Is it Actually Cheaper to Own an 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.
SEE ALSO: How Often Should You Do Car Maintenance?
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.
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 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.
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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.
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!