How Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Car?

Learn your different EV charging options and how to calculate costs.

Close up of a charging electric car.
Charging an EV is easy. Calculating its cost takes a little practice. Scharfsinn86/ Getty Images.

One of the leading obstacles potential buyers of electric vehicles (EVs) have is uncertainties about how charging works and about what impact it will have on their budget and on their lives. Fortunately, learning how to analyze the cost of charging can actually turn that obstacle into an incentive. EV charging is almost always less expensive than fueling a gas-powered vehicle. In some instances, it can even be free. 

The challenge with wrapping one's head around EV charging is the diversity of options. Usually the only decisions a driver makes about fueling a gas-powered car are which gas station to patronize (based on price and convenience) and what grade of gasoline to use. We are comfortable with considering miles-per-gallon estimates when we consider buying a gas-powered car. Suddenly, with an electric vehicle, all the calculations change. But once one wraps one's head around the new calculations and settles into new fueling habits, EV charging is inexpensive and easy.

Measuring the Cost Per Charge

You may know what a gallon of gasoline currently costs, and you may know how many miles per gallon your vehicle gets. To determine how much an EV owner pays per charge, you need to know how many kilowatt-hours an EV uses per mile and what a kilowatt-hour costs.

What Is a Kilowatt-Hour?

A watt is a unit of power, whereas a watt-hour is a measure of how much power is used. If you leave a 100-watt light bulb on for one hour, you have used 100 watt-hours. If you leave the light on for 10 hours, you have used 1000 watt-hours, or 1 kilowatt-hour, abbreviated as kWh.

How Much Do You Pay for Electricity?

Most likely, you pay for electricity based on how many kWh you use each month. Examine your electricity bill, and you can find the cost per kWh. The national average is around $0.13/kWh. If you charge an electric vehicle at home, calculating the cost of a single charge means multiplying the number of kWh used to charge the battery by the cost per kWh. So if an EV owner charges the battery with 25 kWh and pays $.10/kWh for electricity, the owner will pay $2.50 to charge the battery. 

How Much Electricity Does an EV Use?

To calculate the real-world cost of charging an electric vehicle, you need to know how efficient the vehicle is in using electricity. This is measured in kilowatt-hours per 100 miles: how many kWh does an EV consume in driving 100 miles? This figure is the equivalent of miles per gallon (or rather gallons per 100 miles). For example, if an EV has an efficiency rating of 25 kWh/100 miles, it can drive 4 miles on a single kWh. With a 50 kWh battery, that same EV has a maximum range of 200 miles. 

The average American daily commute is almost 40 miles. In theory, an EV with an efficiency rating of 25 kWh/100 miles would use 10 kWh per day. If that EV owner pays $.10/kWh for electricity, then they are spending a dollar a day on fuel. “Your mileage may vary,” as they say. In a gas-powered car, MPG ratings are higher for highway driving than for city driving, since gas cars waste more gasoline idling in stop-and-go city traffic than they do on highways. For electric vehicles, it's just the opposite: EVs use very little energy idling but are constantly using power on highways, so city driving is more efficient than highway driving. 

Efficiency Rating of Popular Electric Vehicles
Model (2021 model, unless noted)  kWh/100 miles
Audi e-tron 43
Ford Mustang Mach-E 33-36
Nissan Leaf 30-32
Kia Niro EV (2020) 30
Chevrolet Bolt EV 29
Hyundai Kona Electric 28
Tesla Model Y 27-30
Tesla Model 3 25
Source: Edmunds, “Best Electric Vehicles for 2021,” February 25, 2021.

Different Costs for Different Ways to Charge

Approximately 80% of EV charging is done at home, making it easier to calculate your monthly charging costs. But many people lack accessible home charging; some have commutes that require them to charge at work; others take advantage of free charging stations in shopping centers; while still others charge at high-speed charging stations near highways while on long-distance trips. So the actual cost for charging an electric vehicle depends on where (and when) the charging is done. Here are the methods ranked from least to most expensive:

  • Free. It is almost impossible to get gasoline for free, but many businesses try to attract customers by offering free electric vehicle charging. The charging rate is often slow, called Level 1 charging, which provides the same 120-volts that come from an ordinary home outlet.
  • Off-peak at home. Some utilities charge less for off-peak electricity when demand is low. Fortunately, most charging is done at home overnight, when rates are low.
  • On-peak at home. Even on-peak or flat-rate electricity charges are cheaper than prices paid at public charging stations. 
  • Level 2 public charging stations. Level 2 charging provides 240 volts: the same as what a clothes dryer uses. Infrequent public charging is pay-as-you-go; for regular use, public charging services offer monthly subscriptions at lower rates.
  • High-speed public charging. This is usually done where charging time rather than cost matters most. High-speed charging stations can deliver anywhere from 50KW to 250KW (even higher in rare cases). Not every electric vehicle can accept the full power that high-speed chargers can offer, so EV owners may be over-paying for a service that they can't fully take advantage of.

Cost of Charging vs. Price of Gas

Calculating the ultimate cost of charging an electric vehicle thus depends on many variables. But in a realistic scenario in which most EV charging is done at home and public fast charging is limited to six times per year, a 2020 study by Consumer Reports concluded that fueling an electric vehicle costs 60% less than fueling a comparable gas-powered car.

Like electricity costs, gasoline costs vary from state to state. In early April 2021, for example, gasoline in California cost an average of $3.91 per gallon, while in Mississippi it cost $2.59. By comparison, the U.S. Department of Energy calculates what an “eGallon” costs in each state.

What's an eGallon?

An eGallon is the amount of electricity an EV would need to travel the same distance as a similar gas-powered car.

In late March 2021, the lowest price for an eGallon in the United States could be found in Oklahoma, at $0.81, while in Hawaii (the most expensive state), an eGallon cost $2.65. In every state in the United States, EV charging was always far cheaper than gasoline.

The average car in America uses 474 gallons of gasoline annually. In California, that gas car owner would pay $1,853.34 per year for gasoline. In Mississippi, they would pay $1,227.66. By comparison, an EV owner in California would pay $881.64 to drive the same number of miles, while an EV owner in Mississippi would pay $483.48—roughly half the cost in each case. Over the average lifetime of a vehicle (11.6 years), a California EV owner would save $11,271.72 at current gas and electricity prices, while an EV owner in Mississippi would save $8,632.49. When calculating the total cost of owning a car, fuel-cost savings alone make a $40,000 electric vehicle roughly comparable in price to a $30,000 gas-powered car.

Equipment Costs for Charging at Home

Consumers should consider not just charging costs but potential costs for charging equipment needed. For the majority of EV owners, that cost is zero, since most electric vehicles are charged on a simple 120-volt outlet. Charging is done overnight, and the owner wakes the next morning to a fully charged car. But for times when faster home charging is needed, a 240-volt Level 2 home charging station can cut charging times significantly. A Level 2 charging station (or EVSE, for electric vehicle supply equipment) can cost from $500 to $2,000 before installation. Fortunately, there are federal tax rebates available, as well as state and utility company incentives in many areas. Still, if a high-speed public charger is nearby, it may be significantly less expensive to charge at a public charging station for those few times a year when time is of the essence. 

Money-Saving Charging Tips

  • For safety reasons, EV charging slows down dramatically for the last 20% of the battery capacity, so if you're paying by the minute at a public charging station, save money by stopping charging when your battery reaches 80% full.
  • Most electric vehicles have dedicated phone apps that allow you to choose your charging start and stop times. Match those times to when electricity rates are lowest in your area.
  • Save money by pre-heating your car on winter mornings while it is still plugged in, rather than heating it from the battery while you are driving.
View Article Sources
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