I was one of the first buyers of a Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle when mass production first began in 2011. I’ve owned the car now for over five years. As a frugal dude, I look back on my purchase as generally a poor financial decision… mostly because buying any new car is a poor financial decision. However, in my case, my EV has been less expensive to own than a comparable conventional gas car. The car itself has been a great car. It is easily the nicest car I’ve ever owned, and, like most EVs, it is a true pleasure to drive. This post details the costs to drive an electric vehicle over five years of ownership:
I purchased the car new, without financing. In hindsight, it would have been better to lease the car. You can drive an electric vehicle for much less if you lease it, rather than buying it, but that’s a subject for another post. I didn’t understand that at the time. I’ve always stuck with conventional wisdom that leasing is more expensive than buying, so I bought mine. Here’s what I paid in 2011:
|Gross Cost of Car (including sales tax and registration)||$37,802.61|
|Less Federal EV Tax Credit||($7,500)|
|Less California EV Rebate||($2,500)|
|Net Cost of Vehicle, after taxes||$27,802.61|
I have the Leaf SL model. Prices today are roughly the same as they were in 2011, although the current models come with a few more bells & whistles.
You need somewhere to plug in your car. Some EV owners pay for a dedicated charger in their garage, and others do not. You can plug your vehicle into any standard 110w electric outlet, and it will charge….. very slowly. Or, you can install a dedicated 220w charger. You can buy a charger on Amazon for a few hundred dollars, which allow you to fill up much faster. They can be plugged into any 220w outlet, which most houses have for the washer/dryer, often in the garage. If you don’t have a 220w outlet in the garage, you would need to hire an electrician to install one, if you want a charger. This is what I did.
As an early adopter, I was able to take advantage of a now-expired federal program that covered the cost of the charger. I just had to pay for installation of the 220w line. The charger I got was supposedly worth about $1,500. Today, you can get much less expensive chargers. My charger was overpriced, but since the gub’ment was paying for it, I didn’t mind.
To install the charger, I hired an electrician to wire a dedicated line from my fuse box through my attic to my garage. The electrician also installed a separate electric meter for my charger, so that my vehicle was not on the same meter as the rest of my house. I did this to take advantage of some very favorable Time-of-Use electric rates that my electric company was offering at the time. (More on that later). All in, the cost to install a new electric meter, and the dedicated line to the garage in my case, was $686. Over five years, the cost of installing my charger is $137 per year.
Electricity Costs to Drive EV in Southern California
So, what does it cost to operate? For the first few years that I had the car, I had a very advantageous Time-Of-Use electric rates at my utility. This allowed me to charge at night at very low rates. I had to install a dedicated electric meter to participate in the program, but it was worth it. The Time-of-Use rate meant that I had low rates at night, and much higher rates during the day. So I made sure I only charged at night. Here’s what it cost during the first few years:
My Electric Rates 2011 – 2014
|Electric Rate||Cost per Kwh||Miles Per KwH||Cost Per Mile|
Note: The 3.6 miles per KwH is what I’ve consistently experienced over 5 years of driving my Nissan Leaf
Most of us are used to thinking in terms of dollars per gallon of gasoline. Here are some comparable numbers for gasoline-powered cars:
Equivalent Costs of Gasoline Vehicles
|Cost of Gas per Gallon||MPG of Car||Cost Per Mile|
You can see that conventional gas cars tend to cost around $0.10 to $0.20 per mile. So, charging my electric car at night for $0.03/mile is considerably cheaper than most conventional cars. However, day-time charging at $0.09/mile was not such an advantage.
But that was a few years ago. What has happened in the last few years? The cost of gasoline has declined, and the cost of electricity in So. Cal. has risen. Here’s what I pay in 2016 to drive my EV:
My Electric Rates in 2016
|Electric Rate||Cost per Kwh||Miles Per KwH||Cost Per Mile|
So, the night charging in 2016 still costs about half of what you might pay to drive a similar conventional vehicle, but the day-time charging now costs about the same as a conventional vehicle, or possibly even higher, depending on what type of vehicle you compare to. I live in California, which has some of the highest electric rates as well as the highest gasoline prices in the country. So, the comparison be different where you live. You’d have to compare your own local electric and gasoline prices.
I’ve driven my EV 39,000 miles over the first five years. At my initial electric rates, it cost me $225 per year to drive 7,500 miles. Now, with higher electric rates, it is costing me about $450 per year to drive the same number of miles. It is still cheap, but the savings over gasoline is much less than it once was.
Here’s where an EV truly shines. An electric vehicle motor is immensely more simple than an internal combustion engine. As a result, there are very few things that can go wrong with it, and there is very little maintenance required. There is no motor oil, and no oil changes. Checkups are generally a waste of time – they’ll just look at the wires and measure the battery. You can easily do this yourself. In fact, I only had the following expenses for my EV over 5 years:
- New windshield wipers: $22
- Replacement tires: $450
- New windshield (mine got a crack in it): $275
That’s it! I have also rotated tires a few times, but I’ve never had to pay for it. So, that’s all-in maintenance costs of $747 over 5 years, or about $150 per year. I’ve driven 39,000 miles over the first 45 years. Try beating that with a conventional car!
Here’s where it gets ugly. If you recall, my cost to purchase the EV was $27,802.61. Today, if I were to sell my car, I probably could only get about $6,000 for it. Electric vehicles depreciate much faster than conventional vehicles because their batteries degrade, like your cellphone does. My Nissan Leaf lost nearly 30% of it’s battery capacity in the first 5 years. This kind of battery degradation is a killer for your resale value.
That means I’ve lost $21,803 of depreciation over 5 years, or about $4,360 per year. That’s insane! This is why leasing an EV is actually cheaper than buying.
Let’s compare this to what I consider to be comparable conventional vehicle: a 2011 Nissan Altima SR, with an MSRP of $25,110. Add California sales tax, and let’s call it $26,993. After 5 years and 39,000 miles, what can you sell it for today? Using the same assumptions as my Nissan Leaf, the Kelley Blue Book private sale price is about $10,300 today. So the Altima would have cost only $16,693 in depreciation, or about $3,339 per year. That’s a savings of over $1,000 per year in depreciation compared to the EV.
Charging At Work
Just last month, my employer installed some free electric chargers at work, which is a nice benefit for me. I am now able to charge at work during the week for free, and I only pay for the electricity I use on the weekends. However, regardless of how little I now charge at home, there is a fixed electric charge to maintain my meter. I still have to pay this regardless of whether I charge at home or not. Having the free charger at work has reduced my electric bill by about $15 per month, or $180 per year, effectively cutting my annual cost of electricity for the vehicle by about 40%. If you have an employer that offers free charging at work, this does help generate more savings with an EV.
I previously mentioned that my EV battery had degraded by about 30% in the first five years. It turns out this was enough to trigger a warranty claim at Nissan. I have to admit that I was secretly hoping for the battery degradation just so I could get a new one. Nissan replaced my battery for free with a brand new one just this last August. I qualified for the replacement in the very last month of my 60-month warranty. Awesome! The new battery gave my car a longer range, and probably increased the resale value a bit, probably by $1,000 – $2,000. Thanks to the new battery, I might be able to sell the car for $8,000 now instead of $6,000.
My Total Costs to Drive An Electric Vehicle
In summary, here is what it costs me to drive 7,500 miles per year in 2016 in Southern California (ignoring the fact I now get free charging at work, and ignoring any added resale value I may get from the new battery).
Current Costs To Operate In 2016
|Depreciation of Vehicle||$4,360|
|Depreciation of Charger||$137|
|Total Annual Cost||$5,372/year|
How does this compare to conventional vehicles? Here is a somewhat apples-to-oranges comparison of the 5-year cost of ownership of some similar vehicles. It’s not an entirely equivalent comparison, but it does give us a ball-park idea of how the EV matches up:
My 5 Year Cost of EV Ownership Compared to Other Vehicles
|Car||5 Year Cost of Ownership|
|My Nissan Leaf||$25,814|
|Nissan Altima SR||$32,645|
|Honda Accord LX||$30,585|
|Toyota Corolla L||$26,246|
Source: Kelley Blue Book
EVs Can Be Less Expensive, But Only If You Drive A Lot or Keep It Several Years.
By my experience, driving an electric vehicle such as the Nissan Leaf is perhaps a bit less expensive than equivalent conventional vehicles, depending on your situation. I have to note that this is largely due to the huge $10,000 EV tax credits I received when I purchased my car. If for whatever reason you are unable to take those tax credits, then the EV cost of ownership becomes much less attractive.
If you drive more than I do, you can have larger savings, because EVs are cheaper per mile driven. I should also note however, the depreciation costs of EVs are high. If you only own the vehicle for a few years, it will likely cost more than a comparable gasoline car. The longer you own, and the further you drive, the more savings you will realize with an electric vehicle.
Update (August 2017): I finally sold my EV. Now that I know the final sale price, here is my updated EV total cost of ownership.
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