How Much Can You Save on Gas with EVs, Plug-ins, and Hybrid Vehicles

Kia Niro charging
Image courtesy of John Goreham

The most recent spike in gas prices has many Americans considering making the switch away from a conventionally-powered vehicle to a greener, more fuel economical option. The great news for those starting this search today is that there are more solutions than ever to high fuel costs. Every manufacturer is in the process of rolling out more and better hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric vehicles. Car Talk’s staff tests EVs on a daily basis. We’ve tested all of the popular models and we can help narrow down your energy saving vehicle choices based on your needs and wants.

How Much Can I Save By Buying A Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, Or Battery-electric Vehicle?

Buying a vehicle with a green powertrain can save you thousands of dollars per year in fuel costs. You are likely to save money on maintenance and repairs as well. Furthermore, many green vehicles come with a federal income tax incentive of up to $7,500 plus state rebates or incentives up to $2,500. Incentives vary by brand and model.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of how much a person can save on fuel alone. Our chart uses data taken from the EPA and represents average savings. Your miles driven and local energy costs will vary, but the overall message is the same.

Crossover SUV ModelAnnual Energy Cost Per YearTen-Year Energy Savings

*Annual energy cost assumes 15,000 miles driven per year and uses national averages for energy costs.

Minivan ModelAnnual Energy Cost Per YearTen-Year Energy Savings

*Annual energy cost assumes 15,000 miles driven per year and uses national averages for energy costs.

Car ModelEnergy Costs Per YearTen-Year Energy Savings

*Annual energy cost assumes 15,000 miles driven per year and uses national averages for energy costs.

As you can see, the ten-year energy savings from green vehicles are substantial. As you move away from a conventional gasoline powertrain to hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and then battery-only powertrains, the savings grow step by step. The battery-electric saves the most money on energy, but in many cases, the increasing efficiencies also come at a cost.

Be sure to compare a new vehicle similar to the one you may use as a reference point. Modern vehicles of all types are very energy efficient by comparison to older models. Comparing your old pickup to a new battery-electric compact crossover may provide a shocking amount of savings, but the better comparison is to a new vehicle of that body style or type with a green powertrain.

The Green Car Purchasing Process

Whether you are looking for a pet, a new car, heck even a new partner, the process begins by considering what you want. What works for you and your lifestyle? Just as an American shorthair cat may be a better option for a small urban apartment than a malamute husky, green vehicles come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. Each has the right formula for the right owner. There is no “best” green vehicle. Don’t let the folks with agendas get you too worked up. If you want to save a meaningful amount of cash on fuel this year and keep a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere while doing so, there are many types of green vehicle choices that will do this. Not just one.

What to Consider Before Shopping For a Green Vehicle?

Let’s start with you and your lifestyle. Before we get too far, will your green vehicle be the only car in your household, or will it fill just one of many spots in your driveway? Some electric vehicles are ideal for certain missions. Other green cars are much more flexible, but not the best at everything. Do you want a small hatchback, a crossover, a fuel-sipping sedan, or a performance sedan? These are the main choices in the green vehicle market today. Trucks are coming late this year.

Hybrids are the simplest solution. Look at the huge difference in energy savings when we compare the two top-selling minivans above. We chose a 10-year savings for our chart, but over the life of a new minivan, let’s say 20 years, the difference in fuel costs between the Odyssey with its conventional V6 vs. the Sienna with its standard hybrid powertrain is a whopping $23K. That’s about half the cost of the vehicle. And there is really no compromise. The powertrain in the Sienna is perfect for its mission. You can even opt for all-wheel drive.

Many battery-electric cars and crossovers are difficult for a single-vehicle family or owner to live with in certain circumstances. Winter cold reduces range and prolongs charging times. That makes road trips a bit of a challenge and towing becomes impractical. Nearly every battery-electric vehicle lacks a spare tire, yet every top-selling car and crossover is still equipped with one. All-wheel drive electric crossovers are available, but their cost is far from that of a popular conventionally-powered crossover of similar size. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids can bridge the gap in lifestyle challenges and cost.

Plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the Toyota RAV4 Prime are an appealing choice. In 2021, Toyota’s plug-in hybrid RAV4 outsold every battery-only crossover in its price range. In other markets, such as in Europe where government mandates are ahead of America’s, the Ford Escape plug-in hybrid (Called Kuga in that market) is hugely popular. These vehicles allow owners to drive electric nearly all the time, but at a lower cost. We have tested multiple plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles such as the Ford Escape PHEV and never used gas in a week of driving. In other cases, we have taken PHEVs on road trips to rural areas and seen 45 MPG using only gasoline on a long trip. Choose the green vehicle that suits your lifestyle.

BMW i4 charging outside
Image courtesy of John Goreham

Can You Charge At Home?

The biggest and easiest filter when sorting out the vast field of green vehicles is whether or not you can charge your vehicle at home. Meaning in a space that only you have access to. If you live in an apartment or condo and don’t have access to a charger of your own, Car Talk is not going to suggest a battery-only vehicle. Almost all EV owners primarily charge at home. If you wish to build your life around charging in public, feel free, but we drive EVs every week and participate in a lot of EV fan clubs. Trust us. If you can’t charge at home, and rely on a car to commute and take you places daily, a hybrid is the better solution.

The Three Basic Options - Hybrid, Plug-In Hybrid, and Battery-Electric

Among the available options to you as a green vehicle consumer today, there are really just three main choices and each has its strengths. Let’s take a 30,000-foot look at each type of green vehicle and Car Talk will list a handful we feel are among the best in the market. If you don’t see your personal preference, it’s not that we didn’t like the model. We may have simply opted to list a similar example from a brand we have tested and found to be among the best in its individual segment.

Hybrids

Hybrids use only gasoline as input energy. You don’t plug them in. Hybrids are in their fourth decade of robust sales in America. They are among the lowest-cost type of vehicle to maintain and operate, and many are also the most reliable vehicles overall. One plus; brakes last longer because hybrids use regenerative braking to slow the vehicle and recapture energy otherwise wasted. Most modern hybrids also use a more modern gas engine design with much lower maintenance than engines have in the past.

Best Hybrids Available Now

ModelBody StyleAnnual Energy Cost*MPGReal World Price Range

*Annual Energy Cost Courtesy of EPA. Varies with time according to real-time energy costs.

** Ford Maverick Hybrid Orders Resume Summer 2022.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrids take many forms. The best of the bunch have more than enough all-electric range to get you to and from work, or to conduct your normal weekly driving without using any gas. When you want to head to your vacation spot they can operate as hybrids, and you needn’t worry about charging on your longer trips. Like hybrids, PHEVs have proven to be very reliable and they are very low cost to maintain. Most of the high-cost maintenance components have been engineered out. Things like timing belts, accessory belts, starters and alternators are all gone. Like hybrids, brakes last longer, and your maintenance will be reduced to one or two stops at the shop each year for tire rotations, an oil change and a state inspection.

Best Plug-in Hybrids Available Now

ModelBody StyleAnnual Energy Cost*MPGe / EV RangeReal World Cost Including Incentives

* MPGe stands for Miles Per Gallon Equivalent

Battery-Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

Battery-only vehicles are now produced at nearly every price point by nearly every manufacturer. They are fun to drive, low maintenance, and they use only electricity, so you can kick gas to the curb. However, they have limited range by comparison to hybrids and PHEVs. They also have a few quirks such as no spare tire, and a general dislike for cold weather.

Best Battery-Electric Vehicles Available Now

ModelBody StyleAnnual Energy Cost*EV RangeReal World Cost Including Incentives

Where Should I Look For My Next Green Vehicle?

Vehicle shortages are ubiquitous today, and affordable green vehicles are in even shorter supply. Hybrids are more attainable for the most part. Toyota sold about 150,000 RAV4 Hybrids last year. By contrast, Ford could only manage to build about 25,000 battery-powered Mustang Mach-Es.

Start your search locally and speak to some local dealers or retailers. Find out what may be practical from a purchasing standpoint. Markups are a reality for all vehicles, and green vehicles are among those with the highest dealer markups. The days of MSRP or less are on hold until further notice. More realistically, many green vehicles you may read about or find interesting may be sold out for the foreseeable future or simply not in production. For example, Ford is not presently taking orders for its outstanding Maverick Hybrid pickup. Nobody owns a Tesla Cybertruck. GM’s outstanding Bolt EUV is off the market due to a recall and battery supply chain shortage. What few battery-electric vehicles are being sold are almost all pre-orders. Most have months-long lead times.

What Costs Are Associated With Owning a Green Vehicle?

Electrified vehicles of all types tend to be the most powerful and most enjoyable to drive in their class. The added torque from their electric motors makes driving very satisfying, even thrilling. The silent operation is fantastic. However, there is more to owning a green vehicle than just savings at the pump and a bit more oomph. Almost all buyers of affordable EVs want to save money overall.

The good news is the savings are real. Plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles have been compared to conventional vehicles in studies and they are neck and neck in total cost of ownership. Lower maintenance, lower cost of fuel, and a solid resale value for popular models are all realities that help make green vehicles more affordable.

Have you ever noticed how many Uber and Lyft drivers opt for a Prius hybrid? That’s no accident. Reliability and uptime are vital to those who make a living driving, and the Toyota family of hybrids has proven to be low in cost over the long haul. The Prius has one of the longest stretches of perfect reliability scores at Consumer Reports of any vehicle in history. Our next section helps explain one special cost to be prepared for.

Will My Battery Die and Cost Me More Than I Will Save?

Green vehicles, whether they be hybrids or battery-electric vehicles come with a battery designed for the life of the vehicle. Many Prius owners report well over 300,000 miles of operation without needing to replace the high voltage, a.k.a. traction battery. Tesla has proven beyond a doubt that a battery-electric vehicle can last just as long as a conventional vehicle and never need a new battery. To help consumers manage this concern over new technology, all automakers provide warranties on the traction battery of 10 years or more. Many battery warranties last as long as 150,000 miles.

What Should I Get Before Buying A Green Vehicle?

If you want to own a plug-in vehicle of any type you need an at-home charging setup. If your home has a modern electrical service panel and there is room for a new 220 V circuit in that panel, your costs are very manageable. Perhaps $500 for the electrician to run a line to the garage and perhaps $500 for a new Level 2 charger. If you already have a 220 V circuit in the garage you are in luck. It can almost certainly be repurposed. Many local utilities and some automakers offer rebates or programs to help with the cost of your charger.

If you own an older home with an old panel you may need to upgrade. An electrician can tell you this with a quick visit. Adding a modern electrical service and an EV charger or two is home equity you will almost certainly gain back when you later sell that property.

Aside from adding the charger, you should subscribe to every public charging-related app that exists. Plugshare, EVgo, ChargePoint, Electrify America, and any others that exist in your region.

Last but not least, have a tire failure plan. Calling AAA sounded like a quick and easy solution until COVID and worker shortages resulted in long wait times and new rules that excluded riding in the cab of the tow truck to get home. Here are Car Talk’s tire failure planning suggestions.

How Much Does Charging An Electric Car Cost?

Charging an electric vehicle is an odd experience. On the one hand, it is simple. You plug it in. On the other hand, there are a lot of rules and best practices around public charging. For example, electric cars gain back range relatively quickly and affordably on the fastest public chargers until they reach 80% state of charge. Then they slow down quite a bit and can’t suck up the electrons at the same pace. At chargers where the cost is by the minute this can result in some expensive charges.

However, almost all EV owners charge almost all the time at home. This means your cost will depend on your electricity provider. In almost all parts of the country, it is cheaper to charge an EV than it is to buy gas. However, look at the cost to put gas in a Prius Prime in areas where electricity is expensive and gas not so much, and you find the difference is very slim. One great thing about plug-in hybrids is that if cost is your only concern, you will always have the best option available to you.

Charging is also free in some places. However, these options don't provide a lot of electricity. Most of the free charging we have found is at Level 2 chargers in retail parking lots. We recently parked at Target near Metro Boston and plugged in a Hyundai Ioniq 5 battery-electric vehicle. We then had a coffee. In 25 minutes we unplugged and found we had added 7 miles of range in those 25 minutes. Free miles, sure. But a total of 7 of them.

Many automakers include a period of included charging at fast chargers. This is great. Particularly if those chargers are near you or on your normal route.

Our charts above provide real examples of the cost to charge an EV. You can look up your vehicle at www.FuelEconomy.gov to see how it compares and contrasts to other similarly sized vehicles.

What To Expect After Buying a Green Vehicle

What we find most interesting about testing hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric vehicles is that they are so easy to adapt to. The hybrids are exactly like regular cars, but usually have a bit more power and they are quieter. The plug-in hybrids are fun to drive when the electric battery is available, so it helps motivate you to plug it in each time you park it at home. The battery-electric vehicles are the most fun to drive and feel the most satisfying in all types of scenarios. We find that our impressions are almost entirely positive. Try a green vehicle and we bet you will have the same experience.

Read our recommendations on the Best Tires for your EV here.

FAQ

How much can I save on fuel if I switch to an EV?

EVs can save you thousands of dollars per year on fuel by comparison to similarly-sized conventional gasoline-powered cars. This helpful site lists the costs per year for energy of all vehicle models making comparison simple. In addition, Consumer Reports estimates the cost of maintenance and repair for a plug-in vehicle is about half that of a regular car.

Are Plug-in Hybrids really EVs?

Yes and no. Plug-in hybrids like the top-selling Prius Prime earn MPG ratings as high as EVs. Crossovers like the RAV4 Prime can travel around 40 miles on a charge, getting you to and from work using only electricity. However, when their EV range runs out, you can simply drive on, and they operate as hybrids offering class-leading fuel economy.

Do plug-in hybrids have the same maintenance and repair costs as EVs?

According to a study by Consumer Reports, plug-in hybrids do offer the same cost per mile advantages for repairs and maintenance as full EVs. Hybrids also offer reduced costs for maintenance. Many hybrid models lead the industry in reliability.

Do I have to have a home charger to own an EV?

No, but most EV owners charge most of the time at home. Charging in public is more difficult and time-consuming than refueling a gas-powered hybrid.

Which brands have the best EVs?

Tesla is far and away the volume leader in EV sales, but their entry-level car costs about 50% more than a similarly-sized hybrid sedan at over $48K. Its least expensive crossover costs double what a hybrid crossover does and starts over $64K. Among the top-selling affordable EVs are the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Hyundai Ioniq 5. Toyota has the top-selling plug-in hybrids in both the car and crossover segments.

Can hybrids match the cost per mile of energy that EVs have?

Hybrids now offer fuel economy ratings over 50 MPG. In areas where electricity is expensive and gas is not above the national average, like in Boston, hybrids can offer a cost per mile of energy comparable to EVs. However, where electricity is inexpensive, EVs always have the edge.

Will my EV battery die and cost me more than I save on gas?

No. EVs are designed with batteries intended to last the life of the vehicle. Most EV brands today offer 10-year battery warranties.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.

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