Battery-electric vehicles may cost more to purchase than a comparable gas-powered model but a new study finds the added spending up front can be offset by lower maintenance costs – with reduced energy costs an added benefit.
Throughout a vehicle’s lifetime, the cost maintaining the typical vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine will add up to around 6.1 cents per mile, according to research by Consumer Reports. By comparison, BEV owners can expect to spend about 3.1 cents per mile. Surprisingly, the study found that maintaining a plug-in hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius Prime, can be even slightly less expensive, at 3 cents per mile.
“Electric vehicle owners don’t need a coupon to get half-off typical maintenance and repair costs from their dealer, it comes standard!” said senior transportation policy analyst Chris Harto, author of the study which is based on CR’s real-world data. “These savings are going a long way to offset the upfront costs for consumers.”
A typical BEV today runs about $5,000 more than a comparable product using an internal combustion engine, or ICE, though, with battery prices starting to fall, several recent studies have suggested the two technologies will reach price parity before the end of the decade.
But what a buyer pays up front is only part of the equation. A variety of other factors need to be considered, including the cost of energy, as well as maintenance.
Keeping a vehicle running is, in itself, a complex process as ICE vehicles require oil changes, tuneups and other forms of routine maintenance. At 6.1 cents per mile, that can add up quickly, especially for an owner clocking 15,000 miles a year, equal to an annual spend of $915.
The typical BEV, on the other hand, would require $465 in annual maintenance – since things like oil and filter changes, as well as tuneups, are no longer necessary. A PHEV would come in at a slightly more modest $450 annually.
The average American keeps their car for six years, according to research by RL Polk, so an EV owner will save around $2,700 on maintenance during that time.
During the entire lifetime of a vehicle, meanwhile, the gap widens, a gas-powered model expected to require $9,200 in repairs, a BEV about $4,600, found Consumer Reports.
That won’t completely offset the higher purchase price, but there are other benefits to consider.
“In addition to being easier and cheaper to maintain many EVs deliver better acceleration compared to gas-powered vehicles, and don’t pump harmful pollution into our air,” noted Gabe Shenhar, associate director of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center.
But for those focused on finances alone, energy costs also have to be factored in. Right now, it’s about as cheap as it has been in many years to operate a vehicle running on gasoline.
Currently, an American motorist can expect to pay an average $2.182 per gallon for self-service regular, according to AAA. Meanwhile, the EPA says the average vehicle on the road today is yielding about 25 miles per gallon. That works out to just over 8.7 cents per mile, or $1,305 annually for someone clocking 15,000 miles a year.
The price of charging up a battery can vary wildly, making the comparison a little more complex. The standard rate for electricity in the U.S. is around 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, and each kWh yields around four to five miles of range, depending upon the efficiency of the BEV. That translates, on average, into around 2.4 cents per mile, or $360 a year.
But many BEV owners qualify for off-hour pricing plans that can reduce the cost of energy to as little as 2 cents per kWh by charging when grid demand is lowest. For them, clocking 15,000 miles a year will cost as little as $70 annually.
At the other extreme, it can cost as much as 30 cents per kWh to charge up at public quick chargers operated by companies like Electrify America, meaning a much slimmer advantage over a gas-powered vehicle.
Day-to-day, then, EV owners watch their savings mount, increasingly helping to offset their higher up-front costs. And, as new battery-cars come to market carrying lower and lower premiums, it could soon be a big financial advantage, from start to finish, to go electric.