Reader Question: Cost to “Fuel” an EV?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Sara asks: I was wondering if you’ve ever compared the various average costs of using an EV verses an IC vehicle.  In the short term, how much does the electricity cost for a “fill up” vs. costs at the gas pump. And more long term items like buying new batteries vs repairing IC parts.  Or how each type of vehicle holds its value (or not) over time.  I’m guessing the IC vehicles would come out ahead but I don’t know how to calculate it or if even can be done.  Maybe if it can be done, it would make a good article?  Thanks for your other great articles!

My reply: This is hard to do, at home and otherwise. At home, because the monthly bill isn’t line-itemed; you are billed for total electricity used. You could of course use what you generally get billed each month before plugging in an EV as a baseline and then compare the change after you use an EV for a month or two. But it’s still not the same as a metered gas pump – and in addition, motor fuels taxes are not (yet) applied to electricity used for EVs, which is another form of EV subsidy. Some cities also offer “free” access to “fast” (30-45 minute) chargers – but that’s not going to last.

That said, the cost to charge an EV is probably lower than the cost to fill up the average car. But, the cost of the EV is so much higher – the least expensive model on the market, the Nissan Leaf, costs $30,000 – which is at least twice the cost of an otherwise similar economy sedan such as Nissan’s own Versa – that unless the cost of fuel at least doubles, the EV is a dubious way to save money.

EVs have another issue as well. Two, actually- and they’re related.

Their battery packs have a much shorter lifespan than the drivetrain (engine/transmission) of almost any modern IC-powered car, which can reasonably be expected to function reliably and without loss of power/range for at least 12-15 years and frequently 20-plus. In other words, for the useful life of the car itself.

But EV battery packs will not last the life of the EV.

Put another way, they will shorten the useful life of the EV.

EV batteries “wear and tear” differently – and more quickly – than an IC car’s drivetrain. Regular use means regular discharge/recharge cycling – much harder on a battery than an IC engine just running. Over a relatively short period of time, often as little as eight or nine years or so, the EV battery begins to show signs of deterioration, which manifest chiefly in reduced ability to accept/hold a full charge. Range declines along with this – and the only fix is a new battery, which can and does cost many thousands of dollars.

But by the time this becomes necessary, the EV – like any other car – will have depreciated significantly. More significantly than an IC car – because of the battery replacement issue.

Take two cars, one an EV the other IC but otherwise similar. At ten years old, the IC car will probably still have another 5-8 years of reliable life left without having to spend a large sum of money on it. But the ten-year-old EV will almost certainly be in need of a very expensive battery pack replacement.

Which kills the used value of the EV. This cost is borne by the original purchaser – and is one of the hidden additional costs of buying an EV.

There are plenty of reasons to buy an EV. They are silent, they have lots of torque. The technology is “neat.” And there is nothing wrong with buying any car just because you like it, for whatever reason.

But as an economic proposition, there is no sound case to be made for any EV – at least none that you can buy new.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Interestingly all the EV evangelists make very bold claims about the life expectancy of the battery packs. As a heavy user of Li-Ion and Li-Po battery technologies (as a vaper and an RC modeler), I have rapidly come to the conclusion that the evangelists are completely and utterly full of shit.

    • Hi Scott,

      They are full of shit – or deluded. The average EV fanboi is deluded, I suspect. Also, affluent. The sort of person who buys – or leases – a $40,000 car every three years or so. For them, battery wilting isn’t an issue. For anyone not affluent – and profligate – it most certainly is.

    • Even their incredible claims of how long the packs will last isn’t nearly enough. They claim about a decade. Of course that’s a best case. The problem is that there are so many cells and the pack may loose entire sections or the whole pack depending on how the BMS is set up if one cell goes bad. The BMS has to refuse charge to the bad cells for safety. Statistically one or more of these many cells will likely fail well before ideal life span.

      My newest argument is to point out how EVs deliberately deny the poor personal mobility. The cars are not economically viable to the bottom of the market. They’ll be crushed long before a poor person can buy one and even if it isn’t the poor person can’t afford to replace the battery. The argument I get in response? Battery as a service. Pay every month!

  2. What about calculating the cost of charging the EV by multiplying the number of killowatt-hours times the cost of the electricity? Even if there’s a loss of efficiency for the energy transfer, couldn’t that be factored in, so as to get a good idea what it costs to charge, or ‘fill up’, an EV?

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