Electric cars, or EVs, are a fast-growing alternative to the gas-guzzling vehicles that 99% of the world’s drivers still use. While they’re very exciting, many of us don’t much about them other than their lack of tailpipe, their need to be plugged in, and the fact that Elon Musk is somehow involved.


Electric cars charging


We don’t think EVs will solve all our problems. Canada needs to increase options for getting around without a car, including public transit, cycling and walking. But the car isn’t going away tomorrow, and EVs will be part of the solution to our pollution woes. That’s why we’re here to answer some of the most common questions we get about EVs.


  1. How much does an EV cost to buy and run?

The cost of purchasing a new EV can be comparable to that of a new gasoline one. While the sticker price may be slightly more, when you factor in the current provincial rebates in Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. towards the purchase of an EV, the difference is small.

Take the Volkswagon Golf.  A brand new one can cost you around $20-25,000. The Volkswagon e-Golf, which is fully electric, starts at $36,000. In Ontario, for example, it qualifies for a full rebate of $14,000, bringing the actual cost down to $23,610, making it essentially the same price. Many other automakers are now making similarly priced entry level EVs. You can find a good summary of EV prices and rebates in Ontario here, compiled by the wonderful folks at Plug n’ Drive.

The real cost savings come in after you purchase your EV. Remember gas costs? Gone. Instead, you’ll be charging your EV at public charging stations (some are free to use), or at home, preferably at night during off-peak hours. CAA has created a calculator to help you estimate this cost.

The average Canadian driver, travelling 20,000 km per year, would likely save $1000-2,000 per year on fuel alone. Maintenance costs are also much lower, since EVs have fewer moving parts and don’t need oil changes.

Although EVs may cost a little more, the average driver will see a net savings in the end.


electric cars charging smart cars


  1. How far can an EV run on one charge and where can I charge it?

Most new electric cars go 200km+ on a single charge. Since the vast majority of car trips are less than 80km, you don’t need to worry about running out of charge. For longer trips, there is a growing network of 5000+ public charging stations in Canada.  There are three levels of public chargers:

  • Level 1 – basic household wall outlet – 8-20 hours to fully charge
  • Level 2 – 240V system – 4 to 6 hours (incentives are available in Ontario to install at home)
  • Level 3 – DC-fast stations – can recharge to 80% capacity in 30-45 minutes

Because longer road trips require you to stop and recharge your electric car (just like you need to fill up your gas tank during a long trip), building more public charging stations is helping more people choose an EV.  This past summer, the federal government announced funding for 34 new charging stations along the Trans-Canada, bringing a coast-to-coast EV road trip much closer to reality. And in Ontario, the rapid growth from 5 to 140 public level 3 “fast chargers” over the past year contributed to the near doubling of EV sales in province in 2017.

  1. How will my EV handle the winter?

Electric vehicles do have shorter range in winter, since batteries are less effective when they’re cold. Warming up your EV while plugged in can prevent a significant amount of this range loss. Using low-energy settings in your EV and not speeding will also increase range in winter. This handy infographic compares EV fuel efficiency in winter compared to gasoline-powered cars.

If you’re worried, remember that the vast majority of trips are under 80km, well within the winter range of today’s EVs. Guess which country has the world’s highest adoption rates for electric vehicles: it’s Norway, which also has cold winters.


electric car plugged in in snow


  1. How environmentally friendly are electric cars, including manufacturing?

A fully electric car runs entirely on electricity and has zero tailpipe emissions.  However, EVs are not 100% emissions-free due to the manufacturing process, and due to the makeup of our electricity supply.

Canada’s electricity mix is quite clean, it’s actually one of the best countries in the world to drive an EV.  Using electricity to power an EV in Canada can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60- 90% per vehicle. Even factoring in the full scope of emissions that occur in both electricity supply and vehicle manufacturing, studies show that EVs and plug in hybrids produce much fewer overall emissions than gas-powered cars, particularly in Canada.  With Canada moving to ban coal in all provinces by 2030 (Ontario has already banned coal!) this footprint will only get lower and lower over time.

Most EV batteries are lithium-based, and do in fact take more energy to manufacture than gas-powered cars. In spite of this, they still produce far fewer polluting emissions over their lifetimes, making them a very real choice for reducing your carbon footprint.


  1. Can the grid handle all the extra electric cars on it?

Currently? Yes. In the future? That’s the plan. For example, Ontario’s recent Long-Term Energy Plan anticipates a rise in EV adoption to about 2.4 million electric cars by 2035. By comparison, there are currently about 10,000 registered EVs in Ontario. This increase in adoption would cause a slight rise in overall electricity demand across the province, but this rise in demand has been factored into the current planning process. In general, hydro providers across the country are confident they will be able to meet the increased demand from EVs.


  1. What about disposing of the electric car’s batteries? Can they be recycled?

Depending on weather and operating conditions, lithium-based batteries eventually lose the ability to hold enough of a charge to power a car (usually 12-15 years). The good news is that these batteries can actually be reused to fill other needs. For example, auto companies like Nissan and GM are making arrangements to use batteries recovered from EVs for home energy systems. You can find more info about the specifics of EV battery recycling here. Battery technology is one of the most quickly evolving areas of renewable technology, so we expect to see more innovation in the near future.


Electric car under the hood


What if I have more questions that aren’t answered here?

Lucky for you, there is a growing body of research on the ins and outs of electric vehicles. We suggest starting at Plug n Drive’s website for some helpful Ontario-based information. If you live near Toronto, or are planning to be in the area, you can even test drive an EV at the Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre.

You can also sign up to receive updates Environmental Defence about electric vehicles and other ways to reduce your carbon footprint at this link.