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My Nissan Leaf life: How an electric car hit my budget

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Jeff Barnard/AP/File

(Read caption) Bruce Sargent of Ashland, Ore., tops off the charge on his Nissan Leaf in 2011 at a new electric car charging station in Central Point, Ore. The station is one of eight along a 160-mile section of Interstate 5 marking the biggest section yet of an ``Electric Highway'' that will evantually allow electric cars to drive from Canada to Mexico.

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A key step before you buy a new plug-in electric-drive vehicle is to examine your finances in detail. You may just love helping the planet, but it clearly helps to be able to justify higher upfront costs with the promise of lower fuel costs down the road and square that with the reality of what's in your wallet. A deadline helps, too.

By last November I had hatched a plan that would give our 1998 Honda Accord to our daughter for Christmas. She could take it off to college in January. That would leave my wife and I with only our eight-year-old Honda Odyssey. It's a good van, but at about 20 miles per gallon city, 26 m.p.g. on the highway, it’s hardly a mileage champ.

Having done our field research, it was clear that the only electric-drive models that would actually be available in early 2012 were the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

From the start, we had leaned toward the Chevy Volt. Our premise: Owning a plug-in hybrid meant you could reasonable have just one vehicle in the garage, drive on electric most of the time, still go on long trips, and save money over having two cars. But that premise was about to get a fiscal reality check.

I grabbed my file folder with snippets of cost data on both vehicles and finally sat down at the kitchen table one Saturday with a pad of paper. I soon calculated that if we sold the van, took that cash and made a big down payment on a Volt ($39,995), it would mean a monthly car loan payment of around $450 if purchased (after $7,500 rebate) or about $350 on a 36-month lease. In addition, I also discovered, to my surprise, that the car insurance on the Volt would be about $1,600 a year ($133 a month). The electricity for the Volt would cost only about $30 a month and gas would be maybe $10. So the Volt lease option would cost about $523, less $100 saved on fuel – or a net monthly cost to operate of about $423.


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