Reader Rides: Why I Drive Electric – A Three Year Review Of Life With The Second-Generation Toyota RAV4 EV.

This May I reached three years of driving my 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV.  I’ve already written a number of articles about the Rav4 EV, and after 3 years of driving I’d like to answer a couple of key questions, such as “How much energy does it take to drive an electric car?” , “Why do I drive an EV?” and perhaps most importantly, “Why is this important to me?”

First a bit about the car for those who aren’t familiar with this “compliance” electric vehicle.

The 2012-2014 Toyota Rav4 EV is an electrified version of the 2012 Toyota Rav4.  It features a 41.8 kWh battery pack and electric motor that were supplied to Toyota by Tesla.  This car was made in small numbers and sold by Toyota only in California, which is why it’s called a “compliance” car by many electric car enthusiasts.  The EPA rated range is 113 miles on a full charge.  The car seats five and has a large storage capacity in the rear: 36 cubic feet², 73 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.

This versatile car has been my primary vehicle since the day I bought it.  In three years I’ve driven 42,200 miles.  That’s 14,000 miles a year, which matches the average annual mileage for a driver in the United States.

To get an idea of operating costs and mileage efficiency, I recorded my monthly mileage and estimated energy use.

Here’s my report:  I used about 360 kWh of electricity, from the wall, to drive about 1170 miles each month.  In total I used about 12,665 kWh of electricity over 3 years to charge my car.

My electric rate at home over the past three years averaged 15.3 cents per kWh.  At that rate I would have paid about $1950 to drive those 42,200 miles.  That works out to about 4.6 cents per mile.  For comparison, according to AAA on May 9th the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States was $2.21.  Driving a car getting 25 MPG works out to 8.8 cents a gallon.

Another way to look at that is to consider equivalent MPG, or eMPG.  A gallon of gas is equal to 33.7 kWh of electricity.  So, 12,665 kWh, divided by 33.7 kWh/gallon = 375.8 gallons of gas to drive 42,200 miles.  That works out to 112 eMPG.  Electric cars are much more efficient than gas powered cars.  Granted, I live in the flat, warm, Sacramento region – ideal driving conditions.  But, the same driving style over the same route in a Prius got me 53 MPG.  My 4000 pound brick shaped EV is 2 times more efficient than a Prius.

So yeah, driving an EV is cheaper.  But for me this is the least important reason to drive electric.  Here are the 4 reasons why I drive electric.

1:  Power your car with domestic energy

By driving electric you decrease our reliance on foreign energy.  I drive a car powered by 100% American made energy.  Domestic energy = Independence.

FullSizeRender 22:  Pollution is real folks, and it is not good for us

There are 300 million cars on the road in the US.  The average person drives 35 miles a day, in a car that gets maybe 20-25 miles per gallon.  As a result, we use more than 300 million gallons of gas every day (the actual number is 384 million gallons of gas each and every day).  And that’s just for cars and light trucks.  Why does that matter?  Burning a gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of CO².  So that’s 20 pounds times 384 million.  Every day.  That’s over 7 billion pounds of CO².  Yes, billion with a B.  7 billion pounds of CO² that we pump into the atmosphere every day.  But that’s not all.  Burning gasoline also produces nitrogen oxides; volatile compounds from unburned or partially burned fuel; carbon monoxide; sulphur dioxide; particulate matter and other toxins like benzene, 1,3-butadiene, acrolein, and formaldehyde.  Even if we aren’t familiar with the names of those compounds, we already know car exhaust is bad:  nobody would let their child sit in a garage with a running car for an hour.  But yet we treat the atmosphere like it’s some limitless reservoir that we can pump billions of pounds of toxins into every single day.  And keep in mind that current research is providing more and more evidence for how air pollution impairs our health, and the health of our children.

3:  Electric cars are much cleaner, and get cleaner every year

Opponents say that EVs just shift emissions from the tailpipe to some coal burning plant down the road.  But very few areas in the US rely solely on coal for power any more.  There has been a big shift to natural gas (which burns cleaner), and there is steady, continual growth in the amount of electricity generated by renewable solar, wind and hydro sources.  13% of energy in the US comes from renewables that greatly reduce emissions.  As a result, the amount of pollution produced by driving an electric car is much less than that made by the average gas powered car.  AND it gets better each year.  The Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed the amount of pollution made by charging an electric car in different regions of the US based on the fuel sources used to generate electricity by regional utilities.  In the worst case scenario, you live in Denver and charging your EV makes an amount of pollution equivalent to driving a car that gets 34 MPG.  That’s the worst case.  In the best case you live in Alaska and get 126 MPG equivalent from your EV.  See the 2014 UCS map below.  And again, these numbers can improve every single year.  As the grid gets cleaner, related emissions go down and the air get cleaner.  Many people I know have solar panels and produce as much electricity for the grid on the roof of their house as they need for their house and driving combined. That’s Net-Zero emission driving.  And projects like the Honda House demonstrate that you can actually drive a car powered directly by the sun.  Sunshine ⇒ Battery ⇒ Car.  It’s that Simple.

2014 UCS Emissions



4:  Driving an electric car is a blast!

No need to say more on that last point, EV’s are simply a blast to drive.


I could be biased since I’ve been driving this EV for 3 years, but I’ve come to feel that an EV with 100+ miles of EPA-rated range, a DC charging port, and DC charging infrastructure, meets my needs throughout the year.  Two years from now I might be saying that 200 miles of range and an established DC charging network is what I need.  But today I am driving this EV.  Today I am powering my car on domestic energy.  Today I am reducing the amount of pollution from driving.  And I’m having a blast.  With the increasing number of EVs on the market today, there could be one that will meet your needs as well.


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  • Bruce Moore

    Have you tried expresing the cost of driving a vehicle in miles/dollar. I think that would make more sense to most people that explaining the energy equivalent of gas to electricity.

    • Stephen Noctor

      Yes, thanks. That data’s in there. EV: 4.6 cents per mile; 25 MPG car 8.8 cents per mile at a cost of 15.3 cents per kWh for electricity and $2.21 per gallon for gas. That cost ratio varies because gas prices jump around quite a lot lately.

      • Bruce Moore

        I am suggesting that you calculate the miles/dollar for electric and gas based on your assumptions, using your data and publish for your loyal followers.

        • Stephen Noctor

          Sure thing Bruce, it’s the same ratio however you look at it: At the prices stated above the EV goes 21.7 miles per dollar while the 25 MPG car drives 11.3 miles per dollar. So in this case the EV costs about half the price to drive / or drives twice about the distance per dollar.

          • Bruce Moore

            I took the following chart and put into a spreadsheet so I could change any value. Great way to compare miles/dollar (or any other denomination .

          • Stephen Noctor

            Thanks Bruce!

  • Martin Lacey

    Thanks Steve for the update. It’s always good to hear from someone walking the walk.

    Two years – 200 miles? Are you looking at GM or Tesla?

    Any problems so far with you Tesla powered Toyota?

    • Stephen Noctor

      Put down a deposit on the Model 3, but will consider the Bolt when it comes out, especially if GM gets serious about DC charging. Had my drive unit motor replaced at ~24,000 miles for a particular whine at low speed – car worked perfectly fine but Toyota reps recorded the sound, sent the audio file to Tesla, and they elected to replace the unit. The drive unit in my car is the circa 2012 Model S drive unit, we’re stuck in time and can’t get the updated Model S drive unit. But otherwise the car has worked great.

  • Chris O

    You notice that your RAV EV is twice as efficient than your 53 MPG Prius and go on to observe: “So yeah, driving an EV is cheaper”
    Compared to the 25MPG vehicle you used as comparison earlier that would be true, compared to that 53MPG Prius not so much as at $2.21 gasoline that would cost 4.2 cents/mile compared to the 4.6 cents/mile for the RAV4.

    Things are different of course for people with low cost off peak charging and installing solar panels should cap your energy cost at $0.07/KWh which would amount to half the cost of even a Prius.

    • Stephen Noctor

      Hi Chris. That’d be true if gas was steady at $2.21, but, as you know gas have been all over, and mostly much higher, the past 3 years. Your guess is as good as mine which way it’ll go next. I could have pointed that out but it added another paragraph, but I’m glad to know folks are paying attention! We still have our 2010 Prius and over the 3 years since we got the Rav my wife has driven 20,200 miles in the Prius. During that time gas has varied between $3.95 and $2.21 per gallon. We paid $1158 to drive those 20,200 miles = 5.7 cents per mile. If we go back further in time to match mileage driven – to compare how much we paid to drive the same 42000 miles put on the Rav – the cost goes up to 6.5 cents per mile (I actually had to pay as much as $4.44 at one time). You’re absolutely right about the off peak times. I tell you, there’s a whole other article there about how rates vary between utilities, tiered usage, off peak, etc. Thanks again.

      • Chris O

        Oilprices are definitely inching upwards again in the past few months slowly making plug-ins more attractive and putting pressure on the recently renewed interest in gas guzzlers. Slow is the key word though. Looks like OPEC is boiling the live frog here: don’t throw it in hot water it will just jump out, just put it in the pot and slowly turn up the heat..

        As people slowly get used to higher oilprices they may be less inclined to move away from inefficient vehicles or even embrace alternatives. Still, the increased viability of plug-ins as a substitute for oil should mean that OPEC needs to tread carefully here. Any sudden peaks or breaking psychological barriers (maybe $3/gallon?)and Model 3 reservations will go through the roof and the rest of the industry will scramble to make similar cars…

        However even moderate oilprices are not competitive with rooftop solar and off peak rates -if one can get them…Also Tesla appears to have succeeded in creating large scale demand for EVs outside factors like environmental and cost concerns.

        • Figuratively speaking

          You are just an illiterate Tesla clown.