Cool Cost Calculators

I've been thinking a lot about electric vehicles and have spent most of the summer talking to people about cars.  Over drinks at the brew-pup, at dinner parties, and cold calling folks in car related industries--- I've noodled a lot of opinions and perspective out of friends and strangers.  One thing that has come up consistently in these conversations is the cost of electric vehicles, followed by all the range and charging questions.  The cost issue is a nagging one in the back of my mind.  Yes, the cars cost money.  Yes, the cars cost quite a bit of money.  But wouldn't the sticker price be eventually smoothed out over the life of the vehicle? After all, you wouldn't be paying for much gasoline with most of the new EVs coming out, and in the case of the Leaf, you would only pay for electricity.  I've wondered about this all summer, so I finally started hunting through all my resources and I found a few car cost calculators online.  There are several out there.  Each make a different set of assumptions and none are perfect, but they do look at the life cycle costs of vehicle ownership, an essential thing to consider when making a decision about any type of car.   

The best one is the Project Get Ready Calculator by the Rocky Mountain Institute.  It allows you to select your state and inputs your current energy and gas prices.  It also allows you to choose from around 50 different vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, as well as a standard Honda Civic or a Dodge Ram.  Again, the calculator isn't perfect, but it is fun to play around with.  Here are my results from comparing the Leaf to a Honda Civic:


Honda Civic

Nissan Leaf (BEV)


Lifetime Cost of Vehicle



The Honda Civic will cost $1,926 less than the Nissan Leaf (BEV)

Lifetime Cost of Fuel



Fuel for the Honda Civic will cost $5,388 more than the Nissan Leaf (BEV)

Oil Used

67 bbl

0 bbl

The Honda Civic will use the equivalent of 67 barrel(s) of oil more than the Nissan Leaf (BEV)

CO2 Equivalent Emitted

29 tonnes

12 tonnes

The Honda Civic will create 17 tonnes of CO2 equivalent green house gases more than the Nissan Leaf (BEV)


To get these results I claimed that I would drive 12,000 miles a year (a bit high for me) and that I would lease the car for 6 years.  The graph below shows the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) for each vehicle at different gasoline price points.

TCO vs Fuel Price













This second graph shows the TCO over the lifetime of the car:













So at current energy and fuel prices (and without taking CO2 or smog into account), it would take just under nine years of ownership to equalize the costs of owning a Leaf vs. a Civic. 

Another vehicle cost calculator to check out is the Green Car Calculator created by Kiplinger.  It does not include any of the new EVs, but it does include a good breakdown all all the additional costs that go into a car besides the sticker price-- including opportunity costs.

Even if you are not thinking about buying a new car, it is interesting to play around with these calculators and think about the lifetime costs of the things we purchase.  Human nature tends to discount future energy costs quite a bit, fortunately, with little tools like these we can have more information available when we think about making long term financial decisions.

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