific.

Tradeoffs: Advantages and Disadvantages of Electric Cars

The prospect of electric vehicles is very promising, but they are not a silver bullet and have their own share of shortcomings. Big automotive purchases are never simple, and the trade-offs are different for every individual.

If you’re driven by the need to make the world a better place, consider that it might be more environmentally sensible to keep your older vehicle well maintained and running for years to come. Manufacturing a vehicle is highly carbon-intensive — when you look at the lifecycle carbon emissions of a vehicle much of the cost to the planet happens during assembly. Every mile you wring out of your existing car defers making an environmentally costly replacement.

The longer you keep that old beast running, the fewer new cars will need to be produced and that can have a bigger impact on your carbon footprint. When it is time to upgrade, give electric a test-drive too. You might be stunned at how addictive instant-torque can be!









About Nick Schoeps

Nick is a fan of anything that propels him faster in the world with a bigger smile on his face. He cut his teeth in electric motorsports, wining consecutive Isle of Man TT trophies and building the fastest electric motorcycles on the planet. When not out riding, driving, surfing, skiing, or shredding he runs upspun design, an engineering consulting firm. Nick lives and breathes electric vehicles and is stoked to share his insight in the rapidly developing transportation landscape.

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