Electric vs. Gas Cars

by Lee Sallings

From the very beginning of the automobile, the battle has raged. Is electric power or gas power better?

From the 1830s all the way up until the 1920s, the electric car was neck-and-neck with the gas car in terms of popularity. However, cheaper gas, better roads, mass-production techniques and a need for longer range spelled the end of the electric car.

Today, the battle is renewed. The death of cheap gas, improved range from new battery technology and production techniques that can be applied to any car have us asking ourselves the question once again. Is gas power really better than electric?

Fuel Efficiency

Gasoline is refined from crude oil. No surprise there, but most electricity in this country is also produced from burning fossil fuels. The real question when it comes to fuel economy is which of the two is the most efficient use of available fossil fuels? If we started with 1 million BTUs of energy, on both sides, and factor in power losses from electricity generation, line losses during charging, refining oil into gasoline, and transportation, we come up with 3,412 BTUs available electricity and 115,400 BTUs of available power from gasoline. So, it seems that the refining process from crude oil to gasoline results in more available power at 115,400 BTUs. However, the real question is how far can we go on that power? With an efficiency of .19 KW/hr, the electric vehicle can travel 529.5 miles per million BTUs, giving it an MPG equivalent of 69 MPG. The gas car can only go 182 miles on a million BTUs, having a fuel mileage of only 29 MPG. The refining process to convert oil into gas is more efficient, but the efficiency of the electric car more than makes up for losses during power production.


A study conducted by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power found that electric vehicles would reduce emissions substantially over 100,000 miles, producing just 75 pounds of pollutants, compared to the gas engine's 3,008 lbs. of pollutants. The California Air Research Board estimates that electric vehicles will produce more than 90 percent lower emissions than the equivalent gas engine. The research and results are staggering. The electric vehicle smashes the gas engine in terms of pollution.


Until recently, the major downfall of the electric vehicle had been a lack of performance and reduced driving range. These are some of the things that eliminated the electric vehicle (EV) from the competition in the early 20th century. But recent developments in battery technology and electric motor efficiency have allowed the EV to close the gap substantially. The latest electric sports car boasts 0 to 60 times of under four seconds, and a range of around 200 miles on a single charge. However, the gas engine car still has an advantage; its performance doesn't diminish as the fuel tank level drops. The electric car will still see a drop in power as the batteries discharge, and the driving range can be seriously affected with too much spirited driving. The edge in performance still goes to the gas car, but the electric is gaining.


Except for lower emissions, durability is the area where the electric car smashes the gas car. With an electric car there are no oil changes or tune-ups, and with regenerative braking, brakes last longer. Gone also are the parts failures associated with belts, hoses and cooling systems. DC-powered cars need only to have brushes changed about every 100,000 miles, and the AC motors don't even have that.


There are some areas that the gas car still has an edge over the electric car. But continued development will close those gaps. In terms of efficiency, emissions and durability, the electric car has a clear advantage over gas.

About the Author

Lee Sallings is a freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas. Specializing in website content and design for the automobile enthusiast, he also has many years of experience in the auto repair industry. He has written Web content for eHow, and designed the DIY-Auto-Repair.com website. He began his writing career developing and teaching automotive technical training programs.

More Articles