Proponents of electric vehicles are quick to shout their praises. But while there are several quality-of-life improvements that come from making the switch to EVs, there are some downsides. Charging is a significant concern for anyone with an EV because some areas have severely limited public charging locations. In many cases, charging takes much longer than refueling, but people often overlook the cost. So, the logical question is: How much does it cost to charge an electric car? The answer, as is so often the case, is that it depends. But there’s some pretty easy math that will help you figure it out. So let’s take a look at that math.
Before we begin, do know that some automakers offer free charging, but most drivers have to pay. How much your expenses vary from gas vehicle ownership depends on your driving habits and other factors, but we will cover the basics here.
How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle?
Electric vehicles use batteries to store energy instead of a gas tank for fuel. Kilowatt-hours are the unit of measure for that energy, so a helpful tool for understanding could be to view a kWh as being similar in concept to a gallon of fuel. One way to think about charging costs at home is to divide the miles driven by three, as most mainstream electric cars tend to average around three miles per kWh. That makes the math relatively easy. For example, if you drove 15,000 miles in 2022, you traveled roughly 1,250 miles each month. That translates to around 417 kWh of electricity, which at $0.15 per kWh (which is about average for home electricity in the U.S.) would cost about $63. A gas vehicle traveling the same distance will use about 42 gallons of fuel if it averages 30 mpg. At $3.50 per gallon, that’s $147. Score one for EVs.
Of course, electricity rates can vary wildly from state to state, and even from month to month. That means the cost of charging an electric car will also vary from state to state. As of the time of this writing, North Dakota has the cheapest residential electricity rates in the country, at $0.0962 per kWh (based on the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration). Hawaii has the most expensive rates at the moment, with an average of $0.4478, followed by New Hampshire at $0.3092.
A simple way to calculate the cost of charging an electric vehicle for a specific vehicle is by using this equation:
Battery Capacity (kWh) x Electricity Cost (per kWh) = Charging Cost
Using this formula, we can easily calculate the cost to charge a couple of the most popular EVs on sale:
The quick math shows how wildly costs vary from place to place, making it difficult to nail down charging expenses. The current national average is $0.1496 per kWh, so average charging costs for the EV6 in the U.S. add up to $11.58, and charging the Model 3 costs $12.27. When making comparisons, be sure to remember that the cost of gasoline or diesel fuel also varies wildly from state to state, so you’ll have to do some math tailored to the state in which you live in order to figure out how much savings you’ll get with an EV. Generally speaking, however, you will have lower running costs with an electric car you charge at home than with a gasoline- or diesel-fueled vehicle.
Charging at home also requires a charger and upgraded electrical wiring to handle the load. The charger costs between $300 and $1,000, and installation can cost much more than that if the home needs an electrical service upgrade or significant wiring. However, home chargers are the most convenient and consistent way to charge EVs, so the costs are worth it for most people.
Charging on the road is a bit more confusing. Brands sometimes charge different amounts and offer varying speeds, some of which may cost more than others. Additionally, some charge by the minute, while others offer per-session or per-kWh charges. Depending on the station, you may be required to download an app for billing and charge tracking, while others allow charging with just a credit card swipe.
Prices for public charging vary wildly, especially from state to state. Local electricity rates play a significant role, but the charger’s owner also has a hand in setting prices. If the charger is in a location such as a shopping center or business parking lot, you may also see idle fees, which are intended to deter people from leaving their cars plugged in when they’re not around. You can see the pricing of any particular charger from the provider’s app or website via their charging map.
Factors that impact range
Electric vehicle range is impacted by many of the same factors that affect fuel economy in gas vehicles. The driver’s habits behind the wheel are the most critical factors in determining range. If the EV owner drives aggressively with a lead foot, the vehicle won’t return the best efficiency. As you’re surely aware, the same is true of a traditionally fueled vehicle. Driving smoothly and calmly is the best way to extend range.
Range is also tied to efficiency. If an EV is huge and not very aerodynamic, its range will suffer, and the owner will pay more to charge. The GMC Hummer EV, for example, returns around 47 MPGe, while the Chevrolet Bolt achieves 120 MPGe. The EPA judges one gallon of gasoline as equivalent to 33.7 kWh and bases its estimates on that math.
Temperature also impacts range to a high degree. Passengers require heat and climate controls in cold weather, which can drain the battery faster. Charging may also be slowed while the battery’s thermal management works to precondition the cells. At the same time, the reactions inside the battery are slowed when it’s cold out, which can impact range by as much as 40% in extreme cases.