Plug-In or Fill’er Up: The Distance Conundrum

According to CNBC, data from AAA reveals that 40 million Americans are considering going electric on their next car purchases. While electric vehicles (EVs) have always enjoyed a committed following, their popularity is undeniably on the rise as of late. 

“The long-term benefits of driving EVs are crystal-clear for the planet, but people are realizing the benefits also extend to their wallets,” says Judith Everett, President of Drivyn, a company committed to teaching the skills needed to operate self-driving vehicles. “With fuel prices hitting new highs each day, it’s no wonder the gas vs. electric debate is drawing increasing attention.”

Calculating the price of electricity vs. gasoline

Prices at the pump are indeed skyrocketing. Drivers in every state are paying over $4.00 per gallon, and experts warn the national average may soon surpass $5.00. Overall, gas prices have jumped nearly 60% over the last year and are unlikely to fall any time soon. 

Today’s soaring fuel prices means that filling a gas tank costs three times more than charging an EV at home, according to a March report from the Zero Emission Transportation Association. Even when gas prices seemed manageable, electricity was still more affordable. A 2018 study demonstrates that the average yearly cost of operating an EV at that time was $485, while the average cost of operating a gas-powered car was $1,117. A more recent Consumer Reports study reveals that 2020 drivers of EVs spent approximately 60 percent less on electricity than drivers of gas-powered cars spent on fuel.

Determining how much EV drivers save by charging vs. fueling up

Clearly, electricity is cheaper than gas, but the exact amount each driver saves is tricky to determine as different makes and models of EVs vary in efficiency. Just as car buyers compare how many miles a car can go on one gallon of gas, buyers shopping for EVs compare how many kilowatt-hours (KWh) each vehicle uses over a hundred miles. “As a rule, most EVs can go somewhere between three to four miles for every KWh,” explains Everett. “For example, the 2022 Tesla Model 3 RWD’s efficiency is rated at 25 KWh/100 miles.” 

Regional price variations also make it challenging to compare the operating costs of electric and gas-powered vehicles across the board. Both the price of gas and electricity fluctuate depending on location. A 2020 study compared the costs of charging a battery-powered electric car and fueling a gas-powered vehicle from state to state, with varied results throughout the country.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average household in the US pays around 14 cents for every KWh, but exact charges for each area can be found on a person’s monthly electricity bill. Charges are reported as cents per KWh. Dividing the total monthly fee by the number of kilowatt-hours on the bill allows people to determine how much they pay for every KWh. 

To translate that amount into charging costs for an EV, car shoppers can multiply the cents paid for each kilowatt-hour by the KWh/100 miles efficiency rating of their EV model of choice. This calculates the cost of driving 100 miles, although this number is still a rough estimate. Being smart about when and where EV owners charge their cars enables them to reduce that cost dramatically. Most peak electricity usage occurs during the day. This comes as good news for EV owners because experts find that as much as 90% of charging is done overnight and at home, whereas charging at public stations can increase the cost.

Comparing the cost of maintenance for gas-powered vs. electric vehicles 

“When totaling up lifetime maintenance costs, electric cars again come out on top,” Everett says. “An EV’s motor has approximately 20 moving parts as compared to approximately 2,000 for gas-powered engines, so replacing spark plugs, topping off transmission fluid, swapping air filters, and changing oil are entirely unnecessary.” 

Of course, basic maintenance such as service checks and tire rotations are still recommended for EVs. According to AAA’s data, the cost of maintaining EVs is $330 less per year than the average maintenance cost of gas-powered cars.

Comparing initial sticker prices of gas and electric cars

In 2021, the average price of new electric vehicles was approximately $10,000 higher than the sticker price for gas-powered cars. “The market for EVs is expanding quickly,” remarks Everett. “A wider range of electric car models and improved battery technology is bound to shrink price margins in upcoming years.” 

Until then, car buyers are mitigating the initial purchase price by taking advantage of tax incentives. Currently, the federal government offers a tax credit of $7,500 to offset the purchase price of a new electric vehicle, and some individual states are offering additional tax incentives, as well. When car buyers research their eligibility for incentives, they can more accurately compare sticker prices. 

The initial out-of-pocket expense is undeniably greater for EVs, but several studies attempt to shed light on whether or not going electric is more affordable over the lifetime of the vehicles. For example, a 2020 Consumer Reports study compares nine electric vehicles with their bestselling and most efficient gas-powered competitors. In every case, total ownership costs for EVs were thousands of dollars more affordable than gas-powered cars.

Adding experience into the equation

Everyone knows a vehicle’s value transcends numbers. Experience remains a vital factor in the electric vs. gasoline debate. Do EVs have enough advanced techoology to satisfy shoppers in the market for high-performance cars? Do they have the seating and cargo space needed for shoppers who want a family car? Do the claims about ease of charging and battery life hold up under everyday use? 

A recent survey conducted by AAA reveals the vast majority of EV owners are extremely pleased with their decisions to go electric. In fact, 96% of those surveyed say they intend to buy or lease another electric vehicle. The 78% of those surveyed who also own gas-powered cars claim they prefer their EVs, driving them 87% of the time. Satisfied customers, thousands in savings, and the ability to lessen the spread of carbon pollution are tipping the scales in favor of EVs for more and more drivers.