How do you charge an electric vehicle and how much does it cost?

We recently rented a Tesla Model Y from Hertz and took it on a 900-mile round trip through the Adirondacks, Quebec, Vermont, and the Hudson Valley. This was a bit of a test-drive to see if an electric vehicle could put up with being driven on a road trip that we had planned without much thought to where we’d fill up. It was a fairly smooth trip fuel-wise went despite spending a good chunk of the trip camping with no electrical hookup.

However, this article isn’t about our road trip, it’s all about how charging an EV works and how much it costs. Does electricity beat gasoline as a fuel? It depends. Read on for more.

How to refuel

Tesla Chargers

Tesla has its own proprietary network of Superchargers, which will fill your car from mostly empty to mostly full in 30 minutes. In 45 to 60 minutes it fills the battery to full, which registers as roughly 329 miles til empty. Connecting to a Supercharger immediately starts the charging and payment, which is charged back to you through Hertz. The rate you are charged at is not directly stated, but is roughly $0.48 per kWh (more on that later). 

We used these to fill the car up to full while on the road and added hundreds of miles at a time. In Plattsburgh, we charged from 20 miles up to 320+ miles in an hour.

Other networks

Other networks exist, such as ChargePoint, which we used several times in Vermont and New York. These chargers add the equivalent of roughly 22 miles per hour, though the charging may be halved when two vehicles are connected to the same charger. Interestingly, charging is halved even when the other connected vehicle is no longer charging. Prices are set by the owner of the charging point, which ranged from free, to $0.16 per kWh, up to $1.75 per hour. 

In practice, these were only good for 20-40 miles of charge at a time because we only used them while parked and visiting a town for 2 hours at a time. At this charging rate, you would need 10-12 hours to fill the battery.

How to understand fuel economy

It’s a bit of a mathematical mess to conceptualize how much it costs to fill up an EV. Some places charge you by the minute, others charge you by the kWh, others, Tesla for one, highlight only the price and how much mileage you’ve charged up.

The equivalent to miles per gallon for EVs is kilowatt hours per mile, which is a number determined by the type of vehicle, how fast you drive, and the route you take. Once you understand the price per kWh, you can calculate cents per mile driven, which is how to compare cars with different fuel types.

The issue is that car mileage isn’t measured in cents per mile. To understand the equivalent fuel price you need to take miles per gallon of a typical car and the price of gas and divide one by the other.

In the example below, I’ve used the fuel efficiency numbers from here, prices from ChargePoint and Tesla from our recent trip, and an average recent gas price and economy car mileage.

Tesla Model Y

ChargePoint: $0.16 per kWh X 0.28 kWh/mi = $0.05 per mile. This price is essentially the same price as charging at home.

Tesla Supercharger: $0.48 per kWh X 0.28 kWh/mi = $0.13 per mile

Gas-powered vehicle

Economy gas-powered vehicle: $4 per gallon / 35 mi/gal = $0.11 per mile

“Gas guzzler”: $4 per gallon / 20 mi/gal = $0.20 per mile

As measured in cents per mile, filling up at ChargePoint is less than half the price when gas is at $4, while a Tesla Supercharger is slightly more expensive per mile. If you compare against a “gas guzzler” that gets 20 mpg, the numbers look even better.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that charging at home, assuming the home electric price is similar to ChargePoint, will cost less than half the fuel cost of an economy gas-powered vehicle when gas is at $4/gal. Somewhere like Quebec, where the kWh price is around $0.07, the math is even more favorable to EVs.

When on the road, the Tesla Supercharger network allows you to fill up at a price equivalent to roughly $4/gal gas.

Volkswagen Beetles Live on in Mexico

I originally posted this back in 2016. I’ve updated this post in October 2021 to fix the gallery and add a few new photos. During our trip to Mexico City this month, it seems like the vochos are getting even older and ricketier or they’re being reclaimed as polished-up antique cars by aficionados. Herbie the Love Bug, for example, we spotted in Coyoacán earlier this month.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked the VW Beetle: small, cartoon-like, and iconic of ’60s culture and music that I grew up with, thanks to my parents. I was further fascinated when, back in college, I found that the Beetle was produced in Mexico all the way up through the millenium, with production ending with the 2004 model year. In fact, a version of the original Beetle was exported to Europe after production ended in Germany!

The Beetle Sedán, known as the vocho in Mexico, was also produced in Brazil for the Brazilian market through the 1990s. This led me to write a class paper comparing industrial policy in Mexico and Brazil through the lens of the Beetle, which you might as well take a look at, since I still had it saved. It’s actually fairly fascinating, if you like history and Cold War-era politics, though you’ll have to trust me. Read it here.

There are thousands, if not millions, of these old Beetles still circulating in Mexico, thanks to skilled mechanics, cheap replacement parts, and the car’s practicality. When I first went to Mexico, I remember being told that you can get a reconditioned engine swapped out in your VW for the equivalent of $250 US.

Passing through the mountains on the way back to Mexico City from Tepoztlán, where many of these photos were taken, in some towns half the vehicles on the streets were vochos. It turns out the engines handle the hills better than other vehicles in their class, so they’ve clustered in towns with steep inclines.

When I first came to Mexico, in 2007, they were ubiquitous as taxis, though now are entirely phased out due to emissions restrictions and safety concerns. In the face of progress, it’s surprising to me to see the vocho‘s staying power. Nostalgia and usefulness mix as this workhorse of a vehicle powers on through another decade.

The photos included below are a collection from our last trip to Mexico City and surrounding towns.