December 8, 2022

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automotive

Don’t Swap Your Gas-Guzzler for an Electric Vehicle to Avoid High Fuel Prices

This story is part of Plugged In, CNET’s hub for all things EV and the future of electrified mobility. From vehicle reviews to helpful hints and the latest industry news, we’ve got you covered.

There are plenty of great reasons to consider an electric vehicle. They usually offer stellar performance, they’re smooth and quiet to drive, you can do much of your “refueling” at home (meaning you never have to visit a gas station unless you need snacks or a bathroom break) and they have zero tailpipe emissions. But despite their considerable advantages, EVs still aren’t for everyone, and they don’t always make the most economic sense.

If you tow earth-moving equipment or haul gravel for a living, you’re probably going to want a heavy duty diesel-powered pickup, because today’s EVs aren’t going to cut it. Likewise, if you reside in an apartment and don’t have a parking space, much less a garage with a Level 2 charger, an electric vehicle may be a hard sell. But what if you’re looking for relief from high fuel prices? EVs cost way less to “refuel,” though they are often quite expensive upfront.

Let’s say you own a midrange, Lariat-trim, 2022 Ford F-150 with four-wheel drive, the lovely 2.7-liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 and a standard 10-speed automatic transmission, a popular pickup configuration in the US. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this big bad truck stickers at up to 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined; frightening figures compared to a Toyota Prius, but everything is relative. For a full-size truck, this rig is actually quite economical.

Electric vehicles offer instant torque for speedy acceleration. 


Nick Miotke/CNET

But what does it cost to fuel this full-size truck each year? Well, let’s do a little math to figure it out. (Scary, I know!) According to AAA, at the time of writing the national average price for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline is about $4.24. This varies wildly from state to state: In California, the per-gallon price is around $5.88; on the opposite coast in Maryland, it’s a much more reasonable $3.80. As reported by insurance comparison site The Zebra, Americans drive an average of 14,263 miles each year. To keep things simple, let’s round up and say you travel 15,000 miles annually in your F-150 and average 21 mpg doing so (the EPA estimate). Dividing 15,000 by 21 means you’re burning about 714 gallons of dinosaur juice per year. There are myriad variables on top of that, but we can simply multiply 714 by 4.24, which works out to an annual fuel bill of about $3,028. Ouch.

Now let’s compare that traditional, combustion-powered pickup to the exciting, all-electric F-150 Lightning. In midrange XLT trim with the extended-range battery pack, this truck offers an estimated 320 miles of range. As for efficiency, this version of the Lightning should return 78 mpge city and 63 mpge highway, scores that result in a combined rating of 70 mpge. For reference, mpge is a way of quantifying how much energy is in a gallon of gasoline; it works out to about 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Next, according to the Energy Information Administration, the national average residential cost of electricity in the US was 13.72 cents per kWh in January 2022; we’ll round up and say 14 cents per kWh. The Lightning’s large battery pack clocks in at a husky 131 kilowatt-hours, so multiplying that by 0.14 means it would cost about $18.34 to completely recharge this truck from 0 to 100%. This is not something most people will ever do, because who wants to roll up to a charger with zero range? (Also, if you use public chargers, you’ll probably be paying a lot more for the privilege.) Still, this is illustrative of how affordable it is to run an EV.

The Kia EV6 is one of our favorite new electric vehicles.


Antuan Goodwin/CNET

But now let’s calculate how much it costs to run the Lightning for a year. We could base this off the EPA’s estimated 48 kWh/100-mile efficiency figure, but let’s do it just like we did with the standard F-150 above. Taking 15,000 miles per year and dividing that by 70 mpge, the combined “fuel economy” rating of this vehicle, gets you 214 “gallons” of electricity. Next, multiply 214 by 33.7, the equivalent number of kWh per gallon of gasoline and you get about 7,221 kWh. Multiply that figure by $0.14 and the result is roughly $1,011 in electricity per year. This is very close to the EPA’s estimate of $950.

So, if it costs $3,028 to run the conventionally powered F-150 15,000 miles each year and just $1,011 to power the Lightning, the all-electric model is only one-third as expensive. The annual difference is a not insubstantial $2,017. What could you do with an extra two grand each year?

Combustion vs. Electric

2022 Ford F-150 Lariat 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning XLT 2022 Honda Accord Sport 2022 Kia EV6 Wind
Vehicle Details 4WD, crew-cab body, 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 5.5-foot bed 4WD, crew-cab body, 5.5-foot bed, 131-kWh long-range battery FWD, 1.5-liter turbo-four, continuously variable transmission RWD, 77.4-kWh long-range battery
Range (miles) Up to 546 320 Up to 488 310
City Efficiency (mpg or mpge) 19 78 30 134
Highway Efficiency (mpg or mpge) 24 63 38 101
Combined Efficiency (mpg or mpge) 21 70 33 117
EPA kWh/100 miles N/A 48 N/A 29
As-Tested Price $56,020 $74,269 $31,085 $48,255
Estimated Annual Fuel/Electricity Cost to Drive 15,000 Miles $3,028 $1,011 $1,929 $605

What about payback (and I don’t mean revenge) time? Well, that XLT-trim Lighting with the big battery and no options starts at $74,269, including $1,795 in destination fees. That’s certainly pricey, but the top-shelf Platinum model is far richer, kicking off at nearly 93 grand. As for our old-fashioned Ford F-150 (a midrange, Lariat trim, crew-cab model with a 5.5-foot bed, four-wheel-drive and the standard equipment group), it stickers for around $56,020, also including $1,795 for delivery. Subtracting $56,020 from $74,269 means the Lightning is a whopping $18,249 pricier, more than the cost of a new Nissan Versa sedan.

Next, dividing the price delta between these trucks by the annual fuel/electricity cost difference means you’d have to own the Lightning for about nine years for your “fuel” savings to make up the price difference, though if you get a more expensive model, a higher-trim F-150 or the same variant with more options, the payback period compared to that all-electric Lighting will be shorter.

Not surprisingly, it’s the same story with smaller vehicles. Take the lovely Kia EV6, for instance. This stylish and spacious hatchback is a great choice for folks that want to downsize from a truck and save a big chunk of change in the process. A long-range, Wind-trim, rear-drive EV6 offers 310 miles of range and stickers at 134 miles per gallon equivalent city, 101 mpge highway and 117 mpge combined. Calculating the EV6’s efficiency like we did with the Lightning above reveals that the electricity needed to run this vehicle for 15,000 miles should cost around $605 per year, which is very close to the EPA’s estimate of $550.

Despite the myriad benefits of owning an EV, sometimes it still makes more sense to keep your combustion-powered vehicle.


Steven Ewing/CNET

Comparing our miserly EV6 to a midrange Honda Accord Sport sedan, which is far more efficient than an F-150, is similarly revealing. With a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a continuously variable transmission and a combined fuel economy rating of 33 mpg, you’d be spending about $1,928 on fuel to drive this Honda for 15,000 miles… nearly 3.2 times more than the Kia. However, including destination and delivery, the Accord is far cheaper at a totally reasonable $31,085 compared to the EV6’s $48,255 price tag. It’s a difference of $17,170, which is slightly less than the delta between the standard F-150 and the Lightning. 

Dividing that figure by $1,323, the annual price difference of running the Accord compared to the Kia, works out to a payback period of nearly 13 years. In this case, it may make more sense to keep on driving the Accord even if you nearly faint every time you fill the tank.

The entirety of this discussion presupposes you’re focused on prioritizing personal finances above all other concerns. But there’s a bigger picture to consider: We haven’t even discussed the negative environmental impact that burning fossil fuels or digging up rare earth minerals has on climate change, let alone the many and varied downstream costs that come home to roost societally as a result. Those sorts of long-term communal costs are clearly beyond the scope of this article, but they deserve to be considered.

At the end of the day, there are plenty of great reasons to get an electric vehicle, but if you’re thinking about swapping your internal combustion-powered car or truck for a new EV just to save money at the pump, make sure to do the math first — especially if your current ride is paid for — because plugging in and making a change may not make economic sense for you, even with fuel prices in the stratosphere.