Are electric cars the most cost-effective option?
May 1, 2022

Are electric cars the most cost-effective option?

Cost of Commuting Post Pandemic and How to Calculate which Vehicle is Truly the Most Cost Effective Over Time.

By Alex Pevtsova, SheCar National Sales Manager

There’s a saying I’ve heard from time to time, and it always puts a damper on my spirit when I’ve got the new car itch:

The cheapest car is the one you already own.

But is that actually true? I set out on a mission to find out. 

My husband and I got married during the pandemic (January 2021) and bought a new SheCar vehicle while on our honeymoon. We snagged a gorgeous 2018 Volvo S90. It’s got a caramel interior, panoramic sun roof, the most comfortable ride, and most importantly, Volvo’s Pilot Assist.

Like many, we had more disposable income during the pandemic. We also managed to purchase our first home, which meant moving further away from the Phoenix metro area to an area we could afford. So now I find myself having to commute, and because we purchased a home further away, I’ll be driving at least 40-50 miles every day.

As luck would have it though, it’s also an unprecedented time where our vehicle is actually worth more now than when we purchased it, so we’re going to cash out and use the proceeds to get a lower monthly payment, or maybe no payment at all. (It’s important to note that when you buy a SheCar your savings delays depreciation, so hubs and I are extra pleased.)

Nothing puts your expenses into perspective like buying your first house so the top priority for us is saving money.

We love the idea of an EV vehicle but haven’t been able to decide whether to go PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle), or full EV. We found ourselves between a handful of vehicles— each with their own pros and cons. 

Here’s what we’re looking for in our next vehicle:

  • Great gas mileage and/or good EV range.
  • Ability to take on road trips— we take 6-7 hour road trips on the weekends quite often in winter, spring, and summer. This one is particularly important, as my husband’s daily driver is a ’99 Jeep Wrangler that he’s turned in to a rock crawling machine. It gets about 10-12mpg, and doesn’t have cruise control.
  • Affordable— Ideally no car payment.
  • Reliable
  • Interesting and fun to drive.

From these criteria, I’ve landed on a handful of options, and I’ve listed my pros and cons for each below.

1st Gen. Chevrolet Volt


  • Ultra-affordable. We could buy it with cash and have no monthly payments.
  • They run forever. After extensive research, we found out that these vehicles are virtually indestructible. When testing this engine/battery combo, researchers ran the motor upwards of 600k miles, and gave up after that. They just couldn’t kill it.
  • They have a distinct, interesting look. For some this can be a con, but we like that it looks different from other cars on the road.
  • Is a hatchback, which I love! The hatchback feature makes the vehicle so much more versatile for hauling stuff like furniture and items for road trips. 
  • We can road trip since it still uses fuel, and there’s gas stations everywhere.


  • The electric range is only 38mi, and it would only last me part of my commute to the office.
  • There’s still an internal combustion engine (ICE), which requires all the regular maintenance of any other ICE vehicle. 
  • There’s no apple CarPlay, which I’ve become very accustomed to. 
  • We’d still be paying for a good amount of gas since the electric range is only 38 miles.

2nd Gen. Chevrolet Volt


  • They are still very reliable
  • The Electric range is almost 60 miles
  • They have apple CarPlay 
  • Is a hatchback.
  • Can still road trip.


  • They cost at least $10k more than the 1st gen, meaning we’d have to finance.
  • The increased electric range still wouldn’t be enough for my daily commute, meaning we’re still having to spend money on gasoline.

2012-2015  Tesla Model S


  • The range is great— over 200 miles!
  • Is tech savvy with all its screens and connectivity perks.
  • No gasoline to buy!
  • Is a hatchback.
  • The range allows us to still road trip, since there’s bound to be a charging station along the way.
  • Maintenance is less than on an ICE vehicle (No vibration due to an ICE engine means less wear on parts. Also, no oil changes!)
  • They’re just super cool!


  • We’d have to finance.

2016-2018 Tesla Model 3


  • Newer with autopilot feature.
  • Don’t have to buy gas


  • More like $40,000 – $50,000 meaning we’d have to finance, and the payment would be way bigger!
  • Smaller than the Model S (smaller seats, less rear leg room)
  • Not a hatchback.

2014-2016 BMW i3


  • Is super unique (I think the look super cool, but I know a lot of people who would put their looks as a negative)
  • Don’t really have to buy gas (I say don’t really, because the range extender option has a 2.4L engine that charges the battery if you start running low on charge… so you’d need to top that off from time to time)
  • Are really affordable. We wouldn’t need to finance.
  • Is a hatchback.


  • Has a pretty small range (only 150 with the range extender), so we can’t really take it on road trips.
  • The interior is really cool, but not the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in. Everything is made to be super light.

2018 Volvo S90 (our current vehicle)


  • Incredibly comfortable for road trips.
  • Drives like a dream.
  • Looks great.
  • Has autopilot feature.


  • Monthly payment.
  • Uses premium fuel and will be expensive to commute in.

The next step was to figure out what the most cost-effective option was. At first glance, the best option was the 1st gen. Chevy Volt because we wouldn’t need to finance, it has some EV range, and gets pretty good gas mileage. We can still take it on trips, and they seem to last forever. 

I compiled an ultra-detailed spreadsheet with the goal of figuring out which of these options was going to be the cheapest to own and maintain over the course of one and two years (I tend to switch vehicles every few years). 

I included things like the monthly payment (if any), miles driven daily, how much of the EV range will be used daily, cost to charge the vehicle fully, and how many full charges I’d need weekly. I also included how many full tanks of gas I’d need weekly (if relevant), and cost of oil changes and other maintenance I’d need yearly (if relevant). I didn’t include the cost of new tires in year 1, but I did include that in year two. 

Everything was extrapolated out to 1- and 2-year marks, and the prices were compared. 

It turns out that the BMW i3 was easily the most cost effective to own and maintain, since we wouldn’t need to finance, and the vehicle barely needs any fuel or maintenance. But due to its limited range, I know that this one is sadly a no-go for us.

This leaves us to the runner up, which was shockingly the 2012-2014 Tesla Model S! Even though it’s more expensive, and we’d have to finance a portion of the vehicle price, over the course of one year, we’d save almost $1,200 as compared to the 1st gen. Chevy Volt, and over 2 years we’d save almost $2,300.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this, as we’ve always thought that Tesla’s were super cool. I think most people would be lying to say that they don’t secretly want to own a Tesla. 

The average ICE vehicle maintenance and repair costs, as well as the amount spent of fuel really adds up! Since Tesla’s require so much less maintenance, and zero fuel, it turned out that in our specific case, it is a financial no-brainer to go with an older Model S. 

While I’m a self-confessed spreadsheet nerd, I highly suggest taking a proactive role in your vehicle choice by either geeking out on Excel or compiling the basic pro vs con lists. Consider everything from comfort to the price of gas. In hubs and my case, we’d have blindly bought what seemed to be the cheaper option on the surface, only to pay for it in the long run.

Now, we can enter the car market confidently knowing that the choice we make will be the best financial one for our family. To shop smart like me, click here.

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