Is it cheaper to own an electric car?

Is it cheaper to own an electric car?
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It’s been slow going for a couple years, but electric vehicle (EV) adoption is on the rise again. Over the past year, many of the major automakers have committed to producing more electric vehicles.

I’ve had an electric car for nearly three years now and can say with certainty that once you go down the EV track, it’s hard to turn back. Some people choose to buy an electric vehicle for green reasons. They want to do their part to cut down on harmful emissions polluting the environment. I did it for green reasons also: money.

My Nissan Leaf has continued to be a money saver since I signed the dotted line. But first let me put it in reverse and explain how I chose an electric vehicle to start with.

Electric vs. gas: Which vehicle is cheaper?

A few years ago, I was just like you. Driving a gasoline guzzler and loving it. I estimate that I paid around $25 a week in fuel going back and forth to work and various places — that’s $100 a month. Now gas prices are approaching a three-year high. And it costs me zero.

While there are obvious limitations with buying an electric car (range anxiety i.e. the charge only lasts so long), there are some significant benefits over the traditional internal combustion engines on the roads today. A recent University of Michigan study found that operating an EV costs half what it does to operate a conventional-engine car.  In a year, the average cost to operate a gas-powered vehicle was $1,117, the study found. For an EV, the cost was $485. But let’s break down the costs of owning a gas-powered vehicle vs. an EV.

Price tag

Most electric vehicles are priced on the high end, but that’s only because automakers haven’t invested in them. There are relatively few EV models on the market. But things are slowly coming around. In fact, sedans may soon be the exclusive market of electric cars. In the spring, Big 3 automaker Ford announced that it was getting out of the sedan business, save for two models.

The average cost of an electric vehicle in May of this year was $36,539, according to Kelley Blue Book. For a gas-powered compact car, the price was around $20,000. Of course, we know there are some EVs (Tesla, for example) that cost more than $100,000.

The way you can save when purchasing an EV though is to take advantage of available discounts. In California, you can qualify for a rebate of up to $20,000 and in other states you can get one for up to $7,000.

Power bill

Don’t think that just because I don’t pull up to a Chevron or Texaco every week, that I don’t have any costs associated with staying on the road. I have to charge my vehicle every day. There are chargers scattered around the city so that I can keep a charged-up battery for my journeys, but what it doesn’t cost in money it eats up in time.

While most of the chargers around the city cost money, they’re free of charge on many college and university campuses. Personally, I have a charger at my home, so I rarely have to use chargers in public spaces, but when I do, I generally pay about $5 for a 30-minute charge, which lasts me about two days.

My home charger, which I use mostly every day, costs me about $15 a month. That works out to about 50 cents a day.


Over a period of time, maintenance is probably where you’ll find the biggest difference between EVs and conventional-engine cars.

Unlike gas-engine cars that have an assortment of synthetic oils and fluids that must be tended to every few months or so, the only thing my dashboard alerts me to maintenance-wise is when my tire is low.

Thus far, I’ve had no mechanical issues. I have bought a full set of tires though, which I have rotated on a regular basis. Other than that, no gasket leaks, no oil changes or malfunctioning fuel pump gauges — nothing.

When you compare it to a gas-powered vehicle, it simply doesn’t need the same maintenance approach. That means more money in your pocket.

Electric vs. gas-powered car: By the numbers

Wondering how specific models of gas-powered vehicles stack up against electric ones? Here are some specs on 2018 EVs from car ratings and review site

Car Miles Per Gallon Model Price
Nissan Leaf 125 city / 100 highway S $29,990
Chevy Bolt EV 128 city / 110 highway One $36,620
BMW i3 129 city / 106 highway 94Ah $44,450
Tesla Model S 102 city / 105 highway 75D $74,500

Among gas-powered vehicles, here are the best fuel-efficient sedans of 2018, according to car listings and valuation site Kelley Blue Book.

Car Miles Per Gallon Model Price
Chevrolet Cruze 29 city / 40 highway LS $18,525
Ford Focus 30 city / 40 highway SE $19,245
Honda Accord 30 city / 38 highway EX $23,570
Toyota Camry 28 city / 39 highway LE $23,645

From the comparisons above, you can see that, as expected, electric cars win hands-down when it comes to efficiencies per mile. But if you’re judging on sticker price — and you perhaps plan on keeping the vehicle only a few years before selling — gas-powered cars may make sense.

One reason for that is this: Since electric vehicles are still a relatively new technology, their resale value doesn’t stand up to conventional-engine cars. But, as new electric models are introduced and their mileage capabilities improve, we can expect their value to do the same.

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who still reads paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer. You can reach Craig at craig[email protected]
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