Is Your Family Ready for an Electric Car?

Image courtesy Lisa Cohn

Image courtesy Lisa Cohn

A guest post by Lisa Cohn

A few months ago, after reading an article about the environmental benefits of purchasing an electric vehicle, I decided to get one. A little research showed me that the emission-free cars, after federal rebates, are comparable to the cost of non-electric vehicles.

I didn’t read the manual, skipped the electric vehicle lesson from my dealership, and barely understood how to get the car started when I drove off the lot. Not to mention, I had no idea how I would charge the car, although I felt vaguely confident that my tech-savvy children could figure out how to find and use the sci-fi looking charging stations scattered around Portland.

Today, I’m here to say that my purchase and my gut intuitions were correct: It’s easy and fun to drive an electric car in Portland with your kids.

My children will tell you that thanks to our car, they’ve learned about global warming, how to offset carbon, and how much carbon-free air my car yields, measured in units of new trees. Heck, with our “green” car, we even get great parking spots at OMSI and the Rose Quarter!

Here’s how you’ll know you’re ready:

  • Do you gag at the smell of gasoline when you coast your mini-van into a gas station?  You can solve this problem with an electric vehicle because you have numerous sweet-smelling options for charging your car. For example, you can cruise up to the charging station located at the BMW dealership downtown, which is tucked into a stand of trees. Or you can charge your vehicle in your driveway, where you can enjoy the scents of your own lilac bushes!
  • Would your kids love an environmentally friendly reason to bury their faces in their smart phones, in this case to use apps that locate car-charging stations?They’ll learn they have plenty of car-charging options in Portland, which is rated one of the friendliest electric-vehicle cities in the nation. For example, your kids can download the ChargeHub app, which will tell you both where the stations are and the cost. (At some Oregon Coast stations, for example, between $4-$7.50 per session, depending on how quickly you want to charge.) Other apps also tell you if the stations are available for you to use right now.For younger kids who enjoy treasure hunts, use your computer to print out maps on Kids can hone their map-reading skills and help you find the treasure/charging stations. Your family will discover that no two charging stations are alike: You’ll find them in library parking lots, in the basement of shopping centers, at the front of OMSI’s parking lot, and downtown near Portland General’s headquarters.
  • Would you like to teach your kids an important math problem, calculating how many miles you’ll be able to go the next day in your electric car–and how much it would cost to charge it? Our family calculates this nearly every night; our VW e-Gulf can cruise about 83 miles when it is fully charged. But we like to err on the conservative side. Generally, we charge the car every other or every three days. A full charge costs about $6; a half charge about $3 in electricity if we charge at home. (Keep in mind you can charge for free at numerous stations in Portland, but you may have to leave your car at the station.) You can lower the cost of charging by filling your car’s battery with electricity between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am and signing up for special low rates from Portland General Electric.Here’s what’s great about this math exercise: It reminds your kids every day that our resources are limited, and we should plan well to use them.
  • Are you willing to occasionally sweat bullets, realizing that you miscalculated how much charge is left and your car’s battery is nearly empty? Recently, this happened to our family. We had forgotten to charge the car before driving to a festival more than 30 miles away. On the way home, the gauge told us we were just about out of charge.  I used a special braking feature that allows the car to generate extra electricity. My 7-year-old, Michael, was fascinated with this feature. “You mean by putting the brakes on, you make electricity?” he asked.  In addition, I put the car in “Eco Plus” mode, which means that I didn’t run the air conditioner, heater or radio to conserve electricity.  But here’s the best news: The American Automobile Assoc. will rescue you if you’re a member and you run out of charge!
  • Do you lay awake at night wondering about the steps you can take to effectively fight global warming and help preserve your children’s future? I lose sleep over this issue. In fact, I was spurred to take action after I read a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists that said driving an electric vehicle produces fewer global warming emissions than driving an average gas-powered vehicle. In addition, an electric vehicle is better for the planet than even the most efficient hybrid available.

If you answered “yes” to some or all of the questions above, and you’re in the market for a car, you might want to consider an electric car. A number of dealerships are offering affordable lease and purchase prices right now that reflect a $7,000 rebate from the federal government. For example, I leased my e-Golf with a $2,500 down payment and signed a $169-a-month, 3-year lease for the car, which sells for about $30,000 (minus the rebate)  The other companies that sell electric vehicles include Chevy, Ford, BMW, Fiat, Audi, and Mitsubishi.  The popular Nissan Leaf gets 107 miles on a charge, and costs about $29,000 before rebates.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, make sure you’ve got a plan for charging your car. It’s a good idea to have a home charger; I bought mine for $500 and am eligible for tax credits for that purchase. You also need to know which type of charging system your car uses and how quickly can you charge the vehicle.

If you go all-electric, your kids will thank you for helping protect their future—and, like my kids, will likely brag to their friends about their emission-free car.

Lisa Cohn is an award-winning writer and author who specializes in parenting and environmental issues. She also writes children’s books with Michael, her 7-year-old electric-car co-pilot. Her articles have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Mothering, Huffington Post, Yahoo! Parenting, Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and other publications. Visit her at or

Ali Wilkinson
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Ali Wilkinson

Online Editor at PDX Parent
Ali Wilkinson is the Online Editor for PDX Parent, and is one of the founders of PDX Kids Calendar. She loves exploring Portland with her three small children, especially when the explorations lead outdoors, to music or to ice cream. You can read more from Ali at
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