Qualifying for a Plug-in Electric Vehicle Credit

So what are the rules of the road for consumers who'd like to get a nice, four-figure check from the U.S. Treasury as acknowledgement for buying a plug-in hybrid?

You can find out complete details from the Internal Revenue Service Web site. In a refreshing change, the IRS explains the rules, limitations and procedures in fairly straightforward language -- on this particular topic, anyway. Here's a summary:

  • Plug-in Electric Drive Vehicle Credit (Section 1141): Vehicles must have four or more wheels, must have been bought after Dec. 31, 2009, must weigh less than 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms) fully loaded, must have a battery with a rating of at least four kilowatt hours and must be rechargeable from an external electricity source. The credit ranges from $2,500 to $7,500, depending on battery capacity. The bigger the battery, the bigger the break when you file your federal taxes [source: Internal Revenue Service].
  • Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit (Section 1142): The law also allows a tax credit for two special categories of electrics -- certain low-speed electric vehicles, such as golf cart-style vehicles, and two- or three-wheeled vehicles, including electric motorcycles. The amount of this credit equals 10 percent of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum credit of $2,500 for a purchase made after Feb. 17, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2012 [source: Internal Revenue Service]. To give you a couple of examples, machines such as the Star Electric Low Speed Vehicles (LSVs) and the "Zero" motorcycle series from ZevMoto would qualify for tax credits under this provision [sources: Star Electric Vehiclesand Zevmoto].
  • Conversion Kits (Section 1143):Finally, the law also allows a tax credit for conversion kits that let you plug in hybrid vehicles to recharge the electric battery. The credit is equal to 10 percent of the cost of converting a vehicle to a qualified plug-in electric hybrid vehicle that was placed in service after Feb. 17, 2009. The maximum amount of this credit is $4,000, and the credit goes away for conversions made after Dec. 31, 2011. A taxpayer may claim this credit even after claiming a regular hybrid vehicle credit for the same vehicle in an earlier year [source: Internal Revenue Service].

Let it be known that you shouldn't construe anything in this article as definitive tax advice. For that, talk to your accountant or other qualified tax professional. Clearly, though, Uncle Sam wants us taxpayers to purchase and drive plug-in hybrids as one way to stimulate the economy. And he's willing to give us back some of what he takes from us in order to make that happen.

For more information about the plug-in vehicle credit and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.