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Electric vs. gas-powered cars – Which is really cheaper to own?

Back in 2006, a movie came out that asked one simple question: Who killed the electric car?

The film, which was directed by Chris Paine and narrated by Martin Sheen, earned good reviews and became a bit of a cult classic. It looked into what happened to the EV-1, which was General Motors’ attempt to get into the electric car market in the late 1990s.

Thinking you’ve never heard of the EV-1? That’s kind of the point, as it was gone almost as quickly as it arrived. For reasons the movie tried to outline, GM took them off the streets and seemed to move on from the idea of electric cars.

That was then. Now, electric cars are everywhere

Of course we all know that while the electric car faded from memory nearly two decades ago, they have since made quite a comeback. It is all part of the eco-friendly car boom, which helps the environment by using less gas.

But unlike popular hybrids that happen to get exceptional miles-per-gallon, electric cars can run solely on battery power and thus never need gas. That means no trips to the gas station and, therefore, no stress over the fluctuation in fuel prices.

You might think that avoiding the gas station would lead to saving money along with the environment, but is that really the case? After all, the car’s power has to come from somewhere, and electricity is not particularly cheap, either.

Add that to the difference in price between an electric car and a more fuel-efficient standard vehicle and is it worth it? Let’s take a look.

Electric cars tend to cost more

Your initial budget certainly matters, and generally speaking you will spend more to buy an electric car than a regular one. Plenty depends on what brand and make you go with, but if fuel efficiency is your game you can land a new Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda or Ford for well under $30,000.

The Chevy Cruz, for instance, costs around $19,000 and offers 29 MPG city and 40 MPG on the highway. Meanwhile, the Ford Focus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are all a little more expensive than that, but offer similar fuel numbers.

Even the cheapest of electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf, will run nearly $30,000, with the price going up if you move into a Chevy Bolt, BMW i3 or even a Tesla. There are other makes and models and, as is the case even with the non-electric cars, bells and whistles you can add that will drive the price up.

One nice thing for electric cars, at least as of this piece being written, is that the federal government is offering financial incentives such as tax credits on new purchases. It ranges from $2,500 to $7,500 if the car was purchased in the US, with the actual amount being determined by the type of car you bought.

Individual states may also provide incentives, such as the ability to drive in carpool lanes or other bonuses.

But the MPG is…so much better

© Adonis1969 |

Now, fuel efficiency is a bit tough to judge with electric cars because they don’t actually use any fuel. However, there are metrics in place to help better define their capabilities, and if you have not seen the numbers before they will probably come as a shock.

That Nissan Leaf mentioned above? It’s rated for 125 MPG city and 100 on the highway. The Bolt is listed at 128 and 110, the i3 at 129 and 106 and the Tesla Model S for 102 and 105. Tesla’s Model 3, which is priced around $35,000, is rated for 131 MPG in the city and 120 on the highway.

Unlike regular cars, electric cars — because of their batteries’ ability to recharge — prefer the lower speeds and stop-and-go driving cities have to offer compared to the open road on the highway.

But what about gas vs. electricity?

This is a tougher thing to nail down, particularly because it varies greatly depending on where you live and, when it comes to gas, the time of year. Furthermore, while there are gas stations pretty much everywhere, it may be more difficult to find a place to quickly charge.

Even with better MPG, a limiting factor for electric cars could be that their batteries do run out and, once they do, the car won’t move. Depending on where you are going, it may be tough to find a place to charge. Meanwhile, it likely won’t be too hard tracking down a gas station.

More chargers are being set up, though. Some are free to use but most cost money, either on a per-use basis or a kind of membership.

How does it all add up? According to a recent study by the University of Michigan, the average cost to power an electric car is $485 per year, whereas it is $1,117 for a gas-powered vehicle.

What about maintenance costs?

© Pavel Chagochkin |

Another thing that is difficult to truly project is the cost of maintaining a vehicle. Some have better reputations than others, and there’s generally good reasons for that. Still, even the most reliable of cars can have a bad model or break down, whereas those known to be nothing but trouble could have nary an issue.

However, today’s electric cars are notable for their durability — especially when compared to gas-powered vehicles — in part because they need far less in the way of even routine maintenance. Oil changes every few months are not necessary, and with a battery instead of gas engine, there is simply less that can break.

That said, should issues arise with an electric car’s components, it may be more expensive to fix and more difficult to find someone who can take care of the problem. As electric cars are still a bit of a niche thing, technicians who are certified to work on them can be a bit tougher to track down.

In summary, which is better?

We’re not going to tell you whether you should buy an electric car or stick with a standard gas-powered vehicle. There are so many factors to consider along with just price.

Is there a certain make you prefer? What size car are you looking for? What kind of driving will you be doing with it? How much can you afford to spend just to drive the car off the lot?

Those — along with plenty of other questions — will need to be answered before you narrow it down and make your purchase. But if nothing else, it’s pretty clear that electric cars are here to stay, and they are only getting better.

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