When it comes to determining if EVs are more expensive to operate than gas cars, you’ve got to look at a few variables. If you can charge at home, the cost per mile to drive an EV will be lower than a comparable gas car. The total cost of ownership, including the initial cost of the car, will also likely be lower, especially if you do your research before buying.
The Nitty Gritty Details of the Costs Associated With EV Ownership
Many calculators and spreadsheets are available on the internet to compare costs, which can be handy when determining if EVs are more expensive to operate than gas cars. This one from the US Department of Energy (DOE) strikes a good balance between ease of use and thoroughness, but there are a zillion others, and you can lose yourself perusing them. Let’s not do that.
I’ll use the DOE calculator to demonstrate three cost comparisons. It is crucial to bear in mind that there is something that these calculators lack, and that is the context of what is happening behind the screen. Every calculator and spreadsheet I’ve looked at focuses on the vehicle purchase price and fuel cost, but there is more to consider. To address this disconnect, I’ll use broad strokes to talk qualitatively about various categories of car ownership costs in addition to the comparisons using the DOE calculator. Then we’ll take a deeper dive into the topic of what it costs to fuel an EV.
US Department of Energy Cost Calculator
The DOE cost calculator allows you to compare the costs of practically any car sold in the US. You don’t need to limit yourself to comparing EVs with gas cars. Once you pick two (or more) cars to compare, the calculator asks some pretty straightforward questions about how many miles you drive on weekdays, on weekends, and how many annual road trips you might take. Then it asks what state you live in (so it can estimate the cost of gasoline and electricity). That’s all there is to it.
I used the calculator’s default mileage to compare a Chevy Bolt to a Chevy Equinox, a Ford F150 to an F150 Lightning, and a Porsche Taycan to a Panemra. I used California and $4 per gallon in all these comparisons, though gas prices in California are hovering closer to $5 per gallon as I write this. The results are in the table below:
|wdt_ID||2023 Model||MSRP||Annual gasoline use (gallon)||Annual electricity use (kWh)||Annual fuel costs||Annual operating costs||Cost per mile||Annual Emissions (lbs CO2)|
|1||Chevy Bolt EUV||$27,800||0||3,573||$816||$2,921||$0.24||1,719|
|3||Ford F150 Lightning||$39,974||0||5,618||$1,284||$3,389||$0.28||2,703|
|4||Ford F150 (4WD V8)||$33,935||632||0||$2,528||$4,787||$0.33||15,022|
|5||Porsche Taycan 4S||$106,500||0||4,830||$1,140||$3,209||$0.27||2,324|
|6||Porsche Panamera 4S||$110,500||571||0||$2,284||$4,542||$0.38||13,693|
In these examples, the annual operating costs include maintenance, tires, tax, registration, license, and insurance estimates.
Notably, in every case, the cost per mile is lower for the EV than for its gasoline-powered equivalent. However, there were some surprises regarding the MSRP costs, as I expected the gas-powered cars to have a price advantage out the door.
The Chevy Bolt EUV isn’t terribly more expensive than its gas-powered cousin, the Equinox. Though when tax incentives are applied, the Bolt is an absolute steal, which is why they are hard to find in stock at dealers. The pair of F150s is similar, although the cheapest Lightning and 4WD gas-powered F150s are a bit further apart than the Chevys. But again, incentives can make those two trucks roughly equivalent out the door. The gasoline-powered Porsche is a bit more expensive than the EV version, but Porsche enthusiasts will likely blanch at the thought that these two 4-door touring cars are being compared side-by-side. The Taycan isn’t eligible for the US Federal tax credit, so you wanna-be Porsche owners need to apply a crowbar to your wallet.
The takeaway from this simple comparison is that, counter to popular opinion, EVs are less expensive to purchase than a comparable gas-powered car. The data also offers a compelling case that the EV is cheaper to drive.
But let’s dive further into this cost analysis.
Every car has certain items that need topping off occasionally, and an EV is no different. Below is a bulleted list of various consumables and a top-level comparison between an EV and a gas-powered car.
- Windshield wipers and washer fluid. An EV and ICE vehicle will consume these items similarly, so the expected costs would be the same.
- Brakes. An EV can be expected to have reduced brake wear due to regenerative braking. Some estimates conclude that the brakes on an EV should last about twice as long as they would on a gas car.
- Tires. Let’s face it. EVs are heavier than a typical gas-powered car, and that leads to accelerated wear. And if you’re like me, the acceleration of an EV is too delicious to resist, leading to even more accelerated wear. Experts advise that EV tire wear can be 20% faster than a gas-powered car.
- Oil changes. To state the obvious, this is a thing of the past with an EV, representing significant cost savings in addition to eliminating a (for me) dreaded task.
- Regular maintenance. The only regular maintenance for an EV is topping off the windshield washer fluid, cleaning or replacing cabin air filters, and rotating the tires. A gas-powered car will have those same maintenance items in addition to other familiar items such as oil changes, oil filters, and air intake filters. Less frequent maintenance, such as timing belts and spark plugs, must also be considered on a gas-powered car, but not an EV. Both a gas-powered car and an EV will have maintenance items like gearbox oil changes and radiator flushes at around the 100k mile mark.
- Comparable items that do occasionally break. Both a gas-powered car and an EV will have parts such as power steering units, shock absorbers, or windshields that wear out or otherwise get damaged. All these kinds of items are comparable in cost, and there is no reason to think the maintenance interval nor expense would be different between an EV and a gas-powered car.
- Non-comparable items like the engine versus the battery. The engine in a gas-powered car can be rebuilt once its useful life has been consumed, but an EV battery must be replaced once its useful life is over. While an EV battery will be more expensive to replace than rebuilding an internal combustion engine, the battery is designed to last the life of the car it propels. By law (at least in the US), an EV battery must be warranted for at least 80,000 miles, and there are examples of Teslas going 300,000 miles with their original batteries.
I’ve been driving Evs exclusively for 12 years. I was about to type, “I am unaware of differences in cost between an EV and a similar gas-powered car…” but decided to research that before committing that to print. It turns out that according to sourcess, insurance premiums on EVs can be up to 15% higher than those for gas-powered cars. Consumer Reports believes that prices will come down as insurers get more data.
Since EVs don’t use gasoline, they are not contributing to the maintenance of the roads they drive on through gasoline taxes. Many states have started adding a surcharge on EVs to compensate, which should factor into a thorough budget analysis. Some of these surcharges seem a bit more punitive than a comparable road tax might suggest (looking at you, Texas), so do your homework.
So Are EVs More Expensive to Operate Than Gas Cars Or Not?
A deep dive into fuel costs is warranted because it is not only the highest recurring cost, but it is also a common question new EV owners have. So, how much does it cost to charge your new EV?
The answer is surprisingly straightforward but requires a different way of looking at your fuel budget. You need to know only three things:
- First, how many miles you drive in a given month.
- Second, how efficient the EV you are considering is.
- Third, the cost of electricity in your home.
The first variable is something only you can answer, but for purposes of this discussion, let’s put it at 1,000 miles.
The second variable, efficiency, is directly analogous to MPG in your gasoline-powered car. You can get this information in several places, and it should be no surprise that any number you find for any given car will cover a range. That’s because test methods differ, test environments differ, and as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
If you already own your new EV, the car itself will tell you in one of its menus. It will likely tell you the vehicle’s efficiency since the last time you charged the car, and also over its life (or at least the last time the “lifetime” estimate was reset).
Another option for finding a specific model’s efficiency is simply searching or asking a forum on social media, like Facebook or Reddit. This can give you insight into what other drivers see for a wide variety of use cases and conditions. Recall from the column on range that, just as in your gas car, efficiency drops as the temperature drops. So actual efficiency will vary from Minnesota in February to Portland, Oregon, in September.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to assume the efficiency of a Mustang Mach E is 2.7 miles per kWh, which was obtained from the data given in this State of Charge video. And if the efficiency you found for your car is expressed in kWh per 100 miles, don’t fret. For the Mach E, that 37 kWh per 100 miles is the same as 100/37 = 2.7 m/kWh.
Last, and arguably the most important, is the cost of electricity. This number can be all over the place depending on where you charge and when you charge, which is ironic because, taken as a whole, electricity prices are far more stable than gasoline prices.
Are you charging at home? Or on the road? If on the road, are you using a Level 2 charger? Or are you using DCFC? And if using DCFC, are you paying by the minute for charging or by the kWh? To peel back one more layer of the onion, if you’re paying by the kWh on DCFC, are you paying a premium for the first few minutes of charging because of the charge rate of your car?
And if you’re charging at home, is your utility’s tariff a flat rate? Or is it tiered, depending on usage? Or time of day? Or both?
I’ll address each of these variables, but first, let’s make it simple. Per a simple Google search, I came up with a national average cost of electricity of 18 cents per kWh. Using the example above, the cost to charge our Mach E is:
0.18 dollars per kWh * (1,000 miles / 2.7 m/kWh) = $66.67
That’s about $100 less than a gas car getting 25 MPG covering the same distance while paying $4 per gallon at the pump. In this case, the EV cost comparison really checks out.
Variability in Electricity Prices
Determining your electricity cost is typically straightforward if you’re a homeowner who can charge at home (assuming you don’t already know it). But even for this general case, it may not be a simple one-size fits all number because many utilities charge different rates depending on when you consume electricity (Time of Use) or how much you consume (Tiered Rate Plans).
Evidently, even for the most straightforward cases, the cost of a single kWh can still be “it depends.” Check with your utility if there are special rates for EVs, and do most of your charging during off-peak times of day if at all possible. Your cost per mile to operate an EV may vary depending on those numbers.
Charging Using Public Infrastructure
Let me be upfront and say that if you are a prospective EV buyer and plan to rely on the public charging infrastructure for your day-to-day charging needs, you’re not a good candidate for an EV. I don’t make such pronunciations lightly, and it isn’t just about the cost of charging using public infrastructure, which we will see rivals or exceeds a gasoline-powered car’s cost.
Charging “in the wild” (using public infrastructure) will almost always be more expensive than charging in your own driveway. That’s because you’re paying for far more than the electricity being dispensed. There is the parking spot, for one thing. The labor to install and maintain the infrastructure, supporting network, and call center comes with a cost. It isn’t uncommon to see the prices of charging at public infrastructure at three times the national average retail cost of electricity.
Furthermore, the tariff at some DCFCs includes a premium if your car’s charge rate is over a certain threshold. For example, if your car starts out charging at 200 kW and quickly drops to below 150 kW, you could be charged a premium because you’re utilizing a higher power station, even if your car used the “higher power” for only a few minutes.
To specify one example, Electrify America’s tariff for charging your car is $0.48/kWh in most of the country (not all states allow the tariff to be set in kWh, so there the tariff is set per minute instead). Using this example, the cost to charge our example Mach E is:
0.48 dollars per kWh * (1,000 miles / 2.7 m/kWh) = $177.78
That’s a bit more than paying to fill a gas-powered car getting 25 MPG, covering the same distance, and paying $4 per gallon at the pump. It might not be so bad if you’re only using public DC fast chargers for the occasional road trip; otherwise, your shiny new EV isn’t really saving you money.
EVs can be cheaper than gas-powered cars, but a lot hinges on whether or not you can charge your car at home and pay retail rates for electricity.
Next week, we will cover maintenance for EVs.