The Murrysville-based car club has been making waves about the move to electric cars

Jonathan Belak estimates it costs him about $3 a week to get around in his Tesla Model S.

That’s based on the small portion of his energy bill that comes when the retiree plugs in the 2013 electric car to charge at his Murrysville home.

Belak is president of the Murrysville-based Three Rivers Electric Vehicle Association. He is one of the members who have made the switch to fully electric refueling and see no reason why they should start refueling again.

“Since 2019, I no longer have to go to a gas station,” says his wife Bonnie. “Then we sold our last gas car.”

She travels 3.5 miles to work in a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

The Belaks have owned a series of electric bicycles and cars over the past twenty years. Jonathan was inspired to buy his first electric 10-speed transmission when he saw actor Tom Hanks promoting electric vehicles on a late night talk show.

“We were spending $40 a week on gas just to drive back and forth to work,” Jonathan Belak said. “I thought, ‘Maybe we should get an electric vehicle.’ ”

Members of the Murrysville group say there are deals to be had in the used EV market. Both Belak cars were previously owned. They paid about $30,000 for the more expensive Tesla, which would have cost more than $100,000 when new.

Sue Quinn of Allison Park just purchased a new 2024 Hyundai Ioniq EV that was supposed to cost about $45,000 but took $7,500 off the price as part of a dealer promotion.

“It’s kind of like luxury pricing,” she said. But she noted that she spends essentially nothing to keep the car running; she charges it at home, where her power supply is supplemented by a solar panel.

“It’s free energy from the sun,” she said.

A 2022 Kia Niro makes sense for Robert Bratton, who works from home in Monroeville and uses the electric car mainly to run local errands. He said the car’s estimated range of about 240 miles per full charge didn’t stop him from taking it on a 3,000-mile round trip to San Antonio, Texas.

He used an app to plan a route, visiting a vehicle charging station at regular intervals. His tip: “Go somewhere where there are four or six charging stations,” so you have less chance of delays if a station is already in use or out of use.

Mileage range has gotten better thanks to advances in car design. Quinn bought her first electric car in 2018 while living in Chicago; it was a 2015 Leaf, with a rated range of just 50 miles per charge.

“It was the ultimate test of distance anxiety,” she said. “It was a hilarious adventure turning off the heat, all the fans and the radio so you could get home with that little bit of juice.”

Quinn owned a gas hybrid car before buying the Hyundai, which has a range of 310 miles per charge. “I’ve wanted to have a fully electric car for so long,” she says. “I wanted something small and sporty. Sporty means a long range because you have less resistance, and this has finally come to the market.”

One of the advantages of electric vehicles is that they are generally more responsive than many gas-powered counterparts, according to Jonathan Belak.

“If you drive an electric car – a fast one, if you flex your toes you’ll jump 60 km per hour,” he said. “It’s immediate.”

The Murrysville club members also recommend electric vehicles because of their low maintenance requirements compared to gas-powered cars. There is less wear on the brakes and no emissions inspections apply.

Bratton enjoys the lack of engine noise from his EV.

“For me it’s fun to drive,” he said. “I want to drive through the woods and hear the gravel crunching under the tires.”

Group member Bill Smith of Mount Lebanon, a longtime motorcycle enthusiast, decided to buy a used 2016 Chevrolet Spark EV to take his pit bull to the dog park instead of investing in a sidecar for his pet.

While he has a gas-powered Pontiac GTO to fall back on, Smith says he charges his compact Spark at home just once a week to keep it ready for local trips, for a monthly fee between $12 and $15. If If he wants to charge the battery at a charging station, one is available at a Dunkin’ restaurant near Canonsburg.

The Spark had 11,000 miles on it when he paid $11,000 for it more than three years ago.

“It’s at 13,000 miles now,” he said. “It appears the battery is not affected. It has been a good purchase.”

Fire officials and the National Transportation Safety Board have noted the dangers emergency responders may face when responding in cases where the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles have caught fire. Extra precautions are necessary due to the risk of batteries igniting again.

Smith believes such EV fires are unusual and are likely caused by the use of inappropriate equipment to charge the battery.

“It’s kind of fun to be involved, not necessarily at the forefront, but part of change,” he said of his EV ownership.

Quinn said many EV owners become attached to their cars. Although she sold the Leaf when she moved to the Pittsburgh area, she said, “I fell in love with it. I still have the license plate of that car on my wall because we have been through that a few times.”

In addition to the fuel savings, Quinn, who has a PhD in environmental engineering, had a long-standing goal of owning an electric car because of her concerns about climate change and setting an example for her three children.

“I studied global warnings in the 1990s, so I am aware of the problems,” she said. “I realized that I simply can’t contribute to the problem anymore. I had to start changing what I do to just feel good about myself.

“It manifested itself in the desire for an EV.”

The Three Rivers EVA group has about 50 members and holds regular meetings in Murrysville, usually on the third Saturday of the month. Those who want to learn more about electric vehicles are welcome, as are those who own an electric car.

Jeff Himler is a TribLive reporter covering the Greater Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Mt. school districts. Pleasant Area and Derry Area and their communities. He also reports on transportation problems. . He has been a journalist for more than thirty years and enjoys delving into local history. He can be reached at jhimler@triblive.com.

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