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Electric Vehicles vs. Gas Cars: Busting the Top Myths

Written By: Joe Schmeits


If you’re like me you’ve heard countless stories of all the ways EVs are “worse” than ICE cars. Too many to list here! But are they true? I’m going to look at a few of the ones I’ve heard and discuss how true these myths are.


False: EVs are less safe than ICE vehicles

This is a tough one to look at because we have decades of data with ICE cars and relatively little with EVs. That said, vehicles are becoming safer all the time so even a 10-year-old ICE car may not compare to a modern ICE car. I’m going to focus on differences inherent to either EV or ICE vehicles because there’s obviously a lot of variances within each type of vehicle, but also a lot of overlap between the two.


For collisions, both modern ICE and EVs are designed to absorb the impact of the collision, softening the impact on the passengers. This is why even low-speed collisions of modern vehicles look much worse than older cars – the car gets totaled but the driver walks away. One main difference between the two is weight and center of gravity; EVs are surprisingly heavier than their ICE counterparts (mostly due to battery weight) and the center of gravity is lower. This means in a collision an EV is less likely to roll than an ICE car. The tradeoff is EVs are more likely to cause damage to infrastructure (like guard rails) and the extra weight needs to be accounted for in parking structures. This could also mean more damage to pedestrians in the event of a vehicle/pedestrian collision. With ICE cars, you may see different after-effects of a collision due to the engine; gas, oil or other fluids may leak which could cause additional danger or health effects.


False: EVs are more likely to catch fire than ICE cars

Of course we need to look at fires – it is a common occurrence to see news stories of EVs catching on fire, sometimes resulting in fatalities. Are EVs more prone to catch fire than an ICE? The data says no – actually the opposite appears to be true with ICE vehicles catching on fire at a much higher rate than EVs across multiple sources and metrics. So why are EV fires in the news? Well for one, while EV fires are rare the lithium-ion batteries burn very hot and are extremely difficult to put out. Also, while an overwhelming majority of vehicle fires are caused by collision there is an extremely rare chance that an EV battery could overheat and catch fire on its own due to short circuit. Also there is fear mongering – EVs are new and not fully understood/embraced by everyone. It is human nature to be distrustful of what we don’t understand. There are those with a financial interest on capitalizing on these fears like ICE manufacturers and lobbyists who will push the narrative that EVs are not safe, even when the data tells us otherwise.

 

Inconclusive: EVs are overall worse for the environment than ICE cars

There are a few myths regarding EV batteries that I’m lumping into one category. I’ve heard that EV batteries last forever and can’t be recycled, they fail and are very expensive to replace, and that the creation of the batteries has a worse carbon footprint than gas.


The most common type of battery you will see in an EV is a lithium-ion battery. They require rare materials to manufacture such as nickel and cobalt in addition to lithium. The mining of these materials can have a negative impact on the environment, this is true. However, the technology is still relatively new and constantly evolving. We may even see a movement away from lithium-ion batteries at some point. Of course this argument completely ignores the impact ICE cars have on society due to fracking and air pollution. There are real issues with both how we source the rare materials and how the electricity that EVs use is produced – you can’t really say your vehicle is completely “green” if the electricity is produced by coal and/or natural gas! But the industry is rapidly evolving and in many cases pivoting to renewable energy sources such as wind, hydroelectric, and biomass.


Lithium-ion batteries do degrade over time, depending on how they are used. Occasionally they need to be replaced and can be expensive. That said, “across all years and models, outside of big recalls, only 2.5% [of EV batteries] have been replaced” and most of them were covered under warranty. And it isn’t like traditional ICE cars never have expensive issues, they are just different issues. According to the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, EVs have an average maintenance cost of $0.061/mile while ICE vehicles cost an average of $0.101/mile.

Lastly, the idea that batteries can’t be recycled doesn’t have any basis in fact. Currently, we are able to recycle between 70-90% of the total weight of the battery and are aiming for 100%. Even before we get there, many EV batteries can find a second life in home energy storage.


Inconclusive: Charging is less convenient than gas

A big hurdle to many potential EV buyers is charging. Chargers come in three levels: Level 1 or “trickle charging” is a standard 110V outlet, Level 2 is what most dedicated home charges are and Level 3 is a commercial fast charger. For most people with a PHEV you can get by with Level 1, which will charge approximately 3-5 miles per hour of charge and PHEV batteries usually have a range of less than 50 miles anyways. But for an EV, that typically doesn’t cut it. So you need to either charge at a charging station or install a Level 2 charger which can be cost-prohibitive and sometimes even requires an upgrade to the electrical panel. Sometimes, there are incentives available from local government entities or utility programs to upgrade your electric panel or install an EV charger.

This is all to say that yes, to some people charging is less convenient than gas. But it is overblown – there are charging stations littered along most major highways as you can see on this map here. Some fast chargers can fully charge a vehicle in as little as 15 minutes. There are benefits to EV charging as well; for many people with a home charger all of their daily charging needs are met at home so they never need to visit charging stations outside of road trips. Some EV companies will even offer free station charging for a year or more after buying one of their vehicles. And obviously just like in my other points the technology will advance and the charging infrastructure will improve.

In summary, many myths about EVs are either misleading or flat out wrong. In some cases while there is truth there, it completely ignores worse issues with ICE cars. And ask yourself this, why do people care whether you buy an EV or not? What benefit does anyone have to promote misinformation about EVs? The people who benefit from less EVs on the road are traditional ICE manufacturers. EVs are rapidly evolving and unless a completely new technology turns the entire vehicle industry upside down, they will eventually replace ICE cars on the road. Maybe right now they aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine, but everyone should at least know the truth before making that decision.


Acronyms/Definitions:


FEV: Fully Electric Vehicle – a vehicle that utilizes a fully electric battery, motor and powertrain.

HEV: Hybrid Electric Vehicle – a vehicle that utilizes an internal combustion engine, electric motor and battery. The electric motor assists the engine allowing for much better gas mileage and fewer emissions.

PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle – A hybrid vehicle that utilizes a stronger battery which, when charged, will allow the vehicle to operate without using gas for a short range, usually 50 miles or less. When the battery is depleted the internal combustion engine will kick in and it will operate as an HEV. PHEVs have two powertrains, one for electric and one for gas.

ICE: Internal Combustion Engine – a vehicle with an engine that operates fully on gas.

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