Electric cars vs. gas cars: Which cost more?

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In a Nutshell

Trying to decide between electric cars vs. gas cars for your next vehicle purchase? Electric cars come with benefits that can save you money. But they also have drawbacks that you should keep in mind when you’re selecting the best vehicle for your needs.
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If you’re shopping for a new vehicle, you may whittle down your choices to an electric car vs. a gas car.

These two types of cars have key differences which can affect how much money you spend each month on things such as fuel and maintenance. Electric cars — also known as EVs — typically cost more upfront than gas vehicles, but they have lower maintenance costs over their lifetime. And EVs typically cost less to fuel than gas-only vehicles. 

In this article we’ll go over the basic differences between electric cars versus gas cars. We’ll also look at how purchase price and average cost of ownership differ between these two types of vehicles, and we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of buying an EV.  

The differences between electric and gas cars

Here’s the biggest distinction between an electric car and a gas vehicle: Electric cars are fully or partially powered by electricity from the electric grid, while gas vehicles rely on gasoline as a source of fuel. 

With a gas vehicle, a gasoline tank stores the energy that’s used to power the car, and an internal combustion engine provides the force needed to move the vehicle. Vehicles powered entirely by electricity have a different setup. Most EVs use a battery to store the energy used for power, and an electric motor provides the force needed to get the car moving. 

These differences are just the beginning, though. Roughly 70% of an EV’s components may differ from those of a comparable gas vehicle, according to CALSTART. An EV has several unique parts that serve the same role as common components found in a gas-only car.  

Types of electric vehicles

Electric cars come in many different varieties, offered by luxury automakers such as BMW and more affordable brands like Volkswagen. It’s even possible to get a pickup truck with an electrified powertrain. There are different types of EVs to keep in mind if you’re shopping for a new ride.

  • All-electric cars, also known as battery-electric vehicles or BEVs — These vehicles are powered solely by electricity that’s stored in a battery, and they produce no tailpipe emissions. This EV is charged by plugging it into an electrical source. 
  • Hybrid electric vehicles, also known as hybrids or HEVs — These vehicles are powered by both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. You can’t charge a hybrid by plugging it in. The battery gets its charge via a regenerative brake system and the internal combustion engine. The battery provides extra power that can give hybrids better fuel economy than their gas-only equivalents. Since this car has a gas engine, it generates tailpipe emissions. 
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, also known as plug-in hybrids or PHEVs — A PHEV is similar to an HEV in that they both have an electric motor and internal combustion engine. But unlike a hybrid electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid EV can be charged via a wall outlet or charging equipment. Second, unlike a hybrid, a PHEV typically runs solely on electric power until the battery is nearly depleted. Once that happens, it automatically begins using the gas engine as a power source. 
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, also known as fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs — As with other electric cars, FCEVs use electricity to motivate an electric motor. But instead of drawing electricity from an EV battery, FCEVs use a fuel cell that’s powered by hydrogen for electricity generation. Compared to other types of EVs, HCEVs are relatively rare. 

How much more expensive are electric cars than gas cars?

When it comes to purchase price, EVs tend to cost more than similar conventional vehicles. For example, a gas-only 2021 Toyota Camry has a starting price of $24,970; a 2021 Camry Hybrid has a starting price of $27,270. Over at Hyundai, a conventional 2021 Kona SUV starts at $20,500, while the 2021 Kona Electric starts at $37,390. 

There’s also the cost of an at-home charging station to consider. Purchasing this station isn’t absolutely essential; you may be able to charge your EV at work or at a public charging station. Still, charging at home might be the most convenient option. At-home EV charging stations start at around $200.

Some EVs may qualify for a federal electric car tax credit and/or state and utility incentives that can help offset their purchase price. The tax credit typically ranges from $2,500 to $7,500, depending on the vehicle’s battery capacity. But with some models, this credit is phased out once the manufacturer reaches a certain sales threshold. As a result, not all EVs qualify. For example, any Tesla model purchased after December 31, 2019, is ineligible for a federal tax credit. A Chevrolet Bolt EV purchased after March 31, 2020, doesn’t qualify for the credit either. 

While EVs may cost more than equivalent conventional vehicles upfront, they typically have lower fuel costs than their gas-only counterparts. To get a clear understanding of this cost difference, let’s look at the gas-only 2020 Hyundai Kona and the 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric BEV. 

Utilizing a calculator created by the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division of the U.S. Department of Energy — and assuming a gas price of $2.88 per gallon and using electricity prices for the state of California — the conventional Kona has a fuel cost per mile of $0.29. With the Kona Electric BEV, the cost per mile drops to $0.23. Keep in mind that costs will vary based on the current price of gas and electricity prices in your state. 

Benefits of electric cars

We’ve already mentioned that EVs cost less to fuel than conventional cars. Here are some other benefits of EV ownership.

  • Reduced emissions — EVs produce fewer CO2 emissions than conventional vehicles, which is a big plus if you care about cleaner air. All-electric vehicles produce zero emissions — and so do plug-in EVs when running solely on electric power. Hybrid EVs also have emissions benefits that vary by model. 
  • Better energy efficiency — Electric cars are more energy-efficient than those powered solely by gas. The battery of an all-electric vehicle converts more than 77% of energy into vehicle movement; with gas-only vehicles, conversion ranges from 12% to 30%, according to Fueleconomy.gov. That means that, relative to a conventional car, you’re getting more bang for your buck when charging an EV. 
  • Lower maintenance costs — EVs and gas-only vehicles differ in the number of moving parts they possess. Essentially, an EV has a single moving part under the hood: the motor shaft. With a gas-powered vehicle, there are typically hundreds of moving parts. Because of this difference, EVs typically require a lot less maintenance and repairs than vehicles that are solely powered by gas. This makes them less expensive to maintain, with lower ownership costs

Drawbacks of electric cars

As we’ve already discussed, EVs tend to retail for more than comparable gas vehicles. Here are some other drawbacks of EV ownership. 

  • Shorter driving range — Driving range is the distance a vehicle can travel between gas fill-ups or charges. EVs tend to have a shorter range than comparable gas vehicles, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
  • Relatively long charging time — It takes just a few minutes to fill up a car with gas, but charging an EV takes much longer. DC fast chargers can add up to 10 miles of range per minute of charging time; this means that if you were charging an EV with a depleted battery and 200 miles of range, the process would take 20 minutes. Level 1 and Level 2 chargers are much slower. Level 2 charging adds about 14 to 35 miles of range per hour of charging time, while Level 1 charging adds just 3.5 to 6.5 miles of driving range per hour.
  • Less infrastructure — There are fewer public EV charging stations in the U.S. than there are gas stations. That means finding a charging station can be more difficult than finding a place to pump gas. That can be a hassle if you’re on a long road trip or if you don’t have a charging station at home.

Ask an expert about electric cars vs. gas cars

Meet the expert: Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader and spokesperson for Kelley Blue Book, has more than 12 years of experience as an automotive journalist.

When might an electric car be a good fit for someone?

“An electric car would be a good fit for someone who can charge up at home, has an average or below average commute distance, and is in a position to afford an electric car.”

When would an electric car not necessarily be the best option?

“An electric car, currently, won’t work well for someone who is conscious about the overall cost of owning a car. The purchase price and financing charges are important to consider. Buying a subcompact car or a typical hybrid (like a Honda Accord, Kia Niro or Hyundai Kona hybrid) will save you money due to the low purchase price combined with great fuel economy.”

Is a hybrid a good alternative to a fully electric car?

“Yes. Hybrids are excellent alternatives to electric cars since they are more abundant, less expensive to purchase and get exceptional fuel economy — often 50 miles per gallon or better.”

When is the right time to buy an electric vehicle?

“The right time to buy an electric car is when the prices start to drop. This will naturally happen over the next several years as more and more electric vehicles become available. If you just want an electric car because they’re cool, make sure you have a way to charge up at home.”

What’s next?

Whether you’re new to car ownership or seeking a replacement for your current car, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of gas cars and EVs when making your next vehicle purchase. Consider which type of vehicle would be a better fit for your lifestyle. Also, do the math to get a clear understanding of the costs associated with owning electric cars vs. gas cars to make sure it fits in your budget. 

About the author: Warren Clarke is a writer whose work has been published by Edmunds.com and the New York Daily News. He enjoys providing readers with information that can make their lives happier and more expansive. Warren holds a Bac… Read more.