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Buying & Leasing a Car

4 Roadblocks to Buying a Plug-In Car

Interested in a plug-in vehicle? There are a few things you should know about powering your car from the grid.

Interested in a plug-in vehicle? There are a few things you should know about powering your car from the grid:

1. You'll need a home charging station. You can recharge EV and plug-in batteries using a standard 110-volt household outlet (a level-one charger). But unless you have all night all the time to recharge your car, you'll want a 240-volt (level-two) charger. Level-two chargers run a few thousand dollars, depending on the provider. For example, AeroVironment, the company working with Nissan to outfit Leaf buyers, is charging $2,000 to $4,200 for a level-two setup. There is a federal tax credit for 50% of the charger and installation costs (up to $2,000).

2. But your home may need upgrades first. Sunil Chhaya, of the Electric Power Research Institute, notes that many older homes have 60-amp electrical systems, but you'll need at least 80 amps to accommodate a charging station. Newer homes, built since the 1980s, usually have 80 amps but may need an upgrade to 100 amps. Chhaya suggests getting an electrician to do an audit.

3. Apartment dwellers may be out of luck. If you don't own a single-family home, you'll need to work with your property owner or condo association to get approval for the installation. No matter where you live, the process will take a while because the utility, municipality and charging-station installer will have to work together.

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4. Don't count on recharging on the road. About 10,000 public and commercial charging stations around the country are expected by the end of next year -- mostly in large metro areas. California has the largest number (clustered in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay area). Coulomb Technologies is installing 4,600 chargers around the U.S. in the coming year; California will see almost a third of those.