Fuel Cost: Gas Cars vs. Electric Cars?


Dear Driving for Dollars, 

I heard some of your coverage about electric cars on Earth Day, and I decided I'm ready to look into owning an electric model. But I always thought electricity was really expensive, and I'm worried my recharging costs won't be that much less than my gasoline costs are now. Is there a way to get an accurate comparison? 

- Joanie

Dear Joanie,

Figuring out the cost per mile using gas is less complicated than calculating the cost for an electric car.

There is a way to accurately compare the cost to recharge an electric vehicle versus the cost of gasoline, but to do it, you'll need to do some substantial research on your own or rely on the federal government's calculation, which uses average prices for electricity and gasoline in your area. You will probably be surprised to find that your per-mile costs to "fuel" cars are cheaper with electric cars than with gas cars.

Calculating your per-mile cost for gas cars is pretty simple, as long as you know your average cost for a gallon of gasoline, your typical fuel economy and the number of miles you drive. For example, if your car gets 25 mpg and gas is $4 per gallon, it will cost you 16 cents per mile in gasoline.

Calculating your electricity cost is a bit more complicated. First, visit the automaker's website for the electric car to get the specifics on the projected charging times for the type of charging system you intend to use. Then, you'll need to use your electric company's kilowatt-hour rates.

The tricky part can be that utilities often have a tiered system of charges and often different rates at different times of day, so it can be difficult to determine what the per-kilowatt-hour price would be.

The easier method would be to use the Vehicle Cost Calculator at the Alternative Fuels Data Center. There, you can enter up to eight cars (with any fueling system type) to compare. You plug in the information specific to your driving needs and it does the heavy lifting for you, though keep in mind, these are still using average rates.

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