Is it Cheaper to Drive an EV Than a Gas Vehicle?

At some point in the next few years, we are going to be awash in electric vehicles, many of which will either be marketed as adventure vehicles specifically, or will at least be capable of ferrying you and your gear along dirt roads somewhere and will be heartily embraced by the adventure community.

Now, there will be logical questions and concerns from the dirt, off-road, and adventure-driving communities about things like range, charging speed and locations, and volume of rural charging stations, etc. Those issues aside, and not including the obvious motivation for switching to EV—carbon emissions—the next big concern is likely cost.

EVs typically run thousands of dollars more than their gas counterparts, if they even exist. Car and Driver magazine estimates that the average sticker price of an electric car is $19,000 more than that of an average gas car. The word “average” is doing a lot of work there, and most EVs at this point are luxury-trim levels, likely because the cars are expensive to make so they may as well cram ’em with leather and wood, but you get the idea.

But what about operating costs?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Idaho National Laboratory just released a study that broke down, regionally, the cost of running an EV versus that of a standard gas car. Obviously, there are a ton of variables at play. The cost of gas is the big one, as is when an EV owner charges their car, and how they do it. Rapid charging during daylight hours tends to cost a lot more than the slow trickle of a garage power outlet at night, for example. Length of ownership also matters a great deal, as EVs tend to be cheaper over the long haul.

How much? Depends on how much gas costs where you live and how you charge the vehicle. But, the researchers in the study place the average low end of savings of an EV versus a gas car at $3,078, and the average high end at $10,445.

The dizzying array of factors makes the calculations complicated, but you can see on the below chart about how much you can expect to save with an EV over 15 years, when compared with a gas car, depending on in which state you’re operating the EV.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Finally, this doesn’t even factor in maintenance costs. Though cars have progressively become more reliable over the decades, things do still break. If a transmission fails on an out of warranty vehicle, say goodbye to about $5,000. Exhaust systems frequently start failing smog tests on older cars, and patching them up can get expensive fast. Changing the oil every few months adds a few hundred dollars per year. And on and on.

EVs have a fraction of the moving parts of a gas-powered car. Tires and brakes and wiper blades will still wear out, but there are far fewer fluids to replace, no oil changes, no real transmission as most drivers understand them—very little to break.

Again, cost is one part of the decision-tree when it comes to buying an EV. If you’ve driven one, there’s an exhilarating feeling driving a silent, powerful car. Gas engines seem impossibly crude by comparison. Sure, there’s a price hurdle up front with EVs, but studies like this may go a long way toward bending the ear of gas-only drivers. As will watching a Rivian silently cruise a burly dirt road somewhere.

Photo top: Rivian



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