What’s more expensive to drive over 5 years? An electric or gas car?

gas cars vs electric cars more expensive

If you're in the market for a new car, you may be tempted to trade in your gas-guzzler for an electric car. While this may be the greenest option, price-conscious shoppers will likely find the fuel-powered option to be their best bet over time.

When you compare an electric vehicle with a fuel-powered car, "EVs are almost always more expensive than a comparable gas vehicle," says Carroll Lachnit, features editor for car-shopping site Edmunds.com.

Not convinced? insuranceQuotes.com turned to the experts and did the math to see which cars make a bigger dent on your wallet.

Find comparable cars.

Finding two cars to equally compare isn't always so simple because electric vehicles are rarely base models; they typically have more features than their base-model counterparts. As a result, they're usually more expensive than similar gas-powered cars.

To gauge the costs of two similar cars, Lachnit suggested looking at the 2015 Ford Focus Electric  and the 2015 Ford Focus Titanium, the highest trim level of the gasoline-powered car.

Start with the cost.

2015 Ford Focus Electric: $29,170 starting manufacturer's suggested retail price.
2015 Ford Focus Titanium Sedan: $23,170 starting manufacturer's suggested retail price.

Right off the bat, buyers of the electric car will likely contend with a higher sticker price. However, Ford Focus Electric buyers may get a federal tax credit of up to $7,500,  which could bring the cost of the Focus Electric down to $21,670 if you qualify for the entire credit.  

The credit is based on your tax situation (you must have a tax bill of $7,500 or more in order to qualify for the entire credit) and the size of the car’s battery. The larger the battery the larger the credit.

Some states also offer rebates and tax incentives that can be used on top of the federal rebate. For example, California's Alternative Fuel Vehicle Rebate Program offers up to $2,500 to buyers of electric vehicles. But even though you may get a tax break for your Focus Electric purchase, you still have to finance – and pay interest – on the full sticker price, Lachnit says.

Consider the fuel.

One of the most widely touted benefits of electric cars is that they don't require you to pay at the pump. Instead, they’re charged by plugging them into an electric outlet or charging station.

Electric cars are the hands-down winner in the fuel department since electricity costs for charging are minimal, says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director for Kelley Blue Book, a source of vehicle appraisal data.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, running a car with gasoline costs about three times more than using electricity, though costs vary by state and the current cost of gas.

The combined fuel economy for the gas-powered Focus is about 31 miles per gallon. The Focus Electric uses 32 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 miles, which is the equivalent of about 105 miles per gallon of gas. According to the Department of Energy, you would save about $3,750 on fueling the electric car over five years.

However, electricity isn't your only cost when it comes to powering the electric car. If your electric car has a large battery and you use it frequently, you’ll need a charging station to charge larger batteries in a timely manner.

Charging stations cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, Lachnit says.

You may also need to hire an electrician to install it, Nerad adds.

While there are public charging stations that let you pay to charge your EV when you're on the go, there are many locations such as workplaces and shopping centers where people can charge their electric cars for free.  

Figure in car insurance.

Many factors, such as your driving history, age and geographic location impact the cost of auto insurance. A 2014 study by CoverHound Insurance found that drivers of electric cars save about $200 a year when they switch from a gas-powered car to an electric vehicle. 

A number of factors could contribute to that including the fact that electric vehicles tend to be less powerful and driven fewer miles than their fuel-based counterparts.

Also, some insurance companies such as The Hartford, Farmers and Travelers offer EV buyers a discount on auto insurance of up to 10 percent.

Edmunds’ True Cost to Own calculator tracks how much car owners can expect to pay over time.

The calculator takes into account cost differences in different parts of the country so the numbers may vary by ZIP code. According to Edmunds' True Cost to Own calculator, the owner of a Ford Focus Electric in ZIP code 20774 might spend $12,334 on insurance over a five-year period compared with $13,556 for the Focus Titanium.

Depending on where you live, you may also need to buy additional home insurance coverage if you have an electric vehicle. For example, in Oregon and California, drivers with electric vehicle charging equipment installed may be required to carry additional liability insurance, according to the American Association of Insurance Services.

Don't forget maintenance and depreciation.  

If you buy an electric car, you don't have to worry about oil changes and low transmission fluid. However, if you need to replace the battery pack that runs the car, you could be looking at prices upward of $10,000

Because electric cars haven't been around long enough for us to know how long batteries will last and how the cars will stack up for the long haul, their value depreciates much faster than their gas-fueled counterparts, Lachnit says.

For example, if you live in ZIP code 20774, Edmunds projects that the gas-powered Ford Focus Titanium will depreciate by $10,987 in five years while the Focus Electric will depreciate by $17,189.

The bottom line: When you factor in the sticker price, depreciation and replacement battery costs, electric cars are really not less expensive than their gas counterparts, Nerad says. 

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