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The hidden costs of owning an electric car

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After buying my first fully electric vehicle (EV) in 2019, and upgrading to a new one this year, I’ve learned a few things about the costs of owning an electric car.

First, the good news: the cost of owning an electric vehicle is, in my experience, at least the same as owning a comparable gasoline vehicle – if not lower. Despite the higher purchase price, my EV costs 80% less in fuel and requires far less maintenance than my gas-burning car ever did.

There are costs associated with an electric car, however, and they can be hard to spot. If you’re thinking about going all-electric, here are some of the hidden costs to keep in mind.

Key takeaways on electric vehicle ownership

  1. Buying an electric car can save you money on fuel, but there are a few hidden costs you should be aware of before making the final decision. 

  2. Hidden expenses can include the vehicle's luxury features, the charging cost, the need to upgrade your home's hydro, the required maintenance, as well as a potential increase in your auto insurance premium. 

Most electric cars come with luxury features as standard

One of the ways car dealers negotiate is through trim levels and packages. Traditionally, cars have a base model with few bells and whistles and a low price tag, and then several additional trims that slowly add on features and costs.

This is not the case for electric cars. At least for now, EVs are almost always at the highest trim level and there’s no way to negotiate a lower price by leaving out premium features.

For example, Kia offers 5 trim levels for the gasoline Soul. The base model costs $21,295 and comes with basic features like cloth seats, an automatic transmission and antilock brakes. The top trim lists at $29,395 for premium features like a heads-up display and cooled seats.

On the long-range electric version of the Soul, however, those premium features aren’t optional. There’s only one trim level with 380km of electric range, and it costs $51,995. While you might happily give up rain-sensing wipers and leather seats to save some money, that simply isn’t an option.

Charging costs more than you might think

While electric cars are far more economical to drive than their gasoline-fuelled counterparts, it’s easy to forget that you’re paying for fuel when you’re not at a gas station watching the numbers tick up on the pump.

My Kia Soul EV uses, on average, 20 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to travel 100km. When I charge my EV at home, where electricity costs approximately 14¢ per kWh during off-peak periods, it costs approximately $2.80 to add that amount of charge. During peak hours, when hydro costs closer to 23¢ per kWh, it costs approximately $4.60.

Based on Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) benchmark of 20,000km driven per year, that means home charging costs me between $560 and $920 per year, or approximately $50 to $75 per month.

Charging away from home, however, is a more expensive endeavour. My latest charge at a public level 2 charger (the kind that can charge your car from 0% in around 10 hours) worked out to 43¢ per kWh, or $8.60 per 100km.

A recent stop at a level 3 charger (the kind that can charge your car in an hour or so) cost me 48¢ per kWh, or $9.60 per 100km. In other words, a road trip from Toronto to Montreal and back exclusively using level 3 chargers would cost about $104 – not much less than the same trip using gasoline.

You may need to upgrade your hydro service

When charging at home, I use the level 1 charger that came with my car. A 12-hour charge overnight adds enough to the battery to go about 70km. A full charge takes around 60 hours.

Those numbers work for me, but they won’t work for every EV owner. To get the most out of your electric car, you may need to install a level 2 charger that can fully replenish your battery overnight.

At a minimum, this requires buying a level 2 charger and hiring an electrician to place a 240-volt line to install it. If your current setup can’t support the extra power draw, you may also need to upgrade your breaker panel or even the service and meter from your utility. The total cost to install a level 2 charger could range from $2,000 for a simple install up to $9,000 where major upgrades are required.

Maintenance is still required

An EV doesn’t require an oil change but does need regular maintenance nonetheless. An annual “EV checkup” at the dealership is recommended and can include jobs like filter replacements, fluid top-ups and flushes, tire rotation, and brake replacements.

You’ll also find your tires need to be replaced more frequently because EVs are heavier and deliver instant torque. It’s also recommended to use low rolling resistance tires and lightweight wheels which add to the overall cost.

Fortunately, the one component that doesn’t require much maintenance is an EV’s high-voltage battery. Newer EV batteries are designed to last the life of the vehicle and most come with a warranty of at least 5 years and 160,000km.

You may pay more for car insurance

While having an electric motor doesn’t directly affect your car insurance premiums, an electric car may cost more to insure if it’s more expensive to repair or replace.

For example, an electric Ford F150 costs about $30,000 more than a comparable model with a gas engine. Your insurance company has to factor in the extra cost to them if the vehicle were to be stolen or destroyed, meaning your premiums will be higher.

Note that some insurance companies offer a discount for zero-emission vehicles that could offset some of that cost. Whenever you’re buying a new car, be sure to compare electric car insurance quotes online to get the best price for the coverage you need.

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The bottom line

I’m happy with my electric vehicle. It’s fun to drive, and far more economical than gas despite the hidden costs.

If you’re considering an electric vehicle, I recommend it. But keep in mind that you’ll pay more for luxury features you might not want or need which could also translate to higher insurance costs. And while you’ll spend less overall on fuel and maintenance, operating an electric vehicle isn’t a free ride.

Also read

The ultimate Canadian car buying guide

The best time to buy a car in Canada

How to check insurance before buying a car