Our first electric car is a 2023 Volkswagen ID.4
Photo Credit:
Courtesy of Volkswagen
It’s electric!

What I learned buying my first electric car

Andrew Zoellner
/
September 1, 2023

Like many folks, I was interested in a fully electric car. Still, it wasn’t until there were more on the road and federal and state rebates were refreshed in the Inflation Reduction Act (along with needing another vehicle) that my wife and I decided to get serious about buying our first electric car. Spoiler alert: We bought a Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S.

I’m not a “car person.” I became even less of a “car person” over the last few years, working from home, traveling less, and spending most of my free time working on my DIY projects. In 2021, we became a one-car household and donated our well-used 2003 Volkswagen Golf to public radio. That left us with a 2008 Honda Pilot in better running condition than the Golf.

My wife is an artist, and one of the requirements for a new car was that it fit her art fair supplies and tent (with enough room for a passenger). My hobbies revolve around 4x8 sheets of plywood and drywall, along with 2x4s, these days. So, we needed something bigger than a sedan. We also live in Minnesota, and driving in significant amounts of snow is not uncommon. The Honda Pilot fits our needs very well, except that it gets maybe 15 mpg in the city (and 20 mpg on the highway), and it’s getting a little long in the tooth. Plus, technology and safety have come a long way since 2008.

A few automakers currently produce fully electric SUVs, but they were out of our price range (even with incentives). There are a couple of electric pickup trucks available, but they are, again, out of our price range (as well as too big for regular city driving). We started looking at plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) because they offered more capacity with enough range to be fully electric for daily driving. Still, I had my mind set on an EV if at all possible. That meant some compromise.

Changing habits

Let’s talk about size requirements and how much stuff we really need to haul. Most trips in our car are to the grocery store, Costco, or Target. I often run to Home Depot on the weekends for parts/pieces for a project. But if I were to really challenge some assumptions about how much space we needed and do some cost/benefit analysis, the math is pretty simple.

I haul full-size sheet goods or other large home improvement materials maybe once a month or two and less often in the winter. Let’s call it six times a year. Home Depot also delivers, sometimes for free and at least $100. (They also offer truck rentals starting at about $20.) So, if I didn’t have a vehicle that could haul large materials, I’d be paying more for delivery or renting a truck. Let’s call it $400 in material transport costs. When a full-size electric truck or SUV is only $400 more than a smaller vehicle, it makes sense to buy the full-size electric truck or SUV. But they’re tens of thousands of dollars more expensive. So, I’ll need to know/remember that it’s more economical to pay for the delivery of big goods or rent a truck than pay thousands of dollars always to have that capacity available. Sounds a little bit like demand flexibility? (There’s also the option of a trailer - most cars can tow a couple thousand pounds.)

My wife is the one who needs the capacity of our vehicle. Nearly every weekend from June through September, and then starting again around Thanksgiving, she’s hauling bins of prints, T-shirts, cards, and a tent, table, and chairs to art fairs around the Midwest. Thankfully, though, her setup is modular and made to be moved/carried by one person in one or two bins at a time (unlike solid 4x8 ft. sheets of plywood). So, if there’s interior volume in the car, we can typically configure the art fair setup to fit. The only hard/fast dimension is having 60” of space for the tent bag to fit and close the trunk. Ultimately, replacing all of the bins and displays to fit better is still significantly less than paying thousands of dollars more for a bigger EV.

AWD vs 2WD

I went into this purchase convinced I needed all-wheel drive to feel better about driving on snowy streets. In my research, though, I found that electric vehicles are significantly heavier than combustion-engine cars (due to the large battery packs). That extra weight helps increase traction on the wheels, and the folks I talked to mentioned that snow tires are much more critical than AWD drive for winter driving. AWD does offer more power and performance, but, not being a “car guy,” I’m more concerned about safety than power and performance.

Overcoming range anxiety

The average daily driving range for folks in the US is about 37 miles. Every EV on the market can handle that. A simple, level-one charger that plugs into a standard household outlet will add 3-6 miles of range per hour. You could drive 37 miles, plug in overnight, and be back at the same range you were the day before. A level 2 charger, which uses more power and needs a dedicated circuit, can add up to 35 miles of range an hour. (Most folks who purchase EVs also get a level 2 charger installed at home, and many local utilities are subsidizing the installation.) A level 3 charger, which is what you’ll find at most commercial charging stations on the road, will add hundreds of miles of range in an hour.

Granted, there’s a part of me that likes that there’s an option to just get in a car and drive nonstop across the country if I needed to, but the chances of that needing to happen are nearly zero (and I’d still need to stop every 300 miles or so to fill up in a gas-powered vehicle). In my day-to-day life, I rarely go more than 100 miles in a day (and that’s a lot of errand running). When I travel out of town, 200 miles of range is enough to get me to my parents’ house without stopping. And trips farther than that, I’ll need to stop for snacks and restroom breaks anyway. Spending a few extra minutes charging and stretching isn’t the end of the world.

Plus, public charging infrastructure is getting better all the time and is often located near other things I need to do in my day-to-day life, such as grocery shopping, getting a haircut, and even seeing a movie!

The interior of my first electric car
Image credit: Courtesy of Volkswagen

Why we chose a Volkswagen ID.4

Ultimately, a small SUV-style EV fit our capacity, range, and budget needs. There aren’t a lot of options in the marketplace this year, and even fewer that are eligible for federal and state rebates when you’re purchasing (there’s an interesting lease workaround for cars that aren’t eligible due to commercial purchasing requirements). The supply chain is still catching up, but it does seem like there are more cars in stock at dealers than during the height of supply issues in 2021 and 2022.

We test-drove a VW ID.4, and it fit the bill - roomy enough on the inside, small enough to feel comfortable on our city’s narrow side streets, and with all the safety features and performance we were looking for in a new car. Volkswagen had more safety tech included in the base model than other EVs we considered (it seemed like other makers added more safety features as you got into higher trim levels). There were also a lot of VW ID.4 vehicles in the inventory (I’m betting it’s because it was initially left off the Inflation Reduction Act rebate list but qualified for the 2023 year because the cars are now made in the United States). That also meant the dealer was willing to haggle a bit on price - we ended up getting $2500 off the purchase price for the RWD model.

We did opt for a higher trim level than the base model. The Pro S has a full roof moonroof, which makes sitting in the back less claustrophobic. But more importantly, it has power seats in the front (and heated seats in the front as well). With two people sharing a car, being able to have the seat automatically adjusted based on who is getting in was a feature too good to pass up. And with the dealer discount, it didn’t feel like too much extra to pay for.

Lastly, let’s talk about finances, especially when buying a car (vs. leasing). Volkswagen offered 3.9% financing for 72 months. The best we could do through our credit union was 6.5%, with a shorter term (48 months). We’d saved up $20,000 for a down payment and were trying to minimize our monthly payment. After discounts from the dealer, tax, title, and license, we were at about $55,000 for the car and financed $35,000 after the down payment, which left us with a car payment of about $550. That doesn’t include the $10,000 back in rebates we’re anticipating at tax time ($7,500 from the federal government and $2,500 from the state of Minnesota).

There are also fringe benefits that I didn’t even know about. The first is that Minnesota offers $250 in toll credits for EV drivers and that some other states let you use the carpool lane if you’re driving an EV. More and more stores are putting in EV parking and charging stations. Our closest Costco has those EV charging spaces right in front of the doors! The technology around cruise control and lane assist makes long drives much more enjoyable (and safer). One thing I really appreciate (and am almost looking forward to) is the ability to control the temperature inside the car from my phone. Remote starters are a big business in Minnesota, so folks can get into a warm car during the winter. Being able to do the same with an EV without burning gas and worrying about engine wear feels great. Eventually, an electric car will also be able to power your home during an outage!

What should you do?

If you’ve never driven an EV, give it a try! Car dealerships want you to drive their cars, and a test drive these days is as simple as showing a driver’s license and driving around with the salesperson. Especially with EVs, I’ve found that dealers know folks are often just on fact-finding missions with no intention of making a purchase the same day (especially with all of the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act). Keep an eye out for local green energy events, too. At the Minnesota State Fair, Xcel Energy was talking about and demonstrating all things clean energy, including EVs and chargers (though there wasn’t any driving).

You could also rent an EV if you’re traveling or just want to try one. It’s a low-cost, non-sales situation where you can really drive and spend time with a vehicle. And if you’re in the market to buy, you don’t need to buy a new car. There are more and more used EVs on the market, and you can also qualify for federal rebates on used car purchases (up to $4000). Many states offer additional incentives to buy used EVs, too.

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