Fuel costs of EVs vs. gas powered cars

by Ernie Hernandez on April 23, 2016


EVs still cost less to drive

About three years ago we wrote an article about the comparative operating costs of electric cars vs. gas powered cars (found here). Three things have happened since then – the cost of gasoline has gone down, the cost of electricity has gone up, and the average new car goes farther on a gallon of gas. So if you’re wondering how much it costs to drive an electric car vs. a gas powered car with current fuel prices, read on because now seems like a good time to review whether it still makes sense to drive electric.

All new vehicles under 8,500 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (how much the vehicle can weigh fully loaded) have a federally mandated portion of the window sticker that is apportioned to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide fuel economy information. This is what it looks like for a gasoline powered vehicle:

EPA Fuel Economy Label - Gasoline

A significant amount of useful information can be found at the fueleconomy.gov website. In this sample label the assumptions used are provided at the bottom of the label. In this instance gasoline prices were higher ($3.70 per gallon) and the average new vehicle’s fuel economy was lower (22 miles per gallon) than is currently the case. EPA assumes 15,000 miles per year. In our calculations below we will use the current figures.

Because electric vehicles do not use gasoline a different version of the Fuel Economy and Environment label was developed. Here is a sample of the EPA label for an electric vehicle:

EPA Fuel Economy Label - Electric

The formats are similar, but the electric vehicle label includes the price of electricity in cents per kilowatt-hour rather than the price of gasoline.

Here are the values currently used by the EPA to determine current Fuel Economy and Environment labels:

2016 EPA Fuel Cost Chart

Given these assumptions, we will use the 2016 LEAF to represent the EV and see how the fuel costs compare to the average new gasoline powered car.

According to the EPA the 2016 LEAF uses 30 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. The LEAF would use 4,500 kilowatt-hours to travel 15,000 miles per year. At $0.13 per kilowatt-hour the cost per year for the LEAF would be $585 which the EPA rounds up to $600. Over five years the LEAF would consume $3,000 in electricity, netting it a $6,000 savings over the average new car 0ver a five year time time frame.

The website gasbuddy.com has historical pricing for gasoline across the United States, and according to their surveys the national average price of regular gasoline has been below $3.00 since late 2014. So let’s use their latest national average regular gasoline price of $2.14 per gallon to see how this comparison looks.

Gas Price Chart 160423

When we input the GasBuddy current national average for regular gas the situation is a lot more favorable to gas powered vehicles:

Gas Buddy Cost Chart

Still, at $3,000 in electricity cost over five years the LEAF still comes out $3,420 ahead. Certainly there are states or locales where gas prices are lower and electricity prices are higher. In those situations, armed with these calculations it can be determined if fuel operating costs favor an electric car or not.

In this analysis we are looking only at the cost of the fuel. There are obviously many other considerations – cost of the vehicle, maintenance costs, repair costs, etc. EVs generally have lower maintenance costs. One major budgetary consideration might be the stability of the cost of your fuel source. Since 2002, the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has ranged between $1.00 per gallon and $4.00 per gallon. During that same time the national average price of electricity has ranged between $0.09 per kilowatt-hour and $0.14 per kilowatt-hour. In other words, gasoline has seen a 400 percent swing in its price, while electricity has seen a 56 percent swing in price. While predicting the future is never a safe bet, the odds favor gasoline prices being more volatile than electricity prices in the future, similar to what we’ve seen in the past.

So while the gap between gasoline fueled cars and electricity fueled cars has narrowed over the past three years, purely on a cost of fuel basis, it is still cheaper to drive electric.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

tom December 30, 2016 at 12:06 am

Wish you had an email list. You have a great website and it would be nice to be sent emails when you publish new articles.




Ernie Hernandez January 7, 2017 at 5:24 pm

tom – Welcome to Living LEAF. Thanks for the suggestion. I will consider it.


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