Should you plug in?

Electric cars let you drive gas-free but aren't right for everyone

Last reviewed: October 2010

You'll soon be hearing a lot of buzz—and a healthy dose of sales hype—about a new wave of electric cars that will begin humming down our roads. The first cars to come from major automakers will be the much-publicized Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, each expected to go on sale in selected areas by the end of this year. And several other models from Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and other companies will follow in the next couple of years.

Our auto experts have driven prototypes and preproduction models of most of the forthcoming electric cars and have found them to be very quiet, quite quick, and viable alternatives to conventional cars. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, more than a quarter of respondents said they are likely to consider a plug-in electric car for their next vehicle.

Electric vehicles (EVs) allow drivers to commute moderate distances using no gasoline and producing no tailpipe emissions. They can reduce overall driving costs for some people. And EVs can be charged by simply plugging them into a household wall outlet, although the time it takes to recharge depends on the vehicle and the electrical circuit.

But those cars require basic changes in driving habits and often some hefty household electrical work. EVs have a limited driving range on electric power, they can take hours to recharge, and they cost more than similar conventional cars. The life expectancy and replacement cost of the battery packs remain question marks, and in most regions the ability to recharge in public areas is very limited.

Before you consider plugging in, you should weigh all factors—cost, convenience, and environmental impact—and fully understand the pros and cons of EVs.