Road-trip Cost and Experience Comparison: ICE vs EV, 800+ miles

Christopher Johnson
4 min readJul 11, 2022

This week, my Bolt EV battery replacement finally happened, after about 9 months since it was announced as necessary. Getting the replacement work done did mean I would not have my car for up to a week (article on the recall and replacement process coming next!), and Chevrolet would provide a rental vehicle (presumably added to the $1.9 billion bill LG is footing to pay for the replacements). Despite the fact that Chevrolet uses Hertz for rentals, who has a bunch of Tesla electric vehicles in their fleet, they would only let me have a GM vehicle for the rental…and there were no electric GM vehicles available. This meant my week without my electric vehicle would be an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle.

Pumping dinosaur juice into an ICE vehicle on a road trip

First Road Trip in an ICE Vehicle in 1.5+ Years

Coincidentally with the timing of the battery replacement, which has been in motion for months, I had a road trip down to Los Angeles. I’m excited to reflect on the experience and costs of driving a gas vehicle after 20 months of driving an electric vehicle!

ICE Vehicle Driving Costs vs EV

First, let’s start with the costs since I was absolutely shocked. The road trip was in California, San Francisco to Los Angeles and back. Gas hovered around $6/gallon and the total round trip of 815 miles used up 27.4 gallons of gas. The car, a Chevy Malibu, got just shy of 30 miles/gallon for this road trip. Not bad, I think…especially given that we spent several hours in traffic jams. Total cost of this journey was $162.30 coming out to just about 20 cents per mile driven.

Had I done this trip in my electric vehicle, the costs would have been much lower. I didn’t realize just how much lower until I crunched the numbers after getting home. Overall, it would have taken about 3.5 full cycles of my battery for the trip to provide the 214 kilowatt hours it would have taken for the trip. Now the cost depends on which stations I stop and charge at, since the different networks have different costs (see article here about a year’s worth of real world data on public EV fast charging). The cheapest network I could have charged at would have come out to just $66.50 — nearly $100 cheaper for this San Francisco to LA round trip adventure. Wow.

Finally putting the numbers together in real world data on a real trip in California I am blown away that my cost to drive is about eight cents per mile. This reasonably efficient ICE vehicle came out to $0.20/mile — it was 150% more expensive to drive a gas-powered car than driving my electric vehicle.

Difference in the EV vs ICE road trip experience

Obviously there are some other trade offs too. First of all, we would have had to stop an extra time on the way down. The stops to refill the gas tank were much faster than refilling a recharging the battery, which would have added about 4 hours to the overall trip (to return the car with a full charge, as was needed for the rental).

In terms of sensory experience, the first thing I noticed was that the ICE vehicle was so loud. So many sounds…while turning, while idling, while accelerating…that just didn’t sound healthy after being in such a quiet vehicle for so long.

Probably the most annoying part of driving the ICE vehicle was the sluggish car performance. It felt like so much dead weight, slow to accelerate. Despite having 160+ horsepower, the Malibu came nowhere near the zippiness of my Chevy Bolt.

Finally, the braking experience was entirely different and much more awkward, jerky, and mushy on stopping. I really like driving with regenerative braking in an EV. That means slowing down can be strategic way of conserving energy and recharging the battery. In an ICE vehicle, slowing down is just 100% loss of energy.

Summary: We are way happier with an EV!

Overall the trip was easy, and having less time stopping was a convenience. But both of us were excited that ICE vehicles are not our norm and that our electric vehicle is already ready for us.

One final reflection is just the perception of cars on the road, based on what I was driving. Driving an ICE vehicle, looking out at all the cars on the road, I felt like there were no electric vehicles. The opposite happens when I’m driving an electric vehicle — I look out and I see electric vehicles and feel a sense of celebration at how many there are. But whether it was the trip, the geography, or just random luck, it seemed like electric vehicles were about 1 in 100 on this trip. The oppressive presence of ICE vehicles and all the fossil fuels being burned every moment, the pollution, the smells, the waste. While EVs as we know them today may not get us all the way to 100% decarbonization of transportation, they are vastly better than the standard gas-powered vehicle that hasn’t evolved much in one hundred years. We have got to change and adapt quickly.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher is a force multiplier called to accelerate the deployment and adoption of climate tech solutions at massive scale, and this blog shares the journey.