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Plugs vs. Pump: How Much It Actually Costs to Charge an Electric Car

electric car plugged in outside house
How Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Car?SouthWorks - Getty Images

As more electric cars take to the streets, you might be considering switching your current gas or hybrid vehicle to an EV — and one of the first questions you probably have is just how much it'll cost you to fuel up.

Luckily, there's abundant data on car performance and with a some quick math, you can easily ball park how much charging an electric vehicle will cost in order to ensure you find the best car for you. Be aware that there are a couple of variables that'll affect how much charging an electric vehicle might cost you. These factors include:

  • The car's capacity and range

  • How much electricity costs in your house

  • How often you need to charge away from home


Now, let's get into how the math works out.

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How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle at home?

To determine the cost of charging an EV at home, you'll first need to know how much electricity costs in your town, since this varies widely across the United States. You can easily estimate this by looking at your last electric bill.

Divide the total monthly cost by the number of kilowatt-hours you used that month. This is your cost of electricity. Then, multiply this number by the kilowatt hour capacity (how much electricity the battery can hold) of the electric vehicle you're considering. This is the cost per charge.

Cost per charge = (Monthly electric bill price ÷ Energy used per month) × EV capacity

If you know (or can roughly guess) how many miles you drive annually, you can also estimate the cost per year. To do this, divide the number of miles you drive per year by the range of the car (in miles per full charge) to estimate the yearly number of charges you'll likely complete. Multiply this by the cost per charge you calculated above to get the annual charging cost.

Annual charging cost = (Miles you drive per year ÷ Range of EV) × Cost per charge

If you don't want to do the math yourself, the U.S. Department of Energy offers a handy tool that can calculate the annual cost of refueling thousands of different models (including electric, gas and hybrid). Selecting the "personalize" option allows you to adjust variables such as how much different fuel types cost in your area, how much you drive per year and how much of your driving is in stop-and-go traffic, making the estimate even more accurate.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car at a public charging station?

Though most EV owners do the majority of their charging at home, you'll occasionally need to fuel up while away. If you're regularly driving long distances, you may find that overnight charges don't provide you with enough juice to make it to your destinations. There are two options here: upgrade your home to a level 2 charger (which can charge an EV up to 10 times faster than a standard electrical outlet), or fuel up on the road.

It's harder to estimate the cost of charging in public, since it'll depend on the types of services available. Some workplaces, stores and malls offer free charging as a perk or incentive. Other charging stations are owned by networks like Tesla, Blink or ChargePoint, which charge a fee based on the speed of charging, your region and other factors.

Note that public charging stations use level 2 and level 3 chargers, which can be up to 20 times faster than the standard 120V level 1 charging available in a standard garage outlet.

Is getting a level 2 charger at home worth it?

Fully recharging an electric vehicle can take up to 50 hours using standard power. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, level 1 charging typically delivers 2 to 5 miles of driving per hour. So if you allow your car to charge from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily, you'll get somewhere between 20 and 50 miles of range depending on the car's make and model as well as your driving conditions.

While level 3 chargers can be prohibitively expensive for home installation, homeowners can opt to install a level 2 charger, which can fuel an EV's entire battery in as little as four hours. Be aware that a level 2 charger can still be costly — generally between $1,000 and $4,000 for the device plus installation — so you'll want to factor that in. That said, a level 2 charger can definitely save you on costly public charging if you find yourself exceeding your daily charging range.

The bottom line: Is charging an electric car cheaper than gas?

There's a lot of factors that will determine if charging a specific model of electric car is more expensive than refueling with gas, but generally speaking electric charging costs less than gas. However, the ultimate answer to this question is going to depend on electric and gas prices in your region and the specifics of the electric and gas models you're comparing. It's worth taking a few minutes to do some back-of-the-napkin math to determine how much charging an EV will cost compared to your current vehicle if you're considering switching to electric.

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