Plugging in Your Car Is Cheaper Than Pumping Gas in California’s Largest Cities

New Study Shows Electric Vehicles Cost Less to Operate, Maintain Than Conventional Cars

Published Nov 22, 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. (November 28, 2017)—It’s much cheaper to charge a car than fill it with gasoline, according to the study “Going from Pump to Plug: Adding up the Savings from Electric Vehicles,” released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today. The analysis compared electricity rates and gasoline prices in 57 cities around the country. The study shows that electric vehicle drivers could save from $440 to more than $1,070 a year in fuel costs if they switch from gasoline-powered vehicles to the average new electric vehicle.

Drivers in San Jose whose electricity is provided by PG&E could save $881 a year, while drivers in Los Angeles with Southern California Edison could save $884 each year and those with L.A.’s Department of Water & Power could save $571. Drivers in San Francisco whose electricity is provided by CleanPowerSF could save the most, over $1,070 per year. To capture these savings, electric vehicle drivers must be on their utility’s time of use rate plan. These types of plans have lower rates overnight when demand for power is lowest.

“In every city we looked at, electric drivers saved significantly by switching from gasoline,” said David Reichmuth, senior engineer at UCS and author of the new study. “For many people, electric vehicles are cheaper to fuel, cheaper to maintain, and are becoming cheaper to buy.”

Even at today’s relatively low gas prices, drivers can save by going electric. And while electricity prices are relatively stable, gas prices have historically been volatile. While the price of a gallon of gasoline has ranged from less than $2.00 to more than $4.50 over the past 15 years, the cost of electricity equivalent to a gallon of gas has only varied between $0.88 and $1.17 during that time. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey shows the risk of sudden swings in gas prices—the price spike resulting from the damage done to oil infrastructure in Texas cost America’s drivers an extra $3 billion in just four weeks.

The amount drivers can save by going electric varies from city to city, and the new report details these savings for each of the 57 different cities studied. Across the country, electric vehicles also offer significantly lower global warming emissions than comparable gasoline vehicles.  

In addition to the money drivers can save from plugging in their car at home instead of filling up with gasoline, the study also examines the costs of public charging versus home charging. Public charging costs can vary widely, from free to the same or more than gasoline prices. However, given the vast majority of electric vehicle charging occurs at drivers’ homes, public charging costs have only a small impact on overall savings.

“Most electric vehicle owners charge at home, but investments in public charging infrastructure are crucial if we want to ensure recharging is affordable and electric vehicles are practical for all Californians to drive,” said Reichmuth.

In addition to fuel savings, battery electric vehicles also are much cheaper to maintain than traditional cars. With fewer moving parts and no need for oil changes, these electric vehicles can cut maintenance costs by more than half.

While the sticker price for electric vehicles may be more than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles, falling battery costs and rising production are pushing purchase prices down making electric vehicles increasingly affordable, especially when federal and state incentives are available. Most Californians may qualify for a state rebate of at least $2,500 for models like the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Bolt. Some buyers of electric vehicles may qualify for up to $7,500 off their federal tax bill, though that credit would be eliminated if the recently passed U.S. House of Representatives tax bill is signed into law. 

“Electric vehicles can be really good for consumers and manufacturers are beginning to offer them more electric options,” said Reichmuth. “But at the same time that we are excited to see the market growing, we must strengthen and expand state and federal policies that make electric vehicles affordable and charging infrastructure accessible for all Californians.”