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Basics: What is an "electric car?"

Conventional Cars:
Every car on the road uses electricity in some way, for example to power the windows, radio, and headlights. However, conventional cars can't use electricity to move the wheels. They burn gasoline or diesel fuel at all times.

Hybrid Cars:
Hybrid cars (like the Toyota Prius) have been available since the 1990s. Hybrid cars can use electricity to assist the gasoline engine in moving the wheels, but they still primarily rely on gasoline. The electric motors and batteries in a hybrid vehicle are relatively small. They compliment but don't replace the gasoline drive train.

Electric Cars:
Electric cars can run without using any gasoline at all. Instead of filling the cars with fuel, you recharge these cars by plugging in to an electrical outlet (sometimes they're also called "plug-in electric cars" or "cars with cords").

Some electric cars, like the Chevrolet Volt, have both a gasoline engine and a charging cord. They are able to drive on electricity alone but can also use gasoline if necessary. The terms "extended range electric vehicles" or "plug-in hybrid electric vehicles" apply to these vehicles.

Some electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf, operate on electricity alone and do not have a gasoline engine. These are sometimes called "pure electric vehicles."

Driving: What's it like behind the wheel?

In some ways, electric cars are very similar to conventional cars. The accelerator, brake, and steering wheel will be familiar to anyone who has driven a car before. Features like airbags, power seats, and air conditioning function as expected. Meanwhile the battery and other electric car only parts must meet the same strict federal safety standards that apply to all vehicles and components.

But here's what makes driving electric cars different:

They're quiet.
Electric cars are virtually silent at low speeds and even on the highway. They are noticeably quieter both inside and out.

They're fun to drive.
Electric motors do not need to "rev up" to reach full strength. This means electric cars accelerate well from a stop, especially when maneuvering around the City. The cars' handling also benefits from their low center of gravity and balanced weight distribution. This helps the car hug the road.

They're smart.
In addition to the breakthroughs "under the hood," electric cars also introduce new tools on the dashboard. Electric cars provide drivers with detailed information on battery range, driving efficiency, and operating conditions, and many electric cars will feature navigation systems that help drivers locate places to recharge.

They're Convenient.
In addition to the standard features and amenities of a car, electric vehicles have special benefits. They require few or no trips to the gas station. You top your car off with electricity by plugging it in when you get home. Pure electrics don't even have motor oil that needs changing. The electric drive train is high tech and offers conveniences that the one-hundred year old internal combustion engine can't match

You may need to plan routes more carefully.
A gasoline car can go farther on a tank of gas than an electric car can on a full charge. Full electrics on the market now have a range of between 60-120 miles, though several cars in development will have ranges as low as 20 and as high as 200. Gasoline and extended range electric cars can travel between 300-500 nonstop miles on a tank of gas. This shorter range is partially by design, since electric cars are able to recharge every night at home rather than needing to travel to a gas station. However, it also means first-time electric car drivers may find themselves paying close attention to the "battery range remaining" display. For drivers of "plug-in hybrid" or "range extended" electric cars, which have a gasoline engine that can take over in case the battery is depleted, this range anxiety is less of an issue.

Will an electric car go everywhere I need it to go?

While extended range and plug-in hybrid electric cars can travel farther by refueling with gasoline, they provide the most benefits when operating gasoline-free.

When you get to where you're going you can either plug-in using a normal outlet or find a nearby fast charger. A fast charger takes half as long as using a wall outlet.

Electric cars are designed to recharge every night at home rather than needing to travel to a gas station. Because of this, most drivers will start each day with a full charge. Electric cars also provide plenty of warning before their batteries are fully depleted. When the battery is nearly empty, many electric cars feature a "low power mode" that allows you to travel at a reduced speed to get to a safe place.

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