Sure, there are plenty of great non-economic reasons for wanting to limit your gasoline consumption, but when it comes down to it, most of us want to know how much money we’re spending or saving as a result of our green car buying decisions. Pretty much anyone who’s ever shopped for an alternative-fuel vehicle—be it hybrid, plug-in, clean diesel, E85, compressed natural gas, etc.—has sat down at some point and crunched cost-of-ownership numbers. How much gas will you save by buying a hybrid as opposed to one of the more efficient gas-only cars? Is that VW Jetta TDI really worth the added clean diesel premium?
But cost-of-ownership calculations can be tricky. Just because FuelEconomy.gov tells you that the average Prius owner will spend $1038 on gas each year whereas the average the average Chevy Cruze Eco driver will spend $1728, doesn’t mean your fuel costs will be anywhere in the neighborhood of those projections. Depending upon where you live, how you use your car and how much time you spend on the highway, blanket estimates can be of little use in determining the true longterm cost of owning a given model.
Thankfully, the Department of Energy has come up with a handy and powerful new tool that takes a lot of the guesswork (and tedious back-of-the-envelop math) out of these calculations. And the more you know about your transportation habits, the closer the site will be able to get to capturing your individual cost-to-drive reality.
Simply enter in some basic information―your zip code, average daily commute, how much of that commute takes place on the highway, how many extra miles you drive on special trips each year, how much gas costs in your area, etc.―and then select as many as eight vehicle models from the menu. (If you’re considering a plug-in like the Chevy Volt or Nissan LEAF, don’t forget to subtract the $7,500 federal tax credit from the price of the vehicle.)
The tool will generate a graph showing how much each vehicle costs to own for each year from when you buy it to 15 years in the future. Individual information such as gas and electricity costs, annual carbon emissions and the cost per-mile to drive each model is also available―making the site one of the most comprehensive tools of its kind available.