Do EVs Save Drivers Money in the Long Run?

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Electric cars and gas-electric hybrids have bigger sticker prices than their conventional-engine and hybrid-engine counterparts. But does the cheaper price of “fueling up” by simply plugging in result in savings for electric vehicle owners in the long run? By some accounts, the answer is probably not if you only consider the numbers over the course of three years, but maybe if you own the EV for at least five years.

EVs are green, futuristic, cool in a geeky way, and potentially mind-blowing. But will owning one save you money?

(MORE: 3 Electric Cars You Can Buy Soon … And 3 That’ll Blow Your Mind)

That’s debatable. A Los Angeles Times story prepping would-be EV owners for what to expect with an electric car says that going electric probably doesn’t make sense in purely financial terms:

When you take the purchase price, add in the cost of three years of maintenance, three years of fuel and a home charging station, then back out the expected resale price, a Chevrolet Volt will run almost $9,000 more than a similar-size conventional-engine Hyundai Elantra and about $5,000 more than the current Prius hybrid before sales taxes and registration fees.

(MORE: The EV Diaries: Firsthand Experiences With Electric Vehicles)

A Kiplinger story, on the other hand, takes a longer view and compared the gas-electric Volt and the electric Nissan Leaf to their closest conventional and hybrid-engine counterparts. Over the course of five years, and factoring in everything including depreciation, maintenance, insurance, gas prices ranging between $3.50 and $4 a gallon, and up-front costs, owning and operating a Volt or Leaf isn’t that much more expensive than a similar traditional automobile:

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that although the Volt and Leaf have stratospheric sticker prices—nearly double those of the gas-engine Chevrolet Cruze LTZ and Nissan Versa S hatchback—both have super-low five-year ownership costs. The Volt’s costs come within $500 of the Cruze’s and the Leaf is only $800 more than the Versa over five years.

If gas prices rose significantly and say, a gallon of regular cost $4.50 or $5 at the pump during this hypothetical five-year period, it’d probably wind up being cheaper to own a Volt rather than a Cruze, or a Leaf rather than a Versa.

What’s not factored at all into the equation, however, is the so-called “range anxiety” experienced by EV owners; that’s the fear of the car exceeding its range and dying somewhere on the road because it needs a recharge. While the Volt can be driven several hundred miles without the need to recharge or fuel up, the Leaf and forthcoming pure electric cars are expected to cover 100 miles max before recharging is required.

So for drivers keen on road trips and longer journeys, there’s another cost to consider before buying an EV: the cost to rent or own another car that can handle such trips.

(MORE: 6 New Developments in the World of Electric Cars)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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