Turbulent gas prices have people wondering if it’s time for them to buy an electric vehicle and get off gas entirely. But can you really save money by charging an EV at home compared to paying the going rate at the pump? The short answer is absolutely yes

But, nothing is perfect, and there is a caveat: their high initial cost. With that said, let’s examine the possible savings and other benefits from driving an EV over standard gas-powered cars.

Key takeaways

  • The electricity needed to run an electric car is cheaper than the equivalent amount of gas in all 50 states.

  • The EV version of the Ford F-150 can save owners $1,000 to $2,000 or more on annual fuel costs, while more efficient EVs can still save $1,000 or more over comparable cars.

  • Unfortunately, most EVs cost quite a bit more than most gas cars, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate the net savings from switching.

  • The best ways to combat climate change are still the ones that conserve energy - carpooling, limiting trips, taking public transportation, and riding a bike or e-bike for short trips.

The cost of gas in 2022

Gas prices are high, and they’ve been high for a long time. Even before the war in Ukraine, the national average cost of a gallon of gas spent much of 2021 and early 2022 between $3.00 and $3.50. Add in the recent instability, and prices have spiked to a national average of over $4.30.

Here’s a graph from AAA showing the national average cost of a gallon of gas between January 1st, 2019 and mid-March 2022:

national gas price comparison chart 2019 to 2022

The chart shows how gas prices dipped during the early part of the pandemic, then recovered strongly going into Spring 2021, as many people became vaccinated against Covid and returned to more normal activity levels. Again, through Summer 2021 and mid-February of 2022, gas prices remained between $3.00 and $3.50.

At an average of $3.25/gallon, the cost to drive a Ford F-150 for 15,000 miles in a year is $1,950 (the F-150 is the USA’s most popular vehicle). The F-150 gets 25 miles per gallon, meaning 600 gallons in a year. A single fill of its 26-gallon tank would cost $84.50.

At the current price of $4.32/gallon shown in the chart above, that fillup now costs $112.32, and it would cost nearly $2,600 to buy all the gas needed in a year. 

Hopefully prices won’t stay this high for very long.

Gas cost for fuel-efficient vehicles

Despite being the most popular vehicle in the USA, the F-150 accounts for only about 3.25% of sales. Many people choose more fuel-efficient vehicles like the Honda Civic and Toyota Camry, which together account for about 4% of sales. So let’s look at the cost of gas for people who drive these cars, as well.

At a fuel efficiency of 32 mpg, the Civic 5Dr (AV-S7) and Camry LE/SE eke out 28% more miles for every gallon of gas than the F-150. At this efficiency, they need 469 gallons of gas to travel 15,000 miles.

At $3.25/gallon, these cars cost about $1,525 per year to drive. If gas were to stick at the $4.32/gallon level, that cost would amount to $2,026. That’s $574 cheaper than an F-150, but still quite expensive. 

The hidden costs of gas cars

In addition to the cost of gasoline, cars have lots of moving parts involved in combustion and propulsion. At the most basic level, these parts need regular lubrication. That’s between 3 and 4 oil changes per year, which adds up to another $225 - $300, at $75 a pop for full synthetic. DIYers can of course get by with reducing this cost.

A cost that cannot be reduced by a skilled home mechanic is the social cost of carbon. That’s the cost to the environment and the economy of adding another ton of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. It’s expressed as a present value dollar amount based on a discounted analysis of all future costs associated with the pollution.

Some internal combustion vehicle owners might not want to hear it, but experts agree that the social cost of carbon is equal to about $50 per ton of CO2, when factoring in the impact of that carbon on the world economy.

At 8,887 grams of CO2 per gallon, an F-150 produces 5.33 tons of CO2 per year, costing the world $267. The Camry and Civic drivers of the world each produce 4.17 tons of CO2, costing $209. The owners of these cars will only end up paying a small amount of the cost their pollution causes, but the costs will be paid all the same, over the coming decades. 

The cost of electricity

Like gasoline, electricity prices vary widely based on the state, from very cheap in places like Louisiana and Mississippi to very expensive in California and much of New England. Also like gasoline, electricity is associated with carbon pollution.

Unlike gasoline, electricity can be made cleaner. Every state has its own fuel mix for its electricity sources, but no matter the mix, pumping, refining, transporting, and burning gasoline is extremely more polluting than emissions from the electricity necessary to do the same amount of work. Also unlike gasoline, electricity prices are relatively fixed (unless you are a subscriber of a bad rate plan in Texas during a grid emergency), and they take many months of planning and deliberation to change.

Finally, in perhaps the greatest practical benefit, there is likely a reliable, effectively endless source of electricity within a few feet of you at any given time, especially if you live in a city or suburb.

The cost of charging an EV

Charging at home is one big advantage of EVs. Another, as you’ll discover, is that you can travel the same distance for much cheaper in an EV. Let’s look at California, one of the most expensive states for electricity.

At $.24 per kWh, it would take $31.44 to charge (or “fill”) the 131 kWh battery of the long-range Ford F-150 Lightning EV. Ford says you can travel 300 miles on that charge, which is 2.29 miles per kWh. At that range, you’d need 6,550 kWh for 15,000 miles in a year, costing $1,572. Electricity for a year of driving in the F-150 EV is over $1,000 cheaper than gas for the regular F-150

In a state like Florida, where prices hover around $0.12/kWh, the F-150 Lightning costs just $786 to drive 15,000 miles per year, nearly 2,000 cheaper than its gas-guzzling counterpart.

Electricity for efficient EVs

In order to compare similar vehicles to those we covered above, let’s look at the costs to drive a Tesla Model 3. Tesla’s smallest car compares very closely in size with the Honda Civic (the Camry is a touch larger) but offers much more horsepower than either car covered above. 

The Model 3 comes standard with a 54 kWh battery that is EPA-rated to get 267 miles of range. That’s 4.94 miles per kWh, meaning the Tesla Model 3 would cost $729 per year to charge at home in California, and just $364 per year to charge in Florida. 

Considering California gas prices were in the $4.00 to $4.50 range before the war in Ukraine, the cost to charge a Tesla for a year is just about one third of the cost to fuel a gas car. Compared to combustion cars in Florida, where gasoline averaged $3.25 a gallon through 2021, charging the Tesla saves you $1,161 per year. 

Bottom line: is an EV really a better deal?

The numbers used above look only at the cost to fuel a car or truck with gas vs charging with electricity at home. 

Not included is the cost of charging at off-peak rates in all states, which can be extremely cheap (think $0.07/kWh), or the cost of charging on the road, which can vary from quite expensive to completely free, depending on where you’re going. But the fact remains that real people have saved thousands of dollars by going electric. 

Also not included are a bunch of other important factors. First and foremost when discussing the value of an EV, is the cost of the car. EVs are more expensive than their fossil-fueled counterparts, and not by a little. 

The monthly payments on a 72-month loan are nearly $3,600 more expensive per year for a Model 3 than a Camry. And choosing an extended-range F-150 Lightning XLT over a similarly-appointed gas version will cost you $5,700 more per year, for 6 years. These expenses more than negate the savings in fuel costs.

There are many arguments why the EV versions are better, and may even be worth the extra expense. They have more power, more storage capacity, and can even be used to power your home in the event of an outage. But the fact is, they’re still too expensive, and have gotten even more expensive since the pandemic started. And that’s if you can even find one to buy.

EVs are scarce, partly due to the pandemic, but also because car companies didn’t realize how much demand there was in the marketplace until it was too late. Now we have a few expensive EVs that are just barely available. 

Gas cars cost more to fuel, but for the most part they are still slightly cheaper overall. EVs are easier to maintain, last longer, and do more, but they also cost more than most non-luxury vehicles. 

As more EVs come onto the market and prices start to moderate, it’ll be important to consider one for your next vehicle.

What else can you do?

So what should people do if they can’t deal with the high cost of gas? Unfortunately, we’re all going to have to return to the frugal habits we learned in the middle of last century. Carpool, limit car trips, take public transit if it’s available. 

Finally, consider that the best electric vehicles to help you overcome high fuel prices might have two wheels instead of four. E-bikes may not have the towing capacity of an F-150, but most people don’t need that to commute to work, anyway.