Frequently Asked Questions

Incentives

Incentives are available for many advanced-technology cars—from rebates, discounts and tax credits to free parking and solo carpool lane access. In general, battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell electric, plug-in hybrid electric and certain compressed natural gas vehicles typically qualify for some sort of incentive or benefit. Search incentives.

Yes! Incentives for electric cars are available at the federal, state and local levels. The current federal tax credit is up to $7,500, with the amount of the credit depending on the size of a car's battery.

In California, the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project offers rebates from $1,500-$5,000 or more for eligible applicants for the purchase or lease of new electric vehicles. Electric cars are also eligible for a Clean Air Vehicle decal that allows you to drive solo in the carpool lane.

Other local perks and discounts on such things as electricity and insurance may be available to electric car drivers as well. Search incentives.

Carpool Lane Decals

California allows single-occupant use of carpool lanes (also known as HOV lanes) by qualifying clean alternative fuel vehicles. Such use requires a Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) decal issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Learn more.

2020 Orange CAV decals are for first-time applications only and will expire on January 1, 2024. Each year the California DMV will establish a new CAV decal color. The colors for future decals have not yet been determined. Future CAV decals will expire on January 1st of the fourth year after the year they are issued. This provides an access period of three full years plus the partial year from when the decal was issued.

Electric Cars

  • Fuel cell electric cars are powered by compressed hydrogen gas that feeds into an onboard fuel cell “stack” that doesn’t burn the gas, but instead fuses it chemically with oxygen. This process releases electricity that powers the car’s electric motor. Fuel cell vehicles have zero emissions with driving ranges of 300 miles or more and quick refueling comparable to gasoline vehicles.

  • Battery-electric cars run entirely on electricity stored in batteries and are recharged by plugging in at home, work or a public location. Battery-electric cars produce zero tailpipe emissions and have driving ranges of 80-300 miles or more, with higher range models coming soon.

  • Plug-in hybrid electric cars run on a combination of electricity and gasoline and are plugged in to charge. Their all-electric range varies by model, but generally is about 20-55 miles before the vehicle begins to operate like a regular hybrid, using gas to drive as far as desired.

Electric cars save time, money and the environment, without sacrificing any of the fun and excitement of driving. With more than 45 makes and models to choose from, electric cars deliver all the performance, style, comfort and amenities of standard gasoline cars, but with cost-saving incentives, lower maintenance and zero or near-zero emissions. Read more about electric car benefits.

Yes, compared to gasoline, electricity is more cost-effective when it comes to fueling a car. How much money you can save depends on the electricity rates offered by your utility, the number of all-electric miles you drive and the local price of gas. Many online tools can help you explore and calculate your costs, including the U.C. Davis EV Explorer.

While electricity costs vary, the average price in California is about 18 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). At this price, charging a 40-kWh battery with a 150-mile range would cost about 4.8 cents per mile (or about $7 to fully charge). Meanwhile, fueling a 25-mpg gas vehicle at a gas price of $3.70 per gallon would cost about 15 cents per mile (or about $22 for enough gas to drive approximately 150 miles).

Battery-powered cars also have lower maintenance costs because there are fewer moving parts to service, replace and repair.

As for fuel cell electric cars, they often include fuel, service, maintenance and physical damage insurance in their leasing packages. While hydrogen fuel costs more than gasoline, fuel cell cars travel about twice as far as a conventional car on the same amount of fuel.

Electric cars are incredibly quiet and, at the same time, capable of exhilarating acceleration and rapid braking. In addition, with a battery--electric car, there are no more side trips to the gas station because you can charge at home, work or a public charging station while you do other things.

Electric cars are extremely efficient and loaded with lots of high-tech gadgetry. Most have a display screen and onboard systems that give the driver an abundance of useful information. They also are equipped with regenerative braking, which captures kinetic energy during braking to recharge the battery while driving.

It depends upon your choice of electric car and your driving style. Battery-electric cars generally can go 80 to more than 300 miles on a full charge, which is plenty of range for most people (the average Californian travels less than 30 miles a day). If more range flexibility is needed; however, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell electric cars provide greater range, up to 400 miles.

The first step is to determine how far you typically drive each day, which will help you evaluate which electric car is the best fit. A battery-electric car likely will suit your needs, but if you regularly drive longer distances, a plug-in hybrid or fuel cell electric car might be a better choice.

The next step is to figure out your electric car charging or hydrogen fueling options. Plug-in cars can charge at home; however, finding a public charging or hydrogen fueling station is easy, as well.

When charging at home, you need to figure out if your standard 120-volt outlet is enough to meet your needs (Level 1 charger). Or, if you prefer a faster charge, then you need to look into a 240-volt Level 2 charger. DC fast chargers are also available in popular public locations to even more rapidly refuel.

The last step is to explore the various incentives that might be available for your new car. The federal government offers a tax credit and California offers rebates through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. Other perks, such as charger incentives and lower electrical rates may be are available from local electric utilities and regional air districts.

Electric car drivers find charging to be easy and convenient, since most charging occurs at home at night. Most electric utilities offer lower-priced, off-peak electricity rates that also help lower your fuel cost. Daytime charging, when needed, can take place while your car is parked and you are busy doing other things, such as working or shopping.

The time it takes to charge your car is dependent on a few factors: the type of electric car you own, how far you travel each day and how fast you need your car to charge up. For someone who commutes about 40-50 miles per day, it would be possible to fully charge overnight using a basic 120-volt household outlet (Level 1). With a 240-volt charging station (Level 2), the time to charge could be halved. You will need to decide which charger best fits your driving needs. See our charging section for more information.

It is safe to charge an electric car–even in inclement weather when it may be exposed to water. Plug-in electric vehicles are equipped with numerous safety features to prevent electrical mishaps and accidental shock. Charging equipment is required to be safety tested and certified.

Clean Cars

A variety of advanced technologies have come to market in rapidly increasing numbers the last few years. Consumers can select from a range of battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell or plug-in hybrid electric makes and models that are high-performing and fun to drive with zero or near-zero emissions. You can get the style, luxury and amenities you love and have the added bonus of great tax incentives, rebates and other perks.

A range of hybrid, compressed natural gas (CNG), ethanol (E85) flex fuel, clean diesel and cleaner gasoline vehicles can also can be clean options if carefully selected with environmental ratings in mind.

Search what's on the market today.

Pollution

The federal government requires a Fuel Economy and Environment Label on all new vehicles for sale to help consumers compare fuel economy and smog and greenhouse gas emissions for all vehicle technologies.

The smog rating measures tailpipe emissions of various air pollutants. This rating, listed as “smog” on the Fuel Economy and Environment Label, is displayed with a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), based on the U.S. vehicle emissions standards. For cars that run exclusively on electricity (including battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles), the tailpipe emissions are zero. Learn more.

The federal Fuel Economy and Environment Label assigns each vehicle a rating from 1 (worst) to 10 (best) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (i.e., the amount of carbon dioxide the car emits each mile). The more fuel-efficient the car, the better the GHG rating will be. Learn more.

The short answer is that they measure different pollutants and have different effects on the environment. But, both types of emissions are equally important to reduce.

The smog rating corresponds to emissions of nitrogen oxide, non-methane organic gas, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and formaldehyde that cause localized, immediate pollution. Smog causes and may exacerbate respiratory health problems, inhibits plant growth and damages crops and forests.

The greenhouse gas rating evaluates carbon dioxide emissions that are contributors to climate change, such as warmer oceans, greater temperature extremes and altered wind patterns.

When choosing a new car and comparing smog and greenhouse gas ratings, it's a good idea to take both into consideration. Comparing vehicles with a combined rating in mind is a good way to determine its overall environmental effects.

Higher fuel economy is associated with a better greenhouse gas emissions profile. Each gallon of gasoline you burn creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). For a conventional gas-powered car, that's roughly 5-9 tons of CO2 each year.

Ratings are certified by the car’s engine and its performance. Two cars of the same model may look identical, but their GHG and smog emission ratings could be very different. For example, a car with a 6-cylinder engine could pollute more than the same car with a 4-cylinder engine. The best way to make sure you are buying the cleanest version of the new car you want is to look at the Fuel Economy and Environment Label.

That distinction is very easy because the Fuel Economy and Environment Label rates each car's smog and greenhouse gas emissions on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best). You can even compare ratings before you go to the dealership by using the vehicle search tool.

The requirement for greenhouse gas ratings posted on vehicles for sale in California didn’t start until 2005. Now the federal Fuel Economy and Environment Label provides both smog and greenhouse gas ratings on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best) so that consumers can compare car emissions.

Today’s cars are cleaner; however, cars and trucks are still a major contributor to smog and climate change because of the growing number of cars on California's roads that are being driven more miles every year. Californians cumulatively drive more than a billion miles every day, producing more than 1,000 tons of smog-forming pollutants and more than 534,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Buying vehicles with good smog and greenhouse gas ratings makes a tremendous difference in how much we pollute.

Smog Ratings are provided for all vehicles from 2000 to present. Greenhouse Gas Ratings are available for 2009 and newer model year cars. You can look up your car's smog and greenhouse gas ratings by using the vehicle search tool.

These terms are the California Air Resources Board emission standards that are still used in California's motor vehicle regulations. However, the federal Fuel Economy and Environment Label provides a simpler way for consumers to compare vehicles by 1 (worst) to 10 (best) smog and greenhouse gas rating systems.