“Honey, It Will Pay For Itself…”

Sparky Arrives 004

You can have various reasons (rationalizations) for wanting an electric car. No pollution coming out of a tailpipe. Sticking it to Big Oil. Being part of cutting edge technology. In my case, wanting to replace a thirty-year-old car.

But the big question is, how much will it cost to drive? The window sticker of a Rolls Royce will say 14 miles per gallon city and you can easily see that at 33 miles per gallon, a Chevy Spark is a lot cheaper to operate. But electric cars get infinite miles per gallon, using no gas at all. The window sticker had some number with “MPGe” after it, which requires a physics degree, some other price information, and a laptop to turn into some kind of number that might make sense. Trigger warning, we will be using mathematics.

Let’s make it easy. Here’s a graph of what it costs to drive your car. Each line on the graph represents a car getting the listed miles per gallon. The scale along the X or horizontal axis is the price of gas. Put your finger on the price of gas, read up to the line that is closest to your car’s miles per gallon, then go to the left. The number in the Y or vertical axis is how much it costs in gas to drive 25 miles. For example, if gas is $1.50 a gallon, and your car gets 30 miles per gallon, it costs $1.25 to drive 25 miles. This will be your reference to see if saving the planet also saves something in your bank account.

sparky graph 1

Below is a graph I made for Sparky, my Ford Focus Electric. Sparky takes 6.6 kilowatt hours (what we’ll use as the electrical equivalent of gasoline) to travel 25 miles. What does the power company charge for power? Check your bill. Yes, it is on there somewhere. Even better is to take the total bill including all fees and divide it by the kilowatt hours used. That will be the number running along the X or horizontal axis. Trace that up to the blue line, and the number on the Y or vertical axis is the cost to drive 25 miles.

sparky graph 2

My electricity, all in, costs about $0.14 per kilowatt hour. That means it cost me $0.91 to drive 25 miles.

My aging Fiero got 20 miles per gallon. At $1.75 a gallon, it cost $2.19 to drive 25 miles.

Damn, electric cars should make everyone rich!

Only with these economics. Los Angeles electric rates can be over $0.21 per kilowatt hour plus fees. Gas could move to under a dollar a gallon. In fact, at $1.50 a gallon, the 50 mpg Prius is less expensive to drive than Sparky, unless my electric rate drops below $0.11 per kilowatt hour. So you need to factor in a lot of real world numbers to see if an electric car saves money. And just because it does this year, doesn’t guarantee that it will next year.

But there is one more number to calculate. Maintenance. Spark plugs, tune ups, air filters, oil changes, radiator flushes, transmission filters, brake pads. That kind of stuff adds up.

Just not in an electric car. It doesn’t have any of those things. It is like the toy electric car you bought your kid, just bigger. That toy didn’t have a transmission dipstick, did it? In fact, the only Ford recommended service is to change the battery coolant fluid at 100,000 miles. End of story.

So it’s possible that all the environmental and cost rationalizations we just went through won’t be what sells you on an electric car. You might just get one because you are too lazy to get scheduled maintenance done on your gas-burner.

Whatever moves you.