Electric Cars: Are they For Real?

The other day, the lady and I were biking through the parking lot of the fancy Natural Grocers food store, when I suddenly screeched to a halt, without even realizing why I had done it.

It turns out the reason was that one of these things had caught the corner of my eye:

“What’s going on here?”, I thought. New cars don’t normally show up on the US market without me knowing about them first. Especially futuristic little space-bubble cars, which are my favorite variety.

Poking around the car in the parking lot, I could see that it had a roomy passenger cabin, gigantic glass area giving a panoramic view, and… no evidence of a gas-burning engine of any type. The hood was far too compact to house a conventional engine, and looking underneath I saw no exhaust system, none of the usual fiddly drivetrain bits, and instead just smooth underbody panels and a beefy electric motor.

What I had stumbled across is the Mitsubishi Miev (also known simply as the “i”), just the latest of several intriguing electric-only cars to hit this country’s market in the last few years.

For those not familiar with this new bit of technology, it is very real: electric cars are out there, and they kick some serious ass, offering comfort, performance, 100-300 miles of driving range depending on the car, and a silky-quiet driving experience with no road-level emissions. All these attributes are available not in the hazy future, but right now. Among the most prominent are these ones:

  • Tesla Roadster (released 2008) $109,000
  • Tesla Model S (just came out last month): $57,000
  • Nissan Leaf  (2010): $32,000
  • Ford Focus Electric (Fall 2012 in 16 states): $35,000
  • Mitsubishi Miev: $27,000
  • Chevrolet Volt: $39,000 (short-range electric plus full gasoline power)

They are all expensive, but you can start by subtracting $7500 from the prices above due to a US federal tax credit on vehicles of this type.

That still leaves more dollars than the average Mustachian should be spending on transportation, but right about the same amount that most Americans spend on cars of similar quality in each of those performance ranges.

So what I had discovered in my local parking lot is the lowest-priced electric vehicle currently on the US mass market. It’s neat new technology and it sounds great, but it does lead a skeptical person to ask quite a few questions. Having done some work on electric cars myself, I can even try to answer them right here:

Does an Electric car really cost less to fuel for a given distance?

Yes. Way less. To understand the cost, let’s understand the baseline of fueling a gasoline car. If you have a reasonable car that gets 35MPG and you can get gas for $3.50 per gallon, your fuel cost is 10 cents per mile. If you’re a new reader and you still drive around in a truck, your fuel costs might be $0.20 or more.

Now check out this handy table I’ve made for you. You can see that the pure electric cars burn juice at only 2.4 to 3.3 cents per mile. From a cost perspective, it is like driving a car that gets between  116 and 145MPG, or like getting your gas for 89 cents a gallon. The exact cost depends on your local electricity price, but I used 10 cents/kWh, roughly the rate I pay for 100% wind-generated power where I live (coal power is only about 8 cents here, but it varies around the nation).

VehiclePessimistic EPA Range (miles)Battery Capacity (kWh)Electricity Cost per Mile (@$0.10/kWh)Weight (lbs)
Tesla Roadster221532.4c2723
Nissan Leaf73243.3c3375
Ford Focus Electric76233.0c3691
Mitsubishi Miev62162.6c2579
Chevrolet Volt35164.6c3781

 But what about the battery life?

That’s a good question. These cars use lithium batteries, and they are expensive today (about $400 per kilowatt-hour of capacity, meaning the MiEv has a $6400 battery on-board). General predictions seem to be a service life of 8 years or 100,000 miles for these batteries, which adds 6.4 cents per mile to the cost of travel, bringing us back up to 10 cents, just like a 35MPG car. And the bigger your battery pack (Tesla), the higher your cost per mile, as you are lugging around unused capacity which is fading away whether you use it or not. Uh-oh!

But wait: remember that an electric car does not need oil changes, transmission fluid, belts and hoses, fancy valve services or most of the other greasy stuff that comes with gasoline cars. In addition, big electric motors themselves have generally only one moving part, which in industrial uses of the past 100 years have shown that they are good for the equivalent of over 1 million miles with no service whatsoever. So you’ll get a lot of that 6.4 cents back in the form of avoiding expensive service visits.

On top of that, lithium cells have been developing in a Moore’s Law-like fashion, meaning technology and reliability has been increasing rapidly even as price drops. A friend of mine runs an online electric vehicle parts store, and I’ve been amazed at the almost monthly developments in the lithium ion battery market.

Imagine that you buy a high-end $1000 Core i7 ultrabook computer with a 256GB solid state drive today and use it for 8 years, until it dies. Then you want to replace it with another Core i7/256GB laptop in the future. When you go shopping, you find that even the slowest new computer is better than your high-end one was, and it costs $199. That’s Moore’s Law in action.

But aren’t I just replacing road pollution with coal powerplant pollution?

Many people say this, and the answer is that it depends. Even if you can only buy 100% coal-fired electricity in your area, there is a slight improvement in pollution by switching to an electric car. The difference comes due to the fact that power plants are about 40% efficient, while gas engines are less than 20% efficient (the rest goes out as heat). When you factor all the other stuff  like oil extraction and refining costs, electric transmission losses, etc., all you have to know is that the electric car does fine in this area.

The real benefit, however, comes in areas like mine where non-coal power is available. Here in Colorado, wind power is cheap and plentiful, and when you buy more of it, they just put up more towers in the otherwise-barren Eastern desert plains of the state. The impact on jobs is spectacular, as I keep seeing shiny new wind company headquarters popping up, and meeting highly-paid engineers and technicians who have come to the state to work in the growing industry. All caused by me just checking a box on my power bill that said “100% wind”.

We also have ideal conditions for solar generation, to the point that I can buy my own panels (even without subsidies) and build a system to charge an electric car off-the-grid, and the amortized cost of the electricity will be just as cheap as my grid power. (More details of solar harvesting are coming up in future MMM articles, as I continue to tinker with my own house with the goal of getting roughly energy independent over the next few years).

In California, solar power is extremely popular, and that state’s much higher electricity costs combined with federal and state incentives make it a no-brainer to convert a home rooftop to generate power and feed it into the grid.

So if you’re getting an electric car because you don’t like the idea of burning gas, you might as well go the whole route and use non-fossil-fuel electricity to charge it.

What about Driving Range? Will I run out of power in the middle of nowhere?

Oh, Waaah Waaah. Poor baby is accustomed to driving 300 miles on a tank of gas. And if his car ever stopped driving, he’d have to just sit in it and cry until he was rescued!

First of all, the range of these cars in the table above is estimated by the EPA, which assumes a lead foot and no driving skill at all. As a Mustachian, you drive your car efficiently, so you’ll see a 30% higher range (Japan’s more reasonable test cycle for these cars confirms that).

The GM (Chevrolet) Volt addresses this irrational fear by adding a gasoline engine and a fuel tank, which allows the car to drive in either electric or gas mode. It’s a beautiful car, but you pay for the convenience in the form of pulling two entire powerplants around, which leads to higher sticker price as well as weight (the Volt weighs as much as a small minivan), which leads to higher electricity consumption.

GM is in a tough place with the Volt, since they are trying to make a practical vehicle, but sell it to people who are still buying cars based on irrational emotions like “Is it fast? Will I look cool in this thing?”, and “What if I want to drive it to the Grand Canyon?”. Right now there’s a video on the site showing the unfortunate state of their marketing necessity: http://www.chevrolet.com/volt-electric-car.html

From a strictly financial perspective, I’d suggest getting a Mitsubishi Miev, and either renting, car-sharing, borrowing, or owning a fuel-efficient second car for your longer trips.

In fact, from a strictly financial perspective, an electric car is just like any other new car: it’s far from the most cost-effective way to get around. In a few years, depending on how the used prices shake out, they may or may not take on this status.

But for those of us who have far more money than we need anyway, and are interested in enjoying a high-tech luxury toy with minimal environmental guilt, this is an ideal candidate. I believe that paying the premium to be an early adopter, thereby advancing this industry so it can eventually displace the internal combustion engine, can actually be a fairly Mustachian choice to make.



Elsewhere on the web: Motor Trend reviews the Focus Electric vs. Nissan Leaf


  • The money pinch October 1, 2012, 7:30 pm

    Hey, I’m late to the party, but I have a 10-year longing for EV’s. Silent, cool, and very eco-friendly (in my neck of the woods, electricity comes 98% from hydro).

    I have a suggestion for your next trip to the library: “Build your own electric vehicle”, by Bob Brant. The book is complete, from design considerations to a sample execution. Of course, the tech in the book is obsolete (lead-acid batteries for storage!) but with a little research you can find equivalent components to make something contemporary.

  • david November 2, 2012, 8:37 am

    May have missed it since I simply scanned through the comment section, but neither the article or the comments seemed to address the safety factor here. I mean, look at that car!!! It hits anything, or anything hits it, everyone inside is dead. I would never put anyone I love in something like that. Sorry, environment is important, but come on. I went to Florida to visit my daughter, and happened to have time to visit a friend of mine as well, who was leasing a EV. It was very tiny. He told me his wife used it to drive back and forth to work. I smiled and tried to be polite, but inside I was thinking this man is an idiot, or he doesnt care about his wife and/or kids safety very much. I hate to sound so contrarion here, but I see no difference between these vehicles and and allowing oversized golf carts on the highways.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 2, 2012, 9:00 am

      Dude! I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating here so more people can see it:

      1: Unless you’re smarter than Stephen Hawking, you can NOT tell how safe a vehicle is just by looking at it. We have armies of scientists with pneumatic crash sleds, crash test dummies, and thousands of sensors to figure that shit out for us, and the results would surprise you.

      2: Even over a whole LIFETIME of driving, the difference between the most dangerous new car and the “safest” is negligible in terms of how much more expected lifespan you will get. It’s a few months over many decades. So you can safely ignore car safety 100%, and focus on other things that REALLY make you live longer, like eating healthy food and staying in shape. And spending less on cars, so you can work a shorter career.

      More on that here: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/06/07/safety-is-an-expensive-illusion/

      If more people would stop eating the “Buy a big truck because they’re safer” marketing dogfood, and understand the statistics instead, we could be a much richer and stronger nation!

  • David July 30, 2013, 1:35 pm

    I think the solution to the charging stations is to not own the electric car but, instead, rent it as needed from a place like ZipCar, where it is being charged when the car is returned to it’s official parking space. ZipCar does not currently have electric cars…I am just imagining this as a possible solution.

    For those of you who don’t have ZipCar in your area it is a feasible way of having access to a gas car without owning one. They place cars within walking distance of various neighborhood locations. It is a terrific way of saving money. We bike, walk, subway, bus most places but can get a car (or truck) when we need it for a special shopping trip or vist at reasonable rates.

  • Joggernot April 7, 2014, 12:13 pm

    Someone mentioned golf carts and I have and use one for local transportation. Granted I live in a smaller town on the Texas gulf coast, but they passed a law allowing modified golf carts to travel on roads with a speed limit less than 35 mph. The cart is only allowed to go “less than 20 mph” by law. Modified means with headlights, taillights, flag, slow vehicle triangle, turn signals, and rear view mirror. There are months where we don’t know the price of gas because we use the cart to get groceries and run errands.

  • Amy K May 30, 2014, 9:17 am

    Thanks to this post I discovered the i-Miev is back for 2014 (they skipped the 2013 model year) and test drove one last weekend. A nice car, like an electric version of my current car (’05 Scion xA). Same size, same (very, very basic) features.

    I’m test driving an electric Ford Focus tomorrow. Pricier, by $7,000. But 3 seats across the back let me put my kid in the center (safer) just like I do in my xA. And the 5 star crash rating rather than the i-Miev’s 2 star side impact rating for rear passenger gives me more peace of mind.

    Pre-baby I would totally have bought the Mitsubishi, but becoming a mom has moved me from safety-oblivious to safety-prioritizing ^H^H^H obsessed.

    The 25% longer range helps too, but shouldn’t matter with my commute.

    • Mr. Money Mustache May 30, 2014, 11:22 am

      Nice! I hope you enjoy the new ride – how does the Focus compare to the Nissan Leaf in your book? And do these things show up on the used market in your area?

      I’d only take exception to your allegation that the xA has very very basic features. Are you kidding? Mine has power windows and locks, A/C, and a good radio. And it allows me to cross vast distances while sitting on my ass with no effort beyond steering and shifting gears. Is a higher level of luxury even conceivable in one of these newfangled motorized thrones? ;-)

      • Amy K June 1, 2014, 5:06 am

        Oh! Very basic wasn’t meant as an insult. It was more than when I bought the Scion my options were “What color?” and “Do you want side airbags?” whereas the Ford has a dozen factory installed options so it’s impossible to find one. Miev options: “What Color?”

        Test drive results: I prefer a basic car. I sort of froze up once the dealer explained 4 different ways to change the radio station, none of which involved touching a physical button on the dash. Touchscreen on the dash, menu accessible via buttons on the steering wheel (not a more basic up/down preset menu on the steering like some cars) or voice command to say “preset 4” or “92.9”. Also my Scion is way more open between the bucket seats; everything is pretty much on the floor with just the shifter poking up between the driver and passenger seats. The Ford, and I think this is true for all models, has a large console that keeps your drink close and offers an arm rest, but made me feel closed in. Picture courtesy of the internet:

        I did test drive an Insight, to give hybrids a try, but the braking was too weird. Acceleration and braking in the i-Miev and Focus were unremarkable – which is good, they felt just like any other car. The Insight brakes had a noticeable difference between regenerative and caliper brakes at low speeds. I sat in a gasoline Fit and the console felt like home – it even lacks a center armrest like the Scion xA. If they ever bring back the electric Honda Fit for purchase (currently lease only, to a select few, and discontinuing production very soon) I think it is the car for me.

        I haven’t test driven a Leaf, I had dismissed it out of hand as too ugly and too big. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I like things in small hatchback packages. I may come back to it later. I’m sure there are reasons why it is the best selling EV in America. (http://insideevs.com/monthly-plug-in-sales-scorecard/)

        For now I’m just going to fix my (9.5 year old, 129,000 mile, $1500 trade-in value) car. The floorboards rusted through; it appears one of the rear windows or door seals leaks and has for several months. Hopefully that was not the sign of her imminent demise. Hopefully I can get another 2 years and even better electric cars will be on the market (or Mitsubishi will finally fix the rear door side impact issue).

  • PatrickGSR94 June 5, 2014, 7:57 am

    I just caught a friend’s husband’s (financial blogger with the same sort of MMM mindset) recent blog post where they actually decided to purchase a brand new Leaf. He said normally he would never consider buying a new car, but they live in GA which apparently has the highest amount of total incentives for buying EV’s, which cut the cost of the Leaf to almost half of the sticker price. HALF! He said he ran the numbers and it didn’t make sense for them NOT to buy it, compared to the gas burning vehicles they had before I guess.

    I’m in MS which has ZERO state incentives beyond just the federal rebate. So we just keep driving our 20-year old Honda and Toyota getting 27-30 MPG or so, with no car payments. And I keep fixing stuff that breaks (happens more often on the Toyota than the Honda).

  • Dominique June 9, 2014, 4:39 pm

    People should understand their electricity bills and how they are charged for electricity when you are considering cost per mile compared to gas.

    In California, a lot of people are charged on a 5 tiered system:


    Edison is similar

    Everyone has an allotted amount in each tier. Once you use all your tier 1 kWhs, you are pushed into tier 2… so on and so on.

    Tiers 3-5 are called luxury tiers and whenever you hear about increase prices, these are the tiers that are increased.

    I’m not arguing one way or another but understanding
    -how you are charged
    -how much you are charged
    -how much you use : per month and per year
    -how many kWhs an electric car will use per month/year

    these are all things that are valuable to think about in your decisions

  • Riles June 16, 2014, 3:41 pm

    If there was one thing that I never understood about electric cars, it was this: why don’t they have solar panels built in as part of the frame, or have fan blades in the grill of the car to produce wind power from the speed? If I was to ever by a new car, it would be a full electric car that charges itself while you drive. I know that modern brake systems do this by using the electrical power generated by friction to charge the battery.

    • Jeff September 25, 2014, 12:04 pm

      Most compact EVs just don’t have enough surface area to pull in a meaningful quantity of charge in a day – at least, not enough to justify the expense of engineering and installing the panels on those small, curved surfaces. If you go look at the VIA motors website, however, there is actually a pickup entering production with a solar tonneau cover that can theoretically add a few miles on a sunny day. VIA’s vehicles are essentially simplified Volt powertrains retrofitted to GM trucks and vans, in keeping with Bob Lutz’s hindsight observation that he could have brought about greater gas savings by targeting utility vehicles rather than commuter cars.
      Producing wind power while a vehicle moves is a fun idea but ultimately you’d just be recapturing energy produced by the vehicle’s own powertrain, and in a hilariously overcomplicated and inefficient manner. Physics! :)
      All modern EVs have very good regenerative braking systems – however, point of order, it’s not friction at work, because friction can only produce heat; the regen system is actually a generator that is turned by mechanical energy from the rotating wheels and (in Newtonian terms) reacts to provide a braking force. If it’s functioning properly, very little friction occurs.

  • Woodrat June 22, 2014, 1:24 am

    I wondered about MMM’s views on evs – interesting post and mirrors my own take after a great deal of research on the topic. We purchased a plug-in hybrid last year. The Ford Cmax Energi easily handles my commute (yes I commute by car, living as I do halfway between my and my husband’s farflung workplaces) using only electric. When we do travel farther, it switches to gas at about 43 mpg. I have not purchased gas for almost 3 months and still have 3/4 of a tank of gas. My gas bill went from $150 per month to $0. Our electric bill increased by $10 per month. Our electricity comes from hydro and wind, so at least for commuting and errands, no fossil fuel involved. The price for this techno-geek to the max car was under $30k after the tax credit. Definitely the most expensive car we have ever owned, but sometimes it’s not about the money. I do expect this vehicle to be the last one we ever purchase. The car is made in one of my old home states – the great state of Michigan, for those who might be interested in country of manufacture. All in all, if anyone is considering a new car purchase, and would like to operate it primarily as an EV for commuting/shorter trips, but would like the flexibility to drive long distances on gasoline, a plug-in hybrid would fit the bill. We were concerned that our electric bill might increase significantly (we work hard to keep it under $60 per month year round), but as MMM pointed out, EVs run more cheaply on their fuel than petroleum-based vehicles do, so our fears were groundless. Thanks for a nice overview of the topic!

  • MichaelD August 7, 2014, 1:33 pm

    I’ve had my iMiev for over a year now. No problems, It just works. I think it’s about the best car out there for the $15.5K you end up actually paying. I posted some of the details on my EV blog: http://everettpowered-evs.blogspot.com/

  • ForuMMM August 19, 2014, 5:07 pm

    In states with tax credits for EVs (like Georgia $5k, West Virginia $7.5k, Colorado $6k, etc), buying a new EV is substantially cheaper than a new, and even sometimes a late model used gasoline powered vehicle. And when you add in the savings over time due to less expensive energy and maintenance costs, it’s amazing. Plus they are fun to drive and good for the world. My new 2014 Leaf was $13.5k net to me. I’m planning to trade in my 2010 Corolla for 2nd Leaf since the math indicates that it will be cheaper, even with the cost of renting a car for the occasional road trip (until the quick charging infrastructure expands along the freeways). See more on the forum:


  • Jeff September 25, 2014, 12:27 pm

    I’d love to see an update on this subject for the sake of any curious readers – much has changed in two years and new breakthroughs are constantly occurring. Used prices have fallen so dramatically that even a financed EV can cost less than the gas bill it replaces. Continued accumulation of data has shown which battery systems hold up better over time, and the manufacturers are learning from one another to improve the field overall. The utility companies have started doing smart things to turn risk into opportunity – increasing the efficiency and utilization of existing power capacity by pushing cheap time-of-use rate plans that reward drivers for using now-ubiquitous charge timing options. The once-mythical concept of distributed EVs serving as battery banks to level out overall grid load – talking to the smart grid, pushing and pulling power as needed – is actually being tested in the real world, and only needs refinement, standards agreement, and scaling. Meanwhile, even as the grid overall gets cleaner and EV-related generating emissions go down, it takes ever *more* electricity and other energy inputs to produce the same gallon of gas – drilling deeper, refining lower quality crude, transporting it longer average distances, etc.
    I could go on, but I’ll try not to ramble. Bottom line, it’s an exciting time for anyone who’s interested in the subject! :)

  • Joseph October 3, 2014, 7:20 am

    So I was looking around, and unless I am an idiot I think there is a amazing deal any Mustachian who is in the market for an electric car should jump on. SmartUSA sells their ElectricDrive model for ~12.5K. That means that with the 7,500 federal tax credit you would have a brand new electric car for ~5K. I’m sure there are other costs as well. I have done minimal research on this, and this is my first response post on the blog, so go easy on me if I have missed some things!

    • Oleksiy October 3, 2014, 6:18 pm

      As low as $12,490 **after federal tax credits**.

      • Joseph October 4, 2014, 7:56 am

        Well shoot! I knew that sounded way too good.

  • Joe October 30, 2014, 9:20 pm

    I have a 2012 Leaf bought new that now has over 47,000 miles on it. I have replaced the tires and a wiper blade so far. My battery capacity gauge is showing full at this point, though I’m sure it has degraded some. It is cheap to run and trouble free.

  • Jimbo November 13, 2014, 11:28 am

    MMM, the Volt doesn’t ever use the full 16 (now more) kWh. It only uses 11 or so and the 2013 model had the range bumped to 38 miles. The reason behind not using the whole battery is to avoid the issues with fully charging and discharging the battery. Nissan recommends mainly using 20% to 80% battery capacity for the same reason, but GM has enforced this. You should go back and redo the cost per mile on the Volt. If you use the 2012 model, you should use 10.2 or so kWh.

    • Jeff November 13, 2014, 11:38 am

      FTR, I routinely exceed that 38-mile estimate by 25-50% even in my 2012 Volt, except when it’s (literally) freezing out. It is a real live component of my self-actualization program… even after charging costs, I figure $200/mo minimum savings. Of course, I’d be even better off just driving less… I know, and I’m working toward that.

  • Toshi December 17, 2014, 10:22 pm

    A few comments, noting I built and exclusively commuted on an electric bike for a few years, and that my wife currently drives a Nissan LEAF:

    1) Tax credits depend on the battery pack’s kWh. In particular, the iMiEV isn’t eligible for the full Colorado $6k or Federal $7.5k credits, and at the same effective price as a LEAF due to this I’d take the LEAF without question. Also note that conversion credits for PHEVs and credits for non-highway cars (e.g. Neighborhood Electric Vehicles and electric motorcycles) have either effectively or actually dried up.

    Example for Colorado: the “$6k” credit is actually MSRP or used price if not previously registered in CO x pack kWh / 100, capped at $6k.

    2) One must pay at least as much in taxes in the first place to get said non-refundable credits, which implies a pretty healthy income. Alternately one can lease where the credits are typically axed off the capitalized cost.

    3) Overall cleanliness of operating a battery electric vehicle relative to a gas vehicle of similar size (note distinction between this and “average gas vehicle”!) depends very much on the cleanliness of the electricity. See the recent PNAS article making the news rounds this week. MMM and Windsource are a good option, as are either the default Pac NW hydroelectric heavy grid or Seattle City Light’s Green Up program.

    4) In my calculations driving a LEAF S bought at a good price, assuming one is eligible for the full Colorado and a Federal credits, would equate to a 5 year total cost of ownership nearly akin to a 2004 Corolla with just liability insurance. It’s rare that the frugal option is new!

  • Silverone March 1, 2015, 1:14 pm

    The Volt really is a nice car, with used ones dropping in price to near $10k and new ones available around $20k after credits. The electric market has really changed a good bit since this article was written. Its not really mustachian though, unless like me you have a long commute you can’t easily change.

    There was a previous reply about getting around 900 miles per tank of gas, which can be a major understatement depending on use. There are some people that have gone over 30k miles on a tank. I’m over 11000 on dealer gas.

    I couldn’t be happier with the car, and have no desire for anything else which says a lot for a car junkie.

    Thanks to MMM and all the other contributors to this blog for the sheer amount of information here. I’m looking forward to a more mustachian lifestyle!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 3, 2015, 9:05 am

      Wow, I’d love to find a Volt or other used hybrid or EV for $10k. I might have to start browsing Craig’s again over the coming year or so.

      • Amy K / RelaxedGal on the MMM forums March 3, 2015, 10:31 am

        Last weekend I bought a 2012 Nissan Leaf, certified pre-owned from the Nissan Dealership, with 36,000 miles, for just under $13,000. I’m in Massachusetts which is now offering a $2500 rebate on top of the federal $7500 tax credit, for a total of $10,000 off the sticker price of a new electric car. That has really depressed the resale value. I haven’t seen anything under $10,000 but I also didn’t look very hard. I definitely think they’re around, or will be down to that price next year. Since I got such a great price on certified pre-owned, that tells me that there are cheaper options out there!

      • Amy K March 3, 2015, 7:18 pm

        Here ya go, my Mom just sent me a 2012 Leaf on Craisgslist for $12K,


        Better deal than I got on mine, and I’m sure you could negotiate it down a bit.

      • ForuMMM March 4, 2015, 7:03 am

        In CO you could get a brand new one (Nissan Leaf S trim with quick charge package) for about $12k after the federal and $6k CO tax credit. You could drop that price by about $1500 if you can find an S without the quick charge package. I got the upgraded charging on both of mine since I plan to keep them forever and it would be ideal to have for road trips (once freeway charging infrastructure is more prevalent).

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 4, 2015, 8:10 am

          Holy cow. $12k NEW? I think I’ll have a chat with the local Nissan dealer about the details.

          Not for my own driveway, since it would be a total waste to tie up that many resources unused and degrading in the sun (we don’t even have a garage at the moment).. but I have a feeling not many Coloradans realize how cheap these are at the moment.

          At anywhere under $20k, virtually EVERYONE in my city should have a Leaf as their commuter car – (and a gas burner as the second car).

          • ForuMMM March 4, 2015, 10:37 am

            Yes. In my case my cost to purchase was $13k new after tax credits and manufacturer incentives, including dealer fee. But GA’s $5k credit is less than CO’s $6k. Nissan also offers 0% financing. So I borrowed the full out-the-door price at 0% for 6 years and invested the tax credits when they arrived last month.
            Sale price+dealer fee: $29,206
            Manufacturer rebate: $3,500
            Amount borrowed at 0%: $25,705 (omitting my license and vehicle tax)
            Federal tax credit: $7,500
            State tax credit: $5,000
            Total cost to me: $13,205
            Depending on market performance over the next 6 years, my cost could be $o since I invested the tax credit money instead of paying down the loan.

      • Amy K March 18, 2015, 10:05 am

        Prices will likely go down again at the end of 2016 when the AT&T 2G network goes away.


        ^ lots of people there planning to turn in their cars at end of lease because the Carwings features go *POOF*. I bet there will be a plan B from auto manufacturers (according to that forum it’s the same network used by Ford Sync [so Ford Focus Electrics will go down in value too) and GM’s OnStar). Given that it’s used so widely I bet there will be an aftermarket solution, but many at end of lease won’t want to deal with it so my bet is there will be a glut of used electrics.

        I’m loving my 2012 Leaf, but it looks like lots of improvements were made in the 2013 (better regenerative braking, heat pump) so if you can pick of of those up off-lease at the end of 2016…

        I saw an ad on the local Craigslist “I want to buy your electric car” – offering to buy someone out at the end of their lease. Might be a good way to get a deal; I hadn’t even considered that option until I saw the ad.

        Though if, as ForuMMM said, you can get a new Leaf $12K… that’s a great deal and hard to beat on the used market at the moment!

  • Joe March 4, 2015, 8:17 am

    I now have 52,000 miles on mine. I paid about $28,000 after incentives and still feel the savings will pretty much make it a free car in the end compared to a gas car.

  • Mike March 29, 2015, 9:16 pm

    I feel like this article needs some updating. Prices on electric cars have fallen like a rock. I just bought a Ford Focus electric for 25k, so ~17k after tax credits (I’m in Oregon, so federal tax credits only). Keep in mind, this is not your barebones Ford Focus either, this thing has EVERY option, nav, voice commands, 9 speaker stereo, etc… If you bought the gas equivalent, it would be ~25k. Oh, and they gave me a 0% loan for 60 months.

    So practically free to run (actually, free because of my solar panels, which I also installed for practically nothing), gets 65-100 miles range, no maintenance, AND 8k cheaper than the gas version. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t have these as their commuter. It’s just stupid cheap.

    PS – The warranty is a 10 year, 150k mile warranty for anything to do with the drivetrain, and standard Ford warranty on everything else. That’s tough to beat.

    • MichaelD March 31, 2015, 12:29 pm

      What he said!: Except $9K instead of $17K

      I’ve had several comments along the line of
      “If I could get a Mitsubishi iMiEV EV for the awesome price you paid [about $13.8K] I’d seriously consider it.”
      How does $8,500 sound? New.
      I’ve pasted below a message I got from the iMiEV forum.
      Granted that’s for units in northern Minnesota and it could cost a grand (easily) to get it transported and there’s issues with sales tax & etc. but wow, $8.5K.
      The Mitsu dealer in some areas have previously been pretty good about bringing in cars from out of state, so you might check with them.

      Michael. my blog: http://everettpowered-evs.blogspot.com/

      Some of the US 2014 iMiEV inventory is now sporting $8000 off pricing. 2016’s are coming in now.
      This results in a new 2014 going for $15,995.
      Assuming you qualify for the federal tax credit of $7500 that puts the price down to $8500ish.

  • Chris Hansen July 4, 2015, 7:56 am

    MMM, I know this is an old thread, but I am in the market for another car because I want a more efficient vehicle. Used electric cars depreciate extremely fast! I think I read that the Nissan Leaf is one of the fastest depreciating cars on the market. You can pick up a 2012 Nissan Leaf with less than 50,000 miles for around $10,000. Check out this search: http://houston.craigslist.org/search/cta?auto_make_model=nissan+leaf

    Personally, I would like to spend around $5,000-6,000, so I may hold off for a few more years then replace my Ford Focus with an electric car. I do have a round trip commute of 30 miles to work, but my wife works in the same town (less than 5 miles). Since we are a 2 person car household, we can use her car for the long trips and my car can be the electric car. Gas prices are down right now, but they will go back up eventually. Just my 2 cents.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 4, 2015, 11:52 am

      Yeah, those used Leafs are a screaming bargain! In fact, if you’re driving that much ($1200 or more per year in gas), it may make sense to pull the vehicle upgrade in even earlier.

      • PatrickGSR94 July 4, 2015, 12:31 pm

        In the past 3 years, by cycling my 31 mile round trip commute 2-3 times a week, I’ve cut my car miles from 14K to 7K per year which has saved around $700 a year!

      • Chris Hansen July 11, 2015, 11:51 am

        It looks like that $9,400 Nissan Leaf already sold, so I will keep searching until I find another good deal. I did get an insurance quote for a Nissan Leaf compared to my Ford Focus and it will not go up at all. I will only put liability only on the car since I will pay in cash, so no comprehensive or collision insurance. I can sell my Ford Focus for around $3,000 which will be a net cost of $7,000 to upgrade my car (except for taxes and tags). I do drive quite a few miles on my car since my wife’s car is even more inefficient than mine (we always use my car). I do spend around $150 per month on fuel (more if we see family on vacation), so this would cut my monthly expenses down tremendously. I do admit, driving is the one area that I can improve on but driving the most efficient vehicle is at least a step in the right direction. We do hover around a 65-70% saving rate but I hate polluting the earth. Thank you for the input and I will continue to search to find a good used electric car.

  • Martin July 23, 2015, 9:39 am

    Do watch out for battery degradation on a used Leaf, I think that is the biggest reason for why they are so cheap. It mostly depends on the climate where it was used – the hotter the area, the more the battery has degraded and the effective range of the car shrunk.
    The i-MiEV seems to be and even better bargain in the used market, since its perceived to be ‘too basic’, however compared to the Leaf it has a couple of advantages – the air-cooled battery seems to be holding its capacity better than the sealed Leaf batteries, and the cargo space, especially with the seats folded down flat, is more cavernous and better shaped to swallow large objects.

    • Chris H. July 23, 2015, 11:20 am

      Thank you for the tip! I have actually done some and found out that the 2013 Leafs and before were exhibiting issues with battery degradation in hot climates. I have read that the battery chemistry in the 2014 Leafs were changed to address this problem. Here is some information that I found pertaining to this issue:


      I live around Tulsa, OK, so we have some very hot summer days and don’t want to buy a car that has a battery degrade in a short period of time. I almost bought a 2013 Nissan Leaf and then found out about potential battery issues with this model in a hot climate (It was less than 10K too!).

      I will look into a used i-MiEV’s though. I don’t care about it being a basic car (or perceived). I just care about bringing my cost per mile down to the absolute lowest and the sales price matters more than features in a car. There are no used electric cars to be found in the Tulsa area so I have to shop in Dallas or Kansas City. This means I may have to haul the car on a trailer or strategically plan my route to find charge stations. I am still on the hunt for a good used electric car.

  • Chris H. July 23, 2015, 8:57 pm

    Holy cow! The used Mitsubishi I-MiEVs are cheap! I found one California for $6500 with 28k miles! I will pull the trigger on one of these soon! Here is the car I am looking at:


    • Amy K (RelaxedGal on the MMM forums) July 24, 2015, 7:21 am

      If you’re in California used i-Mievs are pretty much free. I base that statement solely on Spartana’s forum post that says they have a cash-for-clunkers style program that gives you a $9500 incentive to buy an electric car.

      I wonder if that will increase demand and drive prices up for used EVs.

      If you’re not in California it’s still a steal, and it’s about $700 to have a car transported.

      • Chris H July 26, 2015, 8:53 am

        That is insane! I got a transport quote to deliver to Tulsa for $900. The net cost would be approximately $8,000 after taxes and transportation. I wonder how much further the used prices will go down or if I should just pull the trigger and buy it.

  • Chris H. July 29, 2015, 8:10 am

    I inquired about this car:


    I contacted the dealer and it will cost about $8200 after all taxes, fees, and transportation. I don’t want to purchase anything based on emotion. My current car has 145,000 miles and could go for awhile longer and is worth about $3,000.

    I calculate that I could save around $563 per year based on 12,000 miles per year (32 mpg car vs 30 KWH/100 miles @ $0.13/KWH) I would also save another $26/5000 miles for oil changes which adds another $62.40 per year in savings.

    The net cost of the car would be around $5,200. Therefore, the payback period would be about ($563+62.40)/$5200 = 8.3 years.

    One thing that is not considered in this equation is the fact that my current car has 145,000 miles right now. I would be getting a new car with only 12,000 miles, so it would be more reliable. I am torn on this but I want to make the most logical decision. What is everyone’s opinion on this car?

    • PatrickGSR94 July 29, 2015, 8:14 am

      Don’t forget other things besides oil changes like coolant changes and flushes, transmission fluid service/flush/filter etc., plus all the repairs and other things that happen to older cars, and are specific to ICE cars. The payback could be sooner than you think.

    • PatrickGSR94 July 29, 2015, 8:16 am

      Also can you reduce your driving miles at all? In the past 3 years I have reduced my driving from 14K to just 7K miles a year by bike commuting to work 2-3 times a week. At 28 MPG and 2.65/gallon that’s a savings of over $600 per year.

      • Chris H. July 29, 2015, 11:31 am

        My wife and I both work. She works in the same town that we live in. I am the one who will commute for now. You are really correct on this point and I am willing to admit this. The root of the problem is that I drive too much and should bike more. My morning commute is 14 miles 1 way. From a mustachian perspective, car driving should be a novelty activity and not done on a daily basis. I have to admit, I am a beginner biker and will need to build up my stamina to effectively bike 14 miles. When I reach financial independence, commuting to work by car will be a thing of the past. I plan for this to happen in about 6-7 years. My wife plans to still work, but she is just beginning her career (I have already been working for about 5 years). I do at least strategically plan my trips to the grocery store on the way home from work and other errands without adding any extra miles. My family has moved away from our area, so no more trips over the weekend to see them (55 miles one way).

        I did not consider the other maintenance on ICE cars. If the payback can get down to about 5 years, I would be happy. If I did buy this car, it should last me to retirement. After that, my driving will plummet.

        Thanks for the input!

        • PatrickGSR94 July 29, 2015, 12:13 pm

          Yeah for the longest time I thought I couldn’t bike to work, as it’s about 14-15 miles each way depending on the route. Finally I took the plunge in 2012 and have been enjoying it ever since. It’s a great workout as I get in 65-80 minutes of activity, twice a day, 2-3 times a week. My route of choice is 15.5 miles each way exactly, or 31 miles round trip.

          I started out splitting the commute between days so drive in, bike home, bike in, drive home, etc. That spreads out the commute rides between days. But for me I had to leave my bike rack on the car almost all the time which I hated. Now it’s easier for me to bike in and home in the same day.

          I highly recommend an adult cycling education like Cycling Savvy. http://www.cyclingsavvy.org see if they have a class near your area. I finally took the class last month and I highly recommend it to everyone interested in cycling as a form of transportation.

  • Matt August 1, 2016, 3:13 pm

    Buying a new electric car is foolish, like every other car. You can pick up great deals on them now that they’ve been out for a few years. I just got a 2012 Volt a few months ago for $7k with 190k miles in it. No problems at all and no battery concerns since the charger never fully charges and it never completely discharges. Its also thermally regulated. In getting about 120 mpg regularly.

    40-50 miles on electricity, then it auto changes over to gas only to operate a generator. That engine only comes on as needed and only in certain situations helps turn the wheels.

    Try to find documentation of battery failure on the volt. Even if it did fail, I’ll pay a couple thousand to replace it myself and still be ahead. Motors have a ton of life range compared to engines. I’ll never own a gas car again.

  • Lan Mandragoran July 31, 2017, 9:17 am

    We’ve come a long way since this article! Model 3 released friday, woot woot ! :D.

  • FullyBearded JuniorMustachian December 13, 2019, 10:35 am

    With 2020 around the corner, I would love to see an updated article on this topic. While the majority of manufacturers currently are taking advantage of gas prices at stable, low rates they are producing more and more Anti-Mustachian SUVs because people aren’t as afraid of filling the tanks these days. Meanwhile Tesla has been doing a lot of things lately (You gonna get a used Cybertruck 10 years from now for your carpentry needs, MMM?) as well certain other manufacturers have been producing various electric options. A lot has changed.


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