February 27, 2012

Vehicle Cost Calculator at AFDC

Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center (AFDC) of the Dept. of Energy has a Vehicle Cost Calculator.   The calculation allows you to specify your mileage and how you drive and it figures figure the cost of fuel.   It lets you pick the car you want by year, make and model.  They also add in various other costs of the car including maintenance and depreciation.   This results in a 'total cost' of ownership style of calculation to figure your accumulative cost over many years.

I like that they give you the ability to customize for your own driving usage rather than just assuming typical average American driving pattern of logging 12,000 miles a year 40% in the city and 60% on the freeway.  If you're looking at an electric car like a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt the calculator also takes into account variable electricity costs for different locations across the USA.

I'm going to try out their calculator and compare three different cars across three different driving scenarios.   The cars and driving scenarios I'm choosing are mostly just arbitrary to give en example of how the calculator works and what we can do with it.   You can pick cars of your own to compare and then plug in your own driving scenario to get results that would be meaningful to your own needs.

For all cases I'm using a gasoline price of $3.50 per gallon and I arbitrarily picked an area that has relatively inexpensive electricity of just 7.5¢ per kWh.   Most places in the USA have higher priced electricity. 

Three example cars

Car 1 : Chevy Volt.  I'm assuming a price of around $32,500 after a $7500 tax credit. - electric drive train with gasoline backup
Car 2 : Toyota Prius  sticker price $26,400 - the most popular hybrid with high MPG
Car 3 : Ford Fiesta , retail cost of $15,990 - an inexpensive compact car with good MPG

I then chose 3 different scenarios with differing driving habits.

Case 1 : Fairly Typical
This is meant to be the average driving amount.  I'm guessing a typical driver usually puts 20 miles or sow on their care in a typical day and maybe half of that is on the freeway.   They may take another 4000 miles of other trips with 80% freeway driving.

Case 2 : My Dad
This is a lower driving amount with low freeway miles.   I'm using my on Dad as the model.  My Dad drives around town quite a bit but he doesn't use the freeway much and doesn't really take out of town trips .   I would make a rough guess that he might drive around 40 miles a day.  I'd put his freeway driving at only about 10%.    I added in 0 miles for additional trips.

Case 3 : Heavy commuter
This case is like case 1 but instead of just 20 miles a day they drive 75 miles a day for work and 90% of it is freeway.

Here are thee resulting graphs showing the cumulative cost for the 3 cars in my 3 scenarios.  Click on each of the graphs to see the full size image.

Case 1 : Typical

Case 2 : Dad

Case 3 : Commuter

In all 3 cases you can see that the cheap Ford Fiesta is the overall cheapest car from start to finish.   Gradually over the years the Fiesta starts to catch up in cost due to its higher fuel costs.   However the charts go out to 15 years and that seems like a fairly reasonable practical maximum life span for a car.  I really wouldn't expect a car to last you longer than that. 

Again, the 3 cars are just an example comparison.   I'm not trying to make a point about these three cars nor am I going to insist everyone go buy a Fiesta.   You should compare cars of your own choosing in your own driving scenario.  Maybe your comparison would be between a hybrid Ford Escape and a Honda Minivan which you might use for your flower delivery service.   Or maybe you want to compare various family sedans in your own suburban driving needs.

Bottom Line :   The vehicle cost calculator at the AFDC website is another tool to use to compare the overall costs of different vehicles.   I like that the tool lets you fine tune the driving usage and considers variable electric costs.


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