New AAA Study: Electric Cars Cost More Per Year Than Midsize Gasoline Cars & Crossovers

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The myth that electric vehicles have lower costs continues to be disproven.

The latest reality check for electric vehicle shoppers comes from AAA. The national office has completed a study comparing the annual cost of ownership for all types of 2017 vehicles. Among popular cars and crossovers, the study concludes that electric vehicles cost owners the most money each year to own and operate. The data in the study show that compared to the average small gasoline-powered sedan, the average EV will cost its owner about $21,000 more over a ten year period. Here’s why.

Annual Maintenance Costs

As we have covered in the past, the myth that EVs have dramatically lower maintenance costs is easy to disprove. Almost any comparison of EV maintenance costs done by EVangelists will use out-of-date terms like “tune-up” and include the cost of maintenance no longer done on modern cars, like power steering fluid changes. Modern automobiles that use only gasoline for power are very competitive to EVs in annual maintenance costs. Cars like the Toyota Prius, the top-selling green car, have been engineered to go 10,000 miles between oil changes and have eliminated costly engine maintenance items like timing belt changes.

Every other maintenance-related item — brakes, struts, suspension bushings, wheel bearings, tires, wiper blades — still exists on an electric car, and if you plan to drive it at all, they’ll need to be repaired or replaced with exactly the same frequency.

The AAA study found that the annual average maintenance cost for EVs is $982. For all vehicles, including pickup trucks, the average is $1,186.

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Fuel Costs

Fuel costs are where one would expect electric vehicles to really shine, and they do. Although the cost to power an EV varies significantly from place to place in America, EVs are almost always cheaper to “fuel” than are conventional cars and trucks. However, they aren’t free. The EPA’s site, www.fueleconomy.gov, calculates the electricity cost average for each EV. It ranges from about $550 per year for the Chevy Bolt, to about $750 for the most powerful Tesla Model. Mainstream cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Accord cost owners on average about $650 to $1,200 per year for fuel. EV owners and advocates sometimes pretend electricity is nearly free, when in fact, many owners will find that their electric bill will double when they take home a new EV.

Depreciation

So, if EVs do have an edge in maintenance and annual costs for fuel, why are they so much more expensive to own than gasoline powered cars and crossovers? The main answer is the cost of the vehicle itself. Electric vehicles have the highest depreciation rates among all vehicles, and it is not even close. AAA explains, saying, “In 2017, small sedans ($2,114) and small SUVs ($2,840) have the lowest annual depreciation costs, while minivans ($3,839) and electric vehicles ($5,704) are at the high end of the scale.” High depreciation of EVs is due to a number of factors. Ironically, taxpayer-funded rebates are the largest. Who wants to buy a used EV when a new one can come with up to $10,000 in incentives from state and federal governments? Another “problem” for EVs has been advancements in range. A new Chevy Bolt has nearly triple the range of a BMW i3 BEV from just a couple years ago, and double the range of the current Nissan Leaf. That hurts the resale value of used EVs with shorter range.

EV Future Costs

EV model choices have exploded. In 2017 Inside EVs lists 38 electric vehicles and 14 battery-electric models on sale in calendar 2017. Electric vehicles hold much promise, have declining costs, and in the future will make up a much larger percentage of the U.S. vehicle fleet than they now do. However, to go mainstream, electric vehicles need to have mainstream costs of ownership, and the reality is, they have some ground to make up.

For more information on vehicle costs, please see AAA’s Driving Costs Guide.

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John Goreham

John Goreham