Let’s explore how electric cars can save you money and where they might actually cost you more.
Electric car maintenance
Gasoline-powered cars have a lot of intricate moving parts. In fact, a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE) can have 100 times as many moving parts in its drivetrain as an electric car. All of those parts require maintenance and upkeep, including regular oil changes and larger maintenance needs at regular intervals to service belts, timing chains, spark plugs and more.
Of course, EVs still wear out tires, brake pads, windshield wipers and other common components, so they’re not maintenance-free. The U.S. Department of Energy determined that, on average, an EV costs 4 cents less per mile to maintain if you factor in all scheduled services. That adds up to $4,000 in savings if you keep an EV for 100,000 miles.
And that number only takes into account regular service, not milestones like a 100,000-mile service that can cost several thousand dollars or other repairs and maintenance issues that can arise with gas cars. A recent report found that the average “check engine light” repair cost was $400 in 2022 and that the most common repair was a catalytic converter replacement at a cost of over $1,300. With fewer moving parts, EVs have fewer parts that can fail and incur large repair bills.
But even with all the added upkeep gasoline cars require, there’s one big variable for EV maintenance that concerns a lot of potential buyers.
EV battery replacement cost
Electric car batteries gradually lose their ability to store charge over time, meaning less driving range as the vehicle ages. Eventually, batteries will need to be replaced due to loss of capacity or for other reasons. This cost will come later in the vehicle’s life and is unlikely to affect the original owner.
The federal government requires that EV batteries be warrantied for a minimum of eight years or 100,000 miles, and some manufacturers offer more, up to 10 years and 150,000 miles. That warranty includes replacement if your battery capacity drops past a certain percent, usually 70%, of the original capacity. On average, electric cars lose about 2% of their capacity per year, so you probably won’t need a replacement during the warranty period. New-car buyers keep their cars for an average of about eight to nine years, so they’re unlikely to have to deal with battery replacement at all.
What about people who plan to buy or own an EV that’s 13 to 15 years old? In 2022, the average price for an EV battery was $153 per kWh. That means even a relatively small battery, like the 40-kWh battery pack in a standard-range Nissan Leaf, could cost more than $6,000 to replace. That’s a significant added cost.
The good news is that battery prices have fallen a lot, coming down almost 90% since 2008, according to the DOE. Many people expect prices to continue to fall, but even at half the current price, there’s no question that a battery replacement is a pricey proposition.
Ultimately, even with this added cost factored in, an EV can be cheaper to maintain over its lifetime than an ICE vehicle. The contrast is the relative certainty of battery replacement costs by 200,000 miles versus the uncertainty around what major mechanical repairs an ICE vehicle may need in that same period. Owning a car with over 100,000 miles is always going to come with more maintenance costs, EV or ICE.
Electric car fuel costs
Fuel is one of the major potential cost savings for EV owners, but how much you’ll save depends a lot on how and when you charge your car.
Charging at home is the surest way to save. In December of 2022, average residential electric rates hit almost 15 cents per kWh. The average observed efficiency of EVs that have undergone Edmunds’ real-world range test is about 32 kWh/100 miles. That makes for a cost of $4.80 to travel 100 miles.
Over that same time period, gas averaged about $3.45 per gallon. That means that if you wanted to pay the same amount for 100 miles of travel in a gas-powered car, you’d need a car capable of returning almost 72 miles per gallon. The average EPA-estimated fuel economy of new cars is closer to 25 mpg, making for a cost of $13.80 per 100 miles.
So an EV would save $9 for every 100 miles driven, or put another way, it would save the average American almost $1,300 in fuel costs annually. Of course, utility rates and fuel prices fluctuate both over time and regionally. Read our deep dive into the cost of charging an EV to learn more.
If you use public DC fast chargers, the equation changes, especially with time-of-use rates. Using a Level 3 charger during peak hours can cost 45 cents per kWh or more, especially if you’re not subscribed to a charging plan and charge as a guest. That triples the cost per 100 miles when compared to home charging, reaching $14.40 at 15 cents per kWh — more than our example gas vehicle. Subscribing to an EV charging network and charging off peak can potentially lower that cost to less than $7 per 100 miles of range, so it is still possible to use public fast chargers and save.
To figure out if fueling an electric car will save you money, you need to ask where you’ll do most of your charging. If you can charge overnight at home, an electric car will almost certainly cost less to fuel than even the most efficient gas vehicle.