What Is the Total Cost of Owning an Electric Car?
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Your monthly car payment might be your biggest automotive expense, but it’s not the only one. Insurance, repairs and fuel can add up to hundreds of dollars per month, depending on your situation. These ownership costs are sticky — you’ll keep paying them even after you make your last car payment, or if you buy your car with cash.
The ownership costs for electric vehicles, or EVs, are similar to ownership costs for gas-powered cars, though there are a few important differences to keep in mind.
The average sale price for an electric car was $58,385 in February 2023, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s about $13,000 more expensive than the average gas-powered, new non-luxury vehicle.
Lower-cost EV options do exist: There are a couple available with a range of at least 200 miles for less than $30,000 and a few more for less than $40,000. EV tax credits can bring your total costs down — if you and your car qualify. These tax credits even apply to used EVs that meet similar qualifications.
If you plan to purchase your EV with financing, check whether you qualify with lenders who offer loans tailored for EVs. These loans can come with rate discounts and additional features, like financing for a home charger, though an applicant may find a better rate elsewhere.
Most people can probably save money on fuel costs compared to gas-powered vehicles. To maximize your savings, you should:
Charge at home instead of at a public charging station.
Check the rate schedule from your electric company and charge only at off-peak hours.
See whether a place you shop or your workplace offers free or discounted charging options.
For example, adding 200 miles of range to a Tesla Model 3 costs $7.50 using the charger that comes with the vehicle, assuming the national average of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour for residential locations. The ultimate cost to charge your EV depends on factors including the type of car you drive and your electric rates.
Unless you have access to free charging, the cheapest charge you’ll find is at home. You can plug into a regular outlet using a Level 1 charger, but that only adds about 5 miles of range per hour. Plus, you’ll probably be plugged in constantly when you’re home, which means charging during peak rates.
The U.S. Department of Energy says installing a Level 2 charger at home can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. Your total could be lower if, for example, your home’s electric panel doesn’t need upgrading and if access to your changing location is straightforward. State and local incentives can also bring this figure down.
In some cases, new cars come with Level 2 chargers included, and some even include free installation.
If you’re traveling long distances, you’ll almost certainly want to use a public charger. Charging from almost empty to full can take eight hours at home. With a Level 3/DC fast charger at a charging station — the fastest EV charger — it could take 30 minutes.
That’s still much slower than filling up with gas, however. Using that time to eat a meal, for example, is one way to avoid sitting around. But charging stations aren’t always adjacent to amenities.
When mapping a long-distance route, use an EV-specific mapping service, like EV Navigation. These services can create routes that take into account your car’s range and any amenities you’d like when you stop to charge.
Charging on the road is also more expensive than charging at home, though possibly still cheaper than gas. For example, adding 200 miles of range to a Tesla Model 3 at a price of 40 cents per kWh would cost $20.
You can also find Level 2 chargers that are available for public use. Although slower than Level 3/DC fast charging, these make up the majority of public chargers. Level 3/DC chargers tend to cluster around interstate exits. In contrast, you can find Level 2 chargers in a variety of public places, including restaurants, hotels and parking garages. It’s an easy way to add a few miles if your car is parked for a few hours anyway.
Electric vehicles generally have lower maintenance costs than gas-powered cars. Without an engine, there are fewer parts that can break. You can also say goodbye to oil changes, and your brakes should last longer. A 2020 Consumer Reports study estimates the average EV’s maintenance and repair costs to be 3 cents per mile driven over the course of its lifetime — half the cost of the gas-powered vehicle average. New EVs, which need less maintenance, are cheaper to maintain, at 1 cent per mile driven on average.
There are also downsides. Some EV owners report tires wear out quickly, possibly due to the battery’s weight. Some people worry about the cost of a new battery. True, it’s expensive if you need to replace it, but that worry might be overblown. Batteries are typically covered by warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles of use and will likely last much longer. The battery issue that might be more concerning is that maximum range typically declines with use, even if you follow care instructions perfectly — just like the battery on your phone.
Taxes and registration
Taxes are unavoidable for car purchases — whether gas or electric, used or new — unless you live in Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire or Oregon.
Taxes might be familiar, but there could also be additional fees when you register the vehicle in your state. Thirty-two states now have EV-specific fees to offset reduced gas-tax revenues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These fees, which are between $50 and $200, fund transportation projects, including, in some states, charging infrastructure.
» MORE: Compare car insurance rates
Insurance for EVs might be more expensive than for gas-powered cars. Higher vehicle costs and complex equipment that lead to expensive repairs are the culprits, according to the auto insurer Progressive. State Farm’s website states that potential damage to the battery, even in otherwise minor collisions, can be costly, and there are fewer technicians trained to repair them.