Why You Should Buy An Electric Car Even When Gas Is Cheap

February 26, 2016
Jeff Brown, MD

Low gas prices ought to be bad news for the electric car market, but there's a strong case for going electric even at a time of strikingly low gas prices.

Buying a car at a time of unbelievably low gas prices—the height of folly, you say. I love the rumble of my V-8, the power, the perfected engineering of 100 years’ refinement of the internal combustion engine. Aren’t electric cars for eco-green wussies?

Not so fast, says Jim Gorzelany of CTW Features. First of all, consider how distinctive electric cars are. Here in Silicon Valley it is of course de rigueur to drive a Tesla, the highest rated automobile ever tested by Consumer Reports. They are beautiful, efficient, and also the fastest accelerating vehicle, ever. And they have not been seen in most of America yet. Impress your friends!

Next, even with gas at 20-year lows, electricity is still much cheaper. If gas remains at $2 a gallon, you would save hundreds a year in fuel costs, more—much more—when gas goes up again. Save even more if you recharge at night when rates are the lowest.

It is mildly amazing, but the government will pay you to buy one. The Feds allow you a whopping $7,500 credit and some states will help even more. Colorado leads the pack with a big $6,000 credit. If you buy a smaller cheaper car than the Tesla, such as a Nissan Leaf, the best-selling “EV,” you may be surprised at your small outlay. They start at $29K this year and you could be looking at a new, cheap to operate, distinctive car for close to half-price after the government credits. Even better, two- to three-year-old used ones are available for as little as $10,000.

You will save time as well by not having to look regularly for a gas station, and stopping to fuel up. You’ll also save by avoiding impulse buys there like pine-scented mirror dangles and dyspeptic Slim Jims.

A major, under-appreciated source of savings is the sharply reduced maintenance costs. As reliable as modern gas engines are, they are quite complex and when they do require work it gets pricey fast. Ford estimates a $1,275 savings over time by avoiding oil and spark plug changes etc. And they admit this while they are trying to sell you a gas-engined car!

Readers of PMD know that all things economic go through cycles (real estate 2008 anyone?) and when gas inevitably shoots up again, drivers of EVs will look like the smartest people in the room. Your savings will jump from hundreds per year to, who knows, thousands for big vehicles?

The biggest knock against EVs has been the paucity of charging stations. Yes, technology is advancing so that longer battery life will now carry you 200+ miles per charge. If you are just driving to work and doing errands around town, no problem—charge up every night in your garage and you are worry-free. But what about that long trip you’ve planned, or what if you just forgot or were in a hurry and didn’t charge?

The good news is that public charging stations are proliferating. The Department of Energy estimates that there about 12,000 already up and running in the US. Locally, all new multi-unit buildings, airports, garages, etc. are now required to have charging stations installed. And the price for putting one in your own garage has plummeted with increasing volume.

Lastly, with mileage targets agreed to by the automotive industry going to 50 mpg(!) in the next few years, there will be many more models available and more pressure to both sell them and for us to buy one. With electric computerized, drive-themselves cars in the offing, many of us will be at a tipping point to make the revolutionary shift. It’s inevitable, so why not lie back and enjoy it?