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AAA Study Has Bad News For Electric Vehicle Affordability

Electric vehicles have a daunting cost of ownership. AAA explains why.


A new study by AAA's national office concludes that compared to compact and midsize cars and SUVs, electric cars have a dramatically higher cost of ownership. Unlike many affordability studies that look at just the cost of certain aspects of ownership, the AAA study takes into account maintenance, consumable items like tires, insurance, initial price, depreciation, and the cost to fuel or charge a vehicle.

The study by AAA concludes that electric vehicles have a higher cost of ownership than compact sedans, hybrids, crossovers, and midsize sedans powered by gasoline. Torque News has covered the individual aspects of electric vehicle ownership, and our conclusions have always come out the same way.

Depreciation is the biggest hit to electric vehicles. Every car has its own market value, but electric vehicles, in general, have terrible depreciation. They lose value for many reasons, including, ironically, tax deductions and state incentives. In 2014, NADA reported that the Toyota Prius had a 42% better value retention than the Nissan Leaf.

Another misconception is that electric vehicles have a dramatically-lower cost for maintenance. AAA found that electric vehicles cost $ 982 per year to maintain, compared with all vehicle types' average of $1,186 per year. Which EV you choose has a big difference here. The BMW i3 includes three years of maintenance. The Tesla Model 3 costs $1,550 over that same period and that does not include tires. That makes the Tesla Model 3 one of the costliest vehicles in American to maintain. What does it cost for the annual maintenance on an affordable, proven EV like a Nissan Leaf? See our attached video below for the answer.

Finally, fuel costs are low in America right now and in many places EVs are popular, electricity is expensive. Electric vehicle owners often include huge savings for fuel in their budgets, but the reality is that gasoline-powered green cars can match, or even beat EVs' cost per mile for power.

  1. The study summary from AAA is here.
  2. The full 2017 AAA Vehicle Cost Guide is here.
  3. Also see: Cost of Commuting Calculator from Transportation Evolved.


Parks McCants    August 29, 2017 - 5:46PM

As long as retail gasoline pricing remains artificially low in many regions of the U.S., the monthly cost of grid electricity remains high, and the E.V. affordability quotient at time of lease or purchase is dependent on federal, state tax, and utility credit subsidize, the E.V. will not go mainstream. That's a shame. Me, I personally love the near silent torque launch of electric. Question: How is the yearly maintenance cost of an E.V. calculated? Is battery charge degradation and subsequent module replacement factored into the annual cost of ownership? Thanks John. * I'll watch the Video.

Parks McCants    August 29, 2017 - 5:59PM

O.K.. Just watched the video. Maintenance on the leaf for one year was less than $300.Cheep! That's no more than 5 average quick lube oil changes, a tire rotation, and 10% or so tire wear. @ 30 MPG average, driving 15,000 miles we would burn 500 gallons of fuel: in Western Oregon, the average cost of regular unleaded is $2.65, or $1300, or so. if we divide 15000 by an average charge range of 125, the Leaf would require 120 charge cycles -- off peak -- $3 to $5.. I'm not seeing it John... The major influencing factor here is depreciation. Without tax incentive, the greatest value found in an EV today is USED...

dudamus (not verified)    August 30, 2017 - 1:37PM

interesting numbers Our Nissan LEAF cost 30 grand in 2011 and so far we have only spent money on tires and wiper fluid. I'm glad I didn't buy another infiniti, the maintenance on it is terrible. Besides the LEAF has a lot better performance.

dudamus (not verified)    August 30, 2017 - 1:42PM

actually all these cost figures are ridiculous. But I am glad I didn't have to pay for another timing belt last year. We save about $1,500 a year on our electric bill after charging two cars with our EV rider. Not sure how that fits in the equation. I just fail to see how anyone could even begin to say they are not saving thousands driving an EV every day. If you make up numbers I guess you can come to any conclusion you want like Faux News.

dudamus (not verified)    August 30, 2017 - 1:45PM

Even my Titan Crew Cab 4x4 only cost about 5 grand every year for running cost and thousands of gallons of gas. Those numbers are really ridiculous.

Nissan Leaf $0/year
Nissan Titan PU $5,000/year

You do the math

John Goreham    August 30, 2017 - 4:43PM

In reply to by dudamus (not verified)

dadamus, thank you for your comments. Tell us more about your 2011 Leaf. How did you avoid the costs that the Leaf owner (and advocate of EVs) in the video spoke about (brake fluid changes, filters, inspections etc)? Tell us how you achieve a $0 per year cost of energy. Share as much as you are willing. No arguments here that 4X4 full-size trucks cost more to operate than compact economy cars.

D (not verified)    September 3, 2017 - 10:06PM

Maintenance for my EV has been simple, change the descant pack in the battery every two years, which the dealer does for free. The brakes don't wear out, they were still at 98% with 7,000 miles on the car. At this rate it will be 350,000 miles I will have to service the brakes on the car. There is no transmission, no oil, no tune up. I will have a coolant flush eventually. What is all this service they are talking about. Direct from AAA study. “Although electric vehicles can have higher up-front costs, lower fuel and maintenance costs make them a surprisingly affordable choice in the long run,” said Nielsen. “For even lower costs, car shoppers can avoid high depreciation costs by selecting a used electric vehicle.”