If you ever wondered if you need to pay to charge your electric vehicle, the answer is, it depends.
Drivers love their electric vehicles for their ability to drive green. But, if prodded, they’d probably name the other reason for their adoration: They don’t have to pay for gas when it’s a fully electric vehicle (read more on that in a bit).
That sounds like a solid reason to ditch conventional cars forever. But driving green doesn’t necessarily mean driving free. Read on to find out why.
This article will stick to battery-powered electric vehicles and not hybrids or fuel-cell electric cars (which run on hydrogen).
What you need for charging an electric car battery
Paying for the stable and relatively low cost of electricity to fuel a car instead of standard gasoline seems wise because gas prices fluctuate.
So the question becomes: Is the cost for charging an electric car battery cheaper than gas? Well, it depends. You might consider a few factors before you can nail down how much you need to pay to fully charge your electric vehicle’s battery.
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For example: What is your power source? Keep in mind that different power sources charge at different rates (see more on chargers for electric cars below). And, if you install a charger at home, there’s an upfront charge for an electrician to install the proper power outlet. That is unless you prefer to use a standard three-pronged outlet, and you have one near where you park the electric vehicle.
The different chargers available for electric cars
- A Level 1 charger works just like the three-prong plugs you have at home. It charges using the standard 120 volts.
- Level 2 chargers need to be installed in places where you would usually put larger appliances for a 240-volt power boost. If you take this route, it requires hiring an electrician to install a 40-amp circuit. If you need to calculate the power you can generate this way, multiply your voltage and the number of amps you plan to use. But you can also buy splitters that will let you use 240-volt outlets without fancy setups.
- The fastest Level 3 chargers are typically found commercially, including in public and Supercharger Tesla charging stations. Known as DC fast chargers, Level 3 chargers use direct current at 480 volts and not the lower-level chargers’ alternating current, or AC setup, at most homes. Because of the high voltage and cost of installing DC, it doesn’t make sense to install a Level 3 charger in your home. Also, not all electric vehicles are configured for DC fast charging, though most newer EVs have the software and combination socket that will work with a DC plug.
Cost to charge battery vs. filling up with gas
Fortunately for electric car buyers, you probably won’t have to pay as much for electricity as you would to fill your gas tank. According to AAA, gasoline costs an estimated $2.89 a gallon nationwide as of this writing.
To calculate estimated annual costs, let’s use a simplified example.
- Cost for gas cars: If your gas tank holds 15 gallons, it costs about $43.20 to fill up your car with a tank of gas. If your car gets an average of 25 mpg, you can typically drive about 375 miles on a tank of gas. If you drive 1,125 miles a month, that means you fill up three times to drive that distance. The cost for filling up your car with gas equals $1,555 a year.
- Electricity costs for pure EVs: Electricity costs an average of 13 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) nationwide. Experts say that electric cars typically run about 3 to 4 miles per kWh. So using the gas example, if you drive that same 1,125 miles a month and divide by 3 (conservative miles per kWh), that gets you 375 kWh monthly. At 13 cents per kWh, that comes to $48.75 a month, or $585 annually for the electricity your car uses.
How much does electricity cost where I live?
Since electricity costs vary widely throughout the country, estimating costs can get tricky. People pay just under 13 cents per kWh in the U.S., on average, for residential power. California residents pay more than 21 cents per kWh.
However, residents of states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri routinely pay less than 10 cents per kWh. Check out your state’s average rate. Also, some power companies offer discounts for using electricity during off-peak hours, substantially lowering the rate per kWh.
How powerful is my car’s battery?
If you know your car’s battery capacity (measured in kWh) and how much power your charger uses, you can figure out how long it will take to charge your vehicle. Once you know how long it takes to charge, it will give you a better estimate of how much it will cost to charge it. To get the amount: Divide your car’s battery capacity by the power rating of your car’s onboard charger, then add 10% to the loss of power associated with charging it.
Your car’s maximum charging rate also makes a difference. The amount of energy your battery can accept at once makes a huge difference in how much it will cost to charge up. Although commercial electricity (10.31 cents per kWh, on average, nationwide) often costs a little less than residential power, your car’s maximum charging rate doesn’t change.
So unless you have a large and powerful (and compatible) battery in your vehicle, it isn’t at all a given that you can save time — or money — by charging your battery at a more powerful charging station.
How much power does my charging station have?
Your charging time also depends on the maximum charging rate of the station you use. Although Level 3 direct current fast chargers (DCFC) have popped up with increasing frequency, don’t plan to automatically save time and money by powering up at these 480-volt stations.
Even if your car can charge more quickly, it will only charge at your charge point’s maximum power rate, which can adversely affect charging time, which means you can end up paying more.
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Now that you know how much you can expect to pay to charge your EV, the question remains: How do I pay for it?
If you have an at-home setup, all you have to do is pay to charge your electric car through your monthly electric bill. If you’re paying at a public charging station, you can pay as you go by simply swiping your credit or debit card and paying the specified rate, measured either by a cost per hour or per kWh. Many of these even charge by the minute, and costs vary depending on if you’re fully charging a large battery or not.
Drivers can also buy monthly subscriptions or indefinite memberships to save money. But remember that you don’t have to pay for charging an EV. Companies such as PlugShare provide maps of free charging stations all over the U.S., and some workplaces offer free EV charging stations.
Do you have to pay to charge your electric car?
By doing some research, you can spend less to power up your electric car. The best way to save money is to look for discounts for at-home charging, including those that can help lower your power bill. Some utilities lower electricity rates for consumers who charge an electric car at night.
Otherwise, with a bit of planning, you can try to master the labyrinth of free charging stations using sites such as ChargeHub. But at some point on a road trip, for example, you’ll probably need to pay to charge up. So keep that in mind.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.