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Is it Actually Cheaper to Own an Electric Car?

You'll save money on gas and car maintenance, but replacement batteries cost thousands of dollars.
Charging Electric Car

If you're shopping for a car, you might be thinking about making your next vehicle fully electric. The prices of electric cars are going down, and the market has exploded in the last ten years. Here are a few things to consider when you're shopping, whether you're buying a used electric car or a new one.

Who Makes Electric Cars?

It seems like there's an electric car for nearly every budget. BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan — and, of course, Tesla — all make electric vehicles. The models range from affordable economy vehicles to high-performance sports cars. Even Ferrari is getting in on the act. More than 200,000 new electric and hybrid-electric cars were sold in 2017 alone.

SEE ALSO: How Often Should You Do Car Maintenance?

Battery Electric? Hybrid? Plug-In Hybrid?

There's a bunch of different ways to electrify your commute, but you should know electric car terms and technology before you go shopping. Different types of electric and hybrid vehicles have significantly different ranges, and it's important to know what's right for your driving habits.

  • Conventional hybrids like the original Toyota Prius use electric motors to supplement their gas engine, boosting gas mileage into the 40 to 50 mpg range. But that won't keep you away from the gas station. A hybrid car can travel a short distance on battery power alone (think a mile or two), but still relies heavily on its gas engine to get you from point A to point B.

  • Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs) still have internal combustion engines. But unlike conventional hybrids, PHEVs are intended to be run in electric-only mode. The downside to PHEVs? Their all-electric range is severely limited — sometimes less than 30 miles. You can plug the car in every night to charge the battery and avoid running the engine — but only if your commute is sufficiently short.

  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) rely entirely on battery power, and must be plugged in to recharge. Obviously you'll find Tesla cars in this category, but other popular models include the Ford Focus Electric, the Chevy Bolt, and the Nissan Leaf. Most non-Tesla BEVs claim a range of 60 to 80 miles per charge. Tesla says its Model S sedan has a range of 335 miles, the Model X SUV can purportedly go 295 miles, and the Tesla Roadster boasts a whopping 695-mile range (if you can pay the $200k+ tab).

Buying an Electric Car

Should You Buy a New or Used Electric Car?

Like any new car, an electric car's first owner will absorb the lion's share of the value depreciation. However, electric cars take an especially hard hit.

A current-model Nissan Leaf starts at $29,990. Meanwhile, 2017 Leaf cars can be found on Autotrader for half that.

A current-model Nissan Leaf starts at $29,990 before you add any features (or account for the federal tax credit, which used buyers won't get). Meanwhile, 2017 Leaf cars can be found on Autotrader for little more than half that — and some dealerships are selling 2015 Leaf models with less than 40,000 miles for $11k.

Enjoy Cheaper Scheduled Maintenance

Fully electric cars dodge much of the maintenance associated with gas-powered vehicles. There's no oil to change, no timing belts to replace, no transmission fluid to flush, and no valves to adjust — electric cars have none of the hundreds of parts that make up an internal combustion-driven drivetrain.

SEE ALSO: 3 Ways to Save on Your Next Car Repair

In fact, the 2017 Chevy Bolt's maintenance schedule includes just three things: tire rotation (every 7500 miles), cabin air filter replacement (every 22,500 miles), and coolant circuit drain/fill (every 150,000 miles). The Nissan Leaf's maintenance schedule is similar, though they add a brake fluid replacement every 30,000 miles. With an electric car, you'll still need to replace brakes and tires as usual, but you could easily save thousands on scheduled maintenance.

There's just one catch.

How Much Does an Electric Car Battery Cost?

When the time comes, the costs of replacing an electric car battery run in the thousands. A Leaf battery costs $5,500, but that cost can be offset by the Leaf Battery Replacement Program; you pay about half the regular fee to receive a refurbished pack. If you're unlucky enough to need to replace an entire Chevy Bolt battery out of warranty, it's going to run you a breathtaking $15,550 — again, that's just for the battery.

If you're unlucky enough to need to replace an entire Chevy Bolt battery out of warranty, it's going to run you $15,550.

The good news is that most manufacturers' batteries are warrantied for at least 8 years/100,000 miles — so most electric cars in circulation are still under warranty. And modern battery technology is pretty reliable. As of 2017, GM hadn't needed to replace a single Bolt battery pack for capacity reduction. And if you do need battery work, individual cells can often be replaced for significantly less than the cost of the entire pack.

Whether you're buying a new or used electric car, find out how long the battery is warrantied for, how much warranty it's got left (if used), and how much it'll cost if you have to replace the battery out of warranty.

Don't Forget the Cost of Electricity

Electricity isn't free by any means, but it's much cheaper than gasoline. An electric car will still save you some money on gas. The average cost to drive an electric car 100 miles is only $3.45, while 100 miles with gas will cost you an average of $13.52. If you put in 10,000 all-electric miles every year, you'll save about a thousand dollars per year (and eliminate tailpipe emissions).

Whether all that adds up to a net benefit depends on your driving habits, the cost of gasoline, and your electricity costs. At the very least, an all-electric car will definitely need less maintenance.

The topic of this post arose from reader feedback. But everyone's situation is different! Is an electric car right for you? Tell us why or why not in the comments below, and you just might inspire the next DealNews Blog article!

Contributing Writer

Sean is a freelance writer and photojournalist working in the Hampton Roads region. He has been a writer, adventure motorcyclist, drag racer, data nerd, shade-tree mechanic, and tornado chaser. Recommend good beers to him on Twitter at @wxgeek.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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dave radetsky
What a lot of people don't know and have been duped about is that manufacturing the batteries for these cars causes more pollution than a car with a traditional internal cumbustion engine will put out in its lifetime of driving. So, your electric car might keep you from putting out pollution while you drive it, but while they were manufacturing it they put out more pollution than a regular car would in its entire life. Bottom line is they are not the environmentally friendly product that we are led to believe.
PG&E is offering $3000 extra discount on 2018 Nissan leaf.
I'm getting 42-44mpg all highway commute with a $12,000 hyundai accent hatchback. Zero complaints about this car, getting that mpg, at that price. We looked at the hybrid option, and I could not justify the price difference.
I bought a Tesla Model S back at the end of March.It took me three months to find one with the specs I wanted as I bought a CPO under the old program they had where they do a 200 point inspection of the vehicle and replace or repair any defects.My car came with new tires and wheels and looks pristine.That program is now obsolete but my car is still under the old CPO.Also the warranty on the battery lasts till 2023 with unlimited miles.I love the car and the autopilot features though I usually use TACC when I am driving on the interstate and occasionally engage autopilot with my hand lightly on the wheel.I bought the car for the technology it is a great vehicle very quiet and I get on a trip fully charged around 260 miles so I can not complain about the range.Lots of new superchargers are opening because of Model 3 but I love my S.I have solar panels on the garage where the car is plugged in to a nema 14-30 plug nightly.
@Yellowshock While you do (can) pay a "big fat premium" up front (not so much if you get a used one), the maintenance of a gas-powered car is much higher... unless your time is free too. Sitting in an oil change place (or doing it yourself) every 3-5000 miles takes time, money, and toxic oil. Electric vehicles have almost no maintenance because of fewer moving parts.

When the batteries are shot... well, you're going to wait a while. Tesla Model S vehicles are showing 90% of the original battery capacity at 100,000 miles. Volt owners are seeing similar success. Replacement of a LEAF battery is $5500, or about the same price as a full drivetrain replacement in a gas-powered vehicle.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has studies that show that everywhere in the US, an electric car generates less pollution on average than any gas-powered car. That average continues to improve as power plants get cleaner. Want true zero emissions? Get solar panels on your home.
Negatives for me: you pay a big fat premium up front. That gobbles up maintenance easily and makes it hard to compare.
Secondly, when batteries are shot as I experienced on my Honda, then you are doing double the cost of a full drive train replacement on a conventional car. No shit. Thirdly, believing you are so much cleaner doesn't factor in how your electricity was generated. So my endeavour with my hybrid Honda ended poorly and I went back to a conventional car. They need to bring the prices WAY down first, otherwise I just don't want to make the leap.
Iron Badge
And do not forget the positive effect on the environment. Also, we can save fossil materials for, who knows, any future applications that we have not been been aware of today.
I got my LEAF used with 215 miles on the odometer. That knocked $10K off the price. Used EVs are a bargain!

My car is super reliable and the instant torque makes it fun to drive. Virtually no maintenance other than replacing tires. I love waking up in the morning with a full "tank", with the car pre-heated or pre-cooled, waiting for me.

Energy cost per mile is around 2¢. No more going to the gas station in the rain or snow, getting panhandled, and getting my credit card skimmed by the machine.

@klingon666 You can plug your electric car into a standard outlet for overnight charging. If you want faster charging, add a dryer outlet in your garage. I put mine in myself.
I bought a used Honda CR-Z (the car no one has ever heard of) with 29,000 miles on it for $11,000. It has 1.5 liter gas motor with electric assist which comes from the onboard electric motor that also acts as a generator so it generates it's own electricity.

I get about 42 mpg in eco mode if I don't go over 67 mph and do a little drafting. It's only a 2 seater but I haven't found out that I need to pull my truck out of the garage to do much people hauling because I hardly have more than 2 people going anyplace at the same time and you can park it anywhere because it is so dinky.

My insurance is actually pretty cheap considering it is a 2 door 2 seat sports car"ish" vehicle.

I love it and would buy one again. I highly recommend it for a commuter car or for someone with a small family.
The Tesla Model 3 sells for about $40k after fed rebate, and has most of the features of any $50k car, without the maintenance and fuel costs. Trouble is that I have been waiting for 2.5 years to get one after placing a deposit.
(continued) Nissan provides two free years of charging, so my free ride won't last forever. However, once I have to pay for Level 3 charging, I figure to spend between $20 and $30 a month.

Right now, you can still get a $7,500 federal tax credit, and a $2,500 rebate from California (other state rebate/tax credits vary a lot). I just found out, too, that I quality for an additional $450 rebate from the electric company. If you get the base model, you may be able to buy a 2018 Leaf for less than $20,000 of your own money. That's a great deal.
I have 2018 Leaf. Originally, I wanted to get a plug-in hybrid (e.g., Prius Prime or Hyundai Ioniq), since I thought the limited range of an electric vehicle would be too much of a hassle. Plus, in my townhouse, I discovered that installing a Level 2 (240 v) charger wasn't practical. However, since I have another non-electric car, I decided to take the plunge. Overall, I'm happy with the decision. In three months of ownership, I haven't spent a penny on energy. My work place has free level 2 chargers, and my local Walmart has a level 3 charger (which, so far, is not heavily used). Between the two, I've found that I don't need to charge at home at all. This saves a lot of money, as my standard per KW charge is .$0.24, so overnight charging would run about $2.00 to $2.50 a day (doesn't sound like much, but because I can only charge using a 110 v. outlet, I don't get much mileage for that $2.00---maybe just 35 to 40 for 8 hours of charging). CONTINUED
I have a Bolt. I got it because I was driving over 100 miles a day for work and I was tired of getting gas every three days in my Saab 9-3 sedan (38 mpg.) In roughly 6 months, I've put 20,000 miles on the Bolt. I'm spending $150/month more in electricity when I was spending $350/month in gas. I figure I'm saving roughly $50/month in routine maintenance, and probably $200-$400/month in repairs versus the Saab. If the battery lasts 6-8 years, we're looking at 240,000 - 360,000 miles with no real maintenance.

Plus, I've saved 15 hours of my life from getting off the highway to go to a gas station.
In the real world the Ford C-Max Energi I am leasing is rated to get 39 MPG from the Hybrid only, so 100 miles divided by 39 is 2.564 gallons of gas. at $3 a gal that is $7.69 for 100 miles. I charged the battery this morning and the smart meter reported my home energy usage went from 1 Kwh to 5 Kwh for 2 hours for an estimated 25 Mile charge in the battery pack. That is 8Kwh for 25 miles or 32Kwh for 100 miles [of very conservative driving. I used 975 Kwh at a bottom line cost of $162.04 [for a month from The DTE bill] That is an actual cost of $0.1662 per KWH or $5.31 per 100 miles. But wait, the electricity cost doesn't include the Road tax collected on the gasoline. In Michigan that is currently $0.45 per gallon. Add that to the electric cost and you have $6.76 per 100 miles. When I leased the C-Max my insurance cost increased by $500, and the 220V charger cost $400. At $2.64 a gal they are even without the insurance and charger costs
What's it cost for an outlet to recharge one of these cars??
It isn't just about gas saved or 'being cheaper'... My time is valuable. I'd want a PHEV to save time going to a gas station...
Greg Coogan
I own two Chevy Volts that I use on electricity about two thirds of the time. PHEVs like the Volt are a great compromise for people who want to go electric but need unlimited range. However one of mine had numerous transmission issues, all covered under warranty. My next car will be all electric as they are cheaper to operate and more reliable.
You forgot Fiat, Hyundai, VW, Honda, smart, Kia, BYD, and Mitsubishi (out of production but probably still on dealer lots).
Is the cost of insurance any different...?