What is Cheaper – Buying Gasoline or Charging an Electric Car? — Lectron EV Skip to content
What is Cheaper – Buying Gasoline or Charging an Electric Car?

What is Cheaper – Buying Gasoline or Charging an Electric Car?

As the 2035 ban on gas-powered cars looms in, current and prospective car owners find themselves at a crossroads – to go fully electric or stick to gas.

A recent study by the University of Maryland in partnership with the Washington Post revealed that despite the impending extinction of internal combustion engine cars, 46% of Americans still prefer them to electric cars and 22% would rather buy a traditional hybrid that does not plug in. In comparison, only 19% would go fully electric and 13% would consider plug-in hybrids – which is very telling of their confidence in the new technology and the government’s efforts to build charging infrastructure.

The convenience of refueling is still the main reason why most Americans would choose traditional cars over EVs. Seventy-five percent of the respondents believe that pulling up at a gas station is more convenient than recharging an electric car. In the same vein, only 4 in 10 respondents think EV charging is cheaper than fueling up. While gas prices are extremely volatile (no thanks to several geopolitical factors), the cost of charging an EV is also dependent on several factors, including the size of the car’s battery, the local cost of electricity, and how much electricity the car consumes when it is being charged.

So, the question remains: What is cheaper – buying gasoline or charging an electric car?

Initial Purchase Costs

When it comes to buying a new car, the upfront costs can heavily influence a consumer's decision. Gasoline-powered vehicles traditionally have a lower initial purchase price compared to electric cars. However, government incentives and rebates for electric vehicles are becoming more common, narrowing the gap in some regions. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of a new car in the US in January 2023 is $49,388. This makes the standard Tesla Model 3 about $5,000 cheaper than an ICE car.

Aside from upfront costs, EV owners would most likely have to buy a home charger. While most manufacturers ship a Level 1 charger with their EVs, they’re very slow. Level 2 chargers are the standard for efficient overnight charging. These chargers range between $500 and $800 for the hardware alone. If you opt for a hardwired one, expect to shell out money for the installation costs and any possible panel upgrades needed.

Fueling Costs Over Time

At present, electricity in the US is about 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, while gas is around $3.08 per gallon – a big difference.

To put that into perspective, a standard 12-gallon car tank would cost about $37 to fill up. If the car gets 30 miles per gallon, a full tank would give you 360 miles of range. If you drive around the national average of 1,183 miles per month, you'd have to refuel more than three times, spending about $122 each month.

On the flip side, covering the same distance with an electric car would save you more than 40%. 

To estimate the cost of charging your EV, you can use a simple formula:

Cost to charge = (battery size in kWh) x (cost per kWh of electricity)

Let's consider an EV with a 60 kWh battery and an electricity rate of 17 cents per kWh.

Charging the battery from empty to full would cost around $10.20. As an example, take a Tesla Model 3 that costs $0.05 per mile to charge. If this car is driven for a total of 1,183 miles, the electricity bill would amount to approximately $59.

Maintenance and Repairs

Electric vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries come with a standard 8-year warranty, which means any replacement costs within that time frame are covered by the manufacturer. And because EVs have fewer moving parts than traditional cars, you can expect to pay less in maintenance fees in the long run.

In contrast, gas-powered vehicles require regular oil changes and have more complex internal combustion engines, contributing to a higher likelihood of wear and tear.

The Real Cost of EV Charging

While pitting 'per kWh' vs. 'per gallon' seems like the end of the discussion, the reality is that EV charging is just as volatile as gas prices. The location, charger type, and battery efficiency all affect the final cost of charging an EV. Electricity prices vary not just between states but also at different times of the day and depending on where you charge. EV owners may charge at home or work, but fast charging on the road might come with an extra cost.

To have a better understanding of this difference, let’s take the Ford F-150 and its electric counterpart, the F-150 Lightning, as an example. The gas-powered F-150, with a 26-gallon tank and a 483-mile estimated range, will cost about $117 to fill up in California, where the average gas price is $4.507 per gallon. In comparison, fueling up in New Jersey, where a gallon is $3.079, will only cost around $80.

Meanwhile, fully charging the F-150 Lightning, with a 98kWh battery and a 320-mile EPA estimated range, will cost around $32 in California, where the average electricity price is 33 ¢/kWh. To cover the same distance as the regular F-150, you will pay roughly $48–$69 less than its gas counterpart. In New Jersey, where the average electricity price is 19 ¢/kWh, fully charging the F-150 Lightning will only cost around $17 or about $25 to cover 483 miles, a good $55 cheaper than fueling up.

While pinning down the exact figures for gas and electricity costs may be tricky, EV charging is already cheaper than buying a full tank of gasoline. And with innovations in the EV charging industry like solar charging and better battery chemistry, as well as improvements in EV efficiency, we can only expect cheaper charging prices in the future.

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