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Electric, diesel or hybrid car? Cost and CO2 calculator helps consumers choose


As the Environmental Protection Agency struggles with how to accurately label passenger vehicles for fuel economy and greenhouse-gas emissions, a new online cost and CO2 emissions calculator launched today to help fill the void.

"Electrics, hybrids, plug-ins, all these alternative powertrain cars are a hot topic these days, but there's not a good way to look at the bottom line of what it costs to own one of these," said Jon Lal, founder of, a frugal-living website that offers tools to help consumers save money, including its new calculator.

The calculator allows consumers to first determine which type of alternative-drivetrain vehicle best suits their driving needs based on what state they live in, how many city and highway miles they drive, how many road trips they take each year (and at what distance) and fuel costs in their state, whether it be electricity, gas or diesel.

Using its database of 64 vehicles (four electric, eight diesel, 13 hybrid and 39 popular gas-powered cars) the calculator then allows users to make side-by-side comparisons using EPA miles-per-gallon data, manufacturers' suggested retail prices and other factors.

Electric car operating costs are translated into an mpg equivalent, or MPGe, using individual states' electricity costs as calculated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Electric cars' upstream carbon dioxide emissions are also calculated using DOE data on the electricity source for each state.

According to, Washington, Idaho, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas are the states with the lowest electricity rates, making electric cars most economical on a cost-per-mile basis. Vermont, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire are the best states in terms of electric cars' lowest upstream CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour.

The top two states for electric cars' lowest operating costs and greenhouse-gas emissions: Idaho and Washington.

California ranks sixth in lowest CO2 emissions, at 0.3 tons per kilowatt-hour (versus 0.001 for Vermont). The state ranks 45th in terms of electricity cost at 15.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (versus 8.3 cents for Washington).

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: American Honda Motor

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Nice post to read what is CO2 calculator !!

Lighten up, everyone. This is suppose to be a "fun" calculator, not the be all, end all. It even says in the disclaimers that it does not include depreciation, which for an electric car could be considerable as the expensive batteries age. It also does not include manufacturing CO2 emissions. Just enjoy it for what it is.

Ms. Carpenter also ignored the fact that a number of states have their rates for electricity "tiered". In CA for example it is easy to hit the 3rd tier during the summer when the AC is running on a daily basis. The rate is about $.25 per KWH. Of course there is a temporary plan that allows the user to charge their electric vehicle at night for about $.06 a KWH but PG&G will not say for how long this program will be offered. Oh by the way Obama is still planning to implement "Cap and Trade" which is expected to double the rates for electricity across the country.....

Saying California ranks 6th in CO2 emissions is extremely disingenuous. CA regulates coal fired electricity generation out of existence, then outsources electricity to states that generate electricity via coal. Disingenuous? or hypocritical. What say you.

Upstream? You want upstream? This read is similar to the phony Art Spinnella one man research company (paid by the auto industry to discover) who "discovered" the Hummer is more efficient than a Prius. Debunked, these bald face lies live on like so many bad zombie movies. I guess all those military deaths in the middle east, in the Twin Towers (terrorist anger because our imperialistic tentacles reach out to politically control oil rich countries) etc don't count as upstream. No no no, we wouldn't want to factor in the deaths and military costs needed to secure our OVER 50% of our fossil fuel that we need to import to feed our Suburbans, RV's, Silverados, and other land barges used to pull 300 horse power boats down to the Colorado river. THOSE upstream "costs" we merely write off as an expense to "keep our freedom". Yea, freedom to waste the last 1/2 of the worlds remaining oil. This calculator MUST have been put together by those with a vested interest in maintaining stupidity. Sorry to see the LA Times go down that road.

And gasoline cars have no upstream emissions? What crap. Let's begin with the CO2 and other pollutants in the oil exploration process. Then, in the oil drilling process. Then in building the oil transportation infrastructure (pipelines). Then in the actual transportation of oil. Then in the refining process that produces gasoline. Note the huge amount of (oil and natural gas produced) electricity needed to refine oil into gasoline. Then in the transportation of gasoline to the filling station. How about the emissions released in building the gas car? Get real! Upstream emissions for gas cars are probably greater than for electric vehicles, given the inefficiency of the oil to energy process, and the relatively complex nature of a gas vs. electric car.

very nice, it is really need of the countries having power shortage like pakistan.

Electric cars are really the cars for future..!!

Ms. Carpenter, you should amend your blog post to point out that the calculator is imbalanced because it includes upstream emissions for electricity but not for gasoline. That's ridiculous. Gasoline doesn't appear out of thin air, you know. They've got the beginnings of a good calculator but are making unfair and inaccurate comparisons unless they include upstream (or "well to wheels") emissions for all cars, or stick with tailpipe-one emissions for all cars. Use the same metrics for all, or it's a misleading calculator. (It's no consolation that even in this unfair comparison, electric cars are cleaner than gas ones. Get it right, or you're letting gassers off the hook for their significant upstream emissions!)

One huge problem with this calculator is that while upstream emissions are rightly considered for the electricity for the EV, you do no such calculation for the gas side. You count the CO2 from the tailpipe, but that gas didn't magically appear in the tank. Pollution was generated every step of the way in getting that gas, from extracting it from the ground, to shipping it to the refinery, refining the oil into gas generates the most pollution, then it's loaded into 18 wheel tanker trucks that deliver it to the gas station where more electricity is used to pump it into your tank.

In California, the highest use of electricity is pumping water. Second highest is the extraction and refinement of oil into gas.

For any calculator to be worth anything, the substantial upstream emissions for oil must be considered.

My favorite part? All gasoline cars show ZERO upstream emissions. Yet for all the electric cars, there is some amount listed for upstream emissions. So EVs are dinged for making the fuel (though all of mine comes from solar panels) while gasoline cars get a free pass on oil extraction and gasoline production. I guess gasoline really does grow on trees!

You do realize that C02 is necessary for plant photosynthesis. I bet if you took a survey it would reveal most think C02 is pollution. Look at it this way, if you could build a machine to suck all of the C02 from the atmosphere it would be completely destructive to life on earth. So C02 is essential to life, but is too much a bad thing? Well, since it is only a tiny fraction of the atmosphere is C02 we are ridiculously far from being a problem. Our atmosphere is: 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen. Water vapor 0.247%, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, and traces of hydrogen, helium, and other "noble" gases.
There it is less than 4 100ths of 1 % of a gas essential for life on earth. Do you need more to think about? Search on the impact to growing tomatoes in a C02 rich environment.

One other thing. This calculator neglects to consider the time value of money. Buying a car that will cost you $1 this year and $2 next year is a much, much cheaper car than a car that will cost you $2 this year and $1 next year. This calculator says that if I were to have bought a Prius instead of a Grand Caravan, I would have broken even in 5 years. 5 years?! Nevermind I would have paid double in loan interest. Nevermind I would not have been able to carry 7 people. Nevermind I would be a societal burden to some rich person who would fund my $7,000 tax credit.

For electric cars, consider the fact that, while you do get the tax credit, you still have to front the money. Consider the interest on the overall higher loan. Consider inflation. Consider missed investment opportunities. Consider the overall economic freedom of lower monthly payments.

Electric still costs too much, in the NPV (net present value) sense. I'm not fooled, even if you tell me that you will pick a rich person's pocket to help me pay for it.

CO2 ain't the only societal cost of running an electric vehicle. I can assure you that a rich person having their pocket picked for a $7,000 tax credit for someone else is not proportionately compensated in CO2 removal. The calculator should include the tax credit not only in the section for benefits to the purchaser, but also in the section for dirty, dishonest, irresponsible burdens on society.

Too bad the calculator leaves off certain vehicles such as the Honda Fit. What could cost less than that? We should dump all tax credits for electric cars and wait until the cars get cheaper. Until then, if you want to be a hippy, buy a Honda Fit.

Does this calculator include in the Co2 emissions the upstream emissions? Meaning, does it factor in the cost of our Co2 emissions from the electricty we are acquiring. In LA, the largest polluter is coal-fired power; while in San Diego the Co2 emissions are lower because they have more renewable energy in their power. We can't have "clean cars" until the electricity is clean too.

That is a really well done tool. I like how the CO2 emissions are adjusted based on the types of power plants used in each state.
Electricity prices vary a huge amount in any given state, so you will get much more accurate figures by entering the amount you actually pay per kWh. There is also the question of maintenance costs and resale value, but both are hard to predict since electric cars are so new.

65 to 75% of Europe and other nations drive Diesels why don't we do it here? They have tons of low end power and get double the mileage that a petrol engine gets, the also last 3 times as long! What’s the prolem?

Yet they dont include the amount of money it will cost, or the impact to the environment when you want to get rid of the car or truck. Battery's being burned to recycle the car or truck will cause more polution then driving a hummer H1 for 200,000 miles. Somehow the EPA thinks people are morons!

LA DWP users get to pay more so that the city council can steal millions of dollars a year for the general fund.


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