The year 2021 is an interesting time to be buying a new car. This is quite a unique period where we have three broad categories of vehicle to choose from:
- Battery – all-electric models that are powered by lithium-ion battery packs
- Green – hybrid models that make use of electric and traditional combustion technology, now split into HEV and plug-in HEV (PHEV)
- Gas – “traditional” cars as we have long known them, fueled by gasoline and powered by an internal combustion engine
When choosing between these cars, there are numerous factors you should take into consideration. In today’s blog, we’ll try to explain to you what four of the biggest of those considerations should be:
- Purchase Price
- Fuel Efficiency
- Running Costs Vs. Running Convenience
- Maintenance & Reliability
Right now, these three categories of cars have very different sticker prices, with all-electric models standing out as the clear expensive option. In January 2021, Kelley Blue Book showed and prnewswire.com reported that the average transaction price for a new light vehicle in the US was at $40,857, which is up $2,110 from the previous year.
- Hybrids average at $29,291 according to the same figures
- Electric vehicles currently average at $53,701
- Gas vehicles of course have a wider range, including:
- Compact SUV/Crossover – $30,557
- Full-size car – $40,046
When looking at these numbers, the general picture tells us that if you’re going to opt for the battery option, then you’ll almost certainly be facing a larger sticker price, even after you factor in the potential $7500 federal rebate for electric vehicles. There are cheaper battery options, of course, and the gap continues to narrow, but if purchase price is a defining factor, then it has to be either green or gas as your two main preferred categories.
Gas can be expensive depending on where you live. It’s especially expensive here in California where gas prices are running from $4-6 a gallon on average. Having a fuel-efficient car, then, is a huge advantage. Which of our three categories might win out in this consideration?
According to businessinsider.com, the average gas car in the US is getting about 25mpg. Of course, there are many examples of cars that do better than that, especially when you explore the Japanese and Korean car brands in the marketplace, not to mention European models.
Having said that, none of these cars really compares to the rated miles per gallon of your average hybrid cars. These really do seem to offer the best of both worlds when it comes to urban driving. The 2021 Honda Clarity PHEV (MSRP $33,400) gets 42mpg (110MPGe) and has an annual fuel cost of just $650 according to usnews.com. The 2021 Honda Accord hybrid (not plug-in) manages 48mpg and costs the average user just $750 in fuel each year. For any regular gas sedan, those fuel prices are typically $1100 or more.
|Miles Per Gallon
|Annual Fuel Cost
|2021 Honda Clarity PHEV
|2021 Honda Accord hybrid
So where does battery fit into this? They don’t use gasoline, after all, so how are they measured as miles per gallon? As we touched on above with the PHEV vehicle, electric models get something called MPGe, which is “miles-per-gallon-equivalent.” This is an alternative way to compare the economy of electric and non-electric cars.
The 2020 Tesla Model 3 Long Range gets around 131MPGe, the 2019 BMW i3 gets 113MPGe, and both are beaten by the 2019 Hyundai Ioniq EV which manages a combined rating of 135MPGe. Overall, in terms of efficiency, neither gas nor green can take on that of the all-electric car. Range is still an issue with some electric models, but this problem is diminishing as now most regular new EVs can manage 250 miles of range or more in a single charge.
|Miles Per Gallon Equivalent
|2020 Tesla Model 3 Long Range
|2019 BMW i3
|Hyundai Ioniq EV
3. Running Costs Vs. Running Convenience
Most people imagine that the cost of running a battery car would be much higher than that of a green or gas car. The truth you have to consider in this regard is a bit more complicated than all of that.
Information from thepersonal.com blog clearly states that running a battery car in terms of fueling is much cheaper year on year. As we touched on above, a gasoline sedan can cost $1000 and upward per year just to keep full of gasoline, even with all its improvements in fuel efficiency over the years.
A hybrid car, be it plug-in or regular, will cost about $700-800 per year to keep fueled. That’s a good saving on the gas version, but it still pales in comparison to how much you can save with a battery car. An all-electric car costs between $300-400 per year to keep charged up, especially when you charge at home and avoid peak electricity prices by charging through the night.
|Type of Car
|Cost Per Year to Keep Fueled
So, contrary to popular belief, plugging your car in at home and charging it like your smartphone or tablet is actually cheaper than all those visits to the humble gas station. There is one more factor we haven’t discussed, however, and that’s “running convenience.” While you apparently do pay more to fuel up your gas car, there are other benefits that come with that, namely maximum convenience.
To fuel up a gas or regular hybrid car takes a few minutes maximum. You pull into the gas station, take the pump, fill it up, pay and leave. It’s an easy, tried-and-tested procedure that every driver is familiar with. Sometimes, someone pumps the gas for you! Charging a PHEV or battery model, however, it is quite a different story.
Using a level 1 charger, you can charge a typical PHEV in about 3-4 hours, but for an all-electric battery car it can take 24 hours. Using a level 2 charger speeds that up to about 6-8 hours for a full charge. Using level 3 chargers can add 100-150 miles of range in about 15-20 minutes. No matter how fast the charging sounds, however, it will always be substantially slower than topping up with gasoline.
In terms of running convenience, therefore, gas has the edge over some of the plug-in green models and the battery models. You are now paying a premium for that convenience, but for some that could be what matters most.
4. Maintenance and Reliability
Finally, we come to the consideration of maintenance and reliability. The big advantage that all-electric battery models have in this regard is their lack of moving parts. The annual maintenance schedule of the average EV is completely sparse when compared to that of a gas model. Here are just some of the things that don’t need to happen on an EV:
- No oil changes
- No need to check any belts, hoses, cylinders, etc.
- No fuel injectors or exhaust system
- No gasoline tank or fuel lines
- No internal combustion engine…
These differences automatically make the battery option a low-cost and low-fuss alternative. It’s not to say that EVs don’t have their maintenance issues, but companies like Tesla have been pioneering incredible and innovative new ways to deal with them, namely through over-the-air (OTA) updates.
Where people once thought that such updates were something only able to offer trivial software updates for the car’s infotainment system, Tesla has shown that the scope of OTA updates potentially has no bounds. In 2018, they used OTA updates to fix a mechanical issue with the Model 3’s braking distance. By sending an update to alter the algorithm used to monitor and control braking, they reduced the Model 3’s braking distance.
In the long term, then, the battery option will be the best choice in terms of maintenance. Not only is it already lower maintenance than a gas or green option — hybrid cars still have combustion engines, after all — but the trend of development is showing that sooner or later most repairs can be done without any driver having to even visit local car dealerships.
When things do go wrong on battery cars, however, they can be very expensive. Having to repurpose or replace an EV battery pack, for example, can be very expensive. The Nissan Leaf battery pack can cost in the region of $5,000-6,000, not including installation, if you need to replace it outside of warranty. Minor repairs that keep engines going for years and years are generally cheaper than the few but expensive repairs you might end up having to get on your electric car.
Conclusion: A Summary of Consideration
For Battery options, you have a high sticker price that remains high even when you factor in a federal rebate. That’s the biggest downside, along with the ever-present problem of range anxiety and charging speed and infrastructure. On the plus side, however, the cars are much cheaper to maintain overall with little to no regular maintenance outside of a common annual service. Battery cars are also cheaper to run each year, which helps mitigate initial purchase price over time.
For Green options, you have a nice marriage of both electric and gasoline worlds for the most part. Hybrids are, on average, very affordable to purchase and run, and you get some very impressive MPGe ratings on the PHEV models, as well as decent miles per gallon on the regular hybrid models. When you commute to and from the city, a hybrid is a great choice, its electric motor keeping things cheap in the urban space, and its efficient combustion engine allowing you greater speed and power to get back home in the suburbs.
On the downside, they come with the same high maintenance costs as the Gas options, and the benefits of hybrid technology can only really be felt by those who drive in the cities or in low-speed areas. If you spend most of your time traveling more than 40mph, then you’ll barely register the efficient electric side of your car.
For Gas options, you have higher maintenance and running costs, for sure, but a much better range of purchase prices at the start. There are also many, many more Gas options than either Green or Battery, too. That choice means you can shop around for the best option to suit your needs. What’s more, your fueling might cost more than the Battery option, but the convenience factor is definitely on your side. Filling up your car takes a few moments compared to 20 minutes at the very fastest for EV drivers using expensive DC fast charging in public charging points. The existing automotive infrastructure and culture certainly still favors this choice.
In the end, you have to weigh up the different considerations and make a choice that suits your conditions best.