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The savings that come with driving an electric vehicle can add up over the course of a decade.Illustration by Glenn Harvey

I’m not a smug driver, but I’ll admit to this: When gas prices rose to a record high last June, above $2 a litre, I got a pleasant thrill out of driving an electric vehicle that can be fully charged for as little as a few bucks.

Are EVs a financial godsend?

They’re not cheap to buy. However, the savings associated with lower operating costs can easily translate into thousands of dollars over a decade, even for an infrequent driver. Commuters may find the savings can have a huge impact on the overall cost of their EVs, especially if gas prices remain high.

Over the year I’ve owned my Hyundai Ioniq 5, I’ve driven almost 10,000 kilometres – did I mention that I don’t drive much? Charging costs have varied, ranging from free (charging is thrown in with parking) to cheap at-home top-ups to faster charging in my neighbourhood to more expensive high-speed charging along highways.

If I use neighbourhood charging as a reasonable average – and it is where I do most of my charging – then my total cost over the past 12 months comes to about $525, including tax. (That’s based on a 7.2 kilowatt-hour public charger priced at $2 an hour and total energy use of 1,670 kWh over 9,550 kilometres.)

Now, compare that with a gas-powered car travelling the same distance.

My equivalent gas costs for driving 10,000 kilometres over the past year would have been about $1,305 – assuming gas priced at $1.45 a litre (the recent national average, according to the Canadian Automobile Association) and a vehicle with a fuel efficiency rating of nine litres per 100 kilometres, or burning a total of 900 litres in my case.

That means I saved about $780 over the past year. Over 10 years, these savings would rise, theoretically, to a total of $7,800.

Combine these savings with the $5,000 federal EV rebate I got when I purchased the car in Ontario in early 2022, and the nearly $50,000 list price for my vehicle can be whittled down to about $37,200 when compared with a hypothetical gas-burning version of itself.

That’s seems like a pretty good deal, given that I get an emission-free vehicle that I love to drive and doesn’t embarrass my teenage daughter.

“As gas prices keep going up, I’m so happy I’m driving an electric car. I strictly use public chargers, but I’m still paying a fraction of what I’d be paying if I was filling up with gas,” said Aniseh Sharifi, a Tesla owner and co-founder of Toronto-based Fierce Media, a digital marketing company focused on electric vehicles.

For me, the math gets more interesting if I hit the road more often. At 20,000 kilometres a year, my fuel savings over 10 years would come to $15,600, using the same assumptions. The theoretical price of my car would then drop to $29,400.

Sure, a pricey battery replacement could upset these assumptions. But most warranties are quite generous, the costs associated with battery issues tend to be overblown, and EVs are generally lauded for their low maintenance costs – no oil changes!

So you can see why soaring gas prices are more than just Schadenfreude: The pricier gas gets, the cheaper an EV looks.

Anyone charging at home might find that EVs offer additional financial benefits. Same goes for anyone who has access to free chargers at work, lower-priced public chargers, provincial rebates or cheaper electricity.

Quebec is hard to beat for EV owners: On top of the federal rebate, the province currently offers a $7,000 rebate for all-electric vehicles priced below $60,000. It also has the lowest electricity rates in Canada.

“That’s often enough to push people forward. And once you start driving electric, it’s hard to conceive going back to a gas car,” said Gad Elmoznino, a former Montreal-based tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Club Tesla Quebec, an organization of Tesla enthusiasts.

Mr. Elmoznino, the owner of several EVs over the past decade, estimates that the typical cost of operating an EV is about 1.5 cents per kilometre. That works out to about $300 a year for someone driving 20,000 kilometres, perhaps stretching to $500 in colder climates, where batteries are less efficient.

The cost is typically a tenth of the price of gas, which can have a big financial impact in well under a decade.

“If you’re saving $3,000 a year, that’s $15,000 in five years. All of a sudden, the $50,000 car is equivalent to a $35,000 gas car,” Mr. Elmoznino said.

Some road warriors may scoff at EVs because they require frequent, time-consuming charging, which is a fair point if you don’t like to break up your long-distance drives with stops every 250 to 500 kilometres (depending on your battery size and range anxiety).

But look at it this way: Every stop made to charge your EV saves money that would have been spent on gas, which can add up to thousands of dollars in savings over a 10-year period.

EVs that elicit sticker shock can look more agreeable over the lifespan of the car if you take these savings into account. And the clear take-away for me? For bigger savings, I need to drive more.

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