Here’s the Cheapest Car for Your Daily Commute in 2017

For the 2016 model year, LEAF adds a number of significant enhancements – beginning with a new 30 kWh battery for LEAF SV and LEAF SL models that delivers an EPA-estimated driving range of 107 miles* on a fully charged battery.

With used electric car prices lower than ever, a 2016 Nissan Leaf has become the cheapest commuter car. | Nissan

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who drive to work every day, you know the costs add up. Between monthly car payments, insurance costs, and fuel, you probably spend more of your paycheck on commuting than you like. Even at today’s cheap gas prices, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) estimates an economical model like Nissan Rogue will swallow $1,300 a year in fuel costs. Once your warranty expires, maintenance costs enter the picture, too.

Looking for a solution among new electric vehicles won’t work for most consumers. Unless you qualify for the best state rebates, the most practical EVs run you more than $30,000. Turning to hybrids or the market’s cheapest gas-powered vehicles often doesn’t help, either. Between fuel costs for a Nissan Versa (America’s least expensive car) and the MSRP of a Toyota Prius Eco ($24,700), you’ll still find your commute sapping too much cash every month.

Before you give up, know there is a new market to tap: used electric vehicles. The next Nissan Leaf may be expensive when it arrives in 2018, but late-model (’16) editions of the same EV offers decent range (107 miles) at prices anyone can afford. For a car still under warranty with bare-bones operating expenses, a used Leaf has become an excellent deal for auto bargain-hunters. In fact, it’s the cheapest commuter car you can buy in 2017, and many come fully loaded.

Priced below $16,000

Side view from passenger side of red 2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf | Nissan

A funny thing happens between one and two years after you drive a new electric vehicle off the lot. Once buyers claim the federal tax credit ($7,500) and available state incentives, the car’s resale value drops close to $10,000 to compensate. (If you start running the numbers on vehicle depreciation, keep this point is mind.) Less than two years after they sold at $34,200-$36,790, a loaded Leaf SL listed at $16,507 on Cargurus, while SV models stood below $16,000. These prices are less than half the original sticker price, and the best SV deals have fewer than 10,000 miles on the odometer.

Zero gas, cheap electricity

View of 2016 Nissan Leaf charging at a home

2016 Nissan Leaf | Nissan

While gas prices remain under $3.00 per gallon in most states, driving on electricity is much cheaper. According to DOE estimates, driving a ’16 Leaf costs just under a dollar ($0.97) to drive every 25 miles. Over the course of a year, drivers who cover 10,000 miles in their Leaf will spend just $400 on fuel (i.e., charging).

Compared to a Rogue or Toyota RAV4, Leaf drivers with the same annual mileage would save about $500 per year in fuel costs. Even Versa, which retails at $11,990, costs significantly more ($800) to fuel without any of the amenities or driving pleasure you get from a top-trim Leaf. At 124 MPGe in city driving, Nissan’s electric car is among the most economical cars available on the U.S. market.

Better than Prius

Profile view of 2016 Prius Two Eco

2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco | Toyota

If there’s one vehicle that comes close to Leaf’s economy, it’s Toyota Prius Two Eco. This model also debuted for 2016 and lists near $19,000 for low-mileage used editions. Capable of a remarkable 56 mpg combined, the base Prius Eco runs drivers about $435 every 10,000 miles. Of course, folks looking to go green would prefer Leaf over the gas-sipping Prius, but the main difference between these two cars comes down to amenities. Prius Two is the lowest trim and delivers stripped-down hybrid driving. Leaf offers much more.

A fully loaded Leaf

Interior shot of 2016 Nissan Leaf

Heated leather seats, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, and upgraded sound system came standard in the ’16 Leaf SV and SL. | Nissan

When the 2016 Leaf debuted, it was the first model to feature over 100 miles of range at a sticker price less than $35,000. However, to get that range, buyers had to opt for the priciest trims. These versions brought premium touches like 17-inch wheels, Michelin Energy Saver tires, heated seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel standard. (SL models even had a PV solar panel on the spoiler.) Nissan included these extras to make this Leaf appealing to early adopters. On the used market, budget shoppers reap the benefits.

The warranty’s just beginning

Rear view of blue Nissan Leaf from 2016

The 2016 Leaf SV and SL came with an eight-year (or 100,000-mile) warranty covering battery defects and capacity loss. | Nissan

Both Leaf SV and SL sold with an eight-year warranty covering battery defects as well as excess capacity loss. As anyone with a smartphone will testify, lithium-ion batteries lose capacity over time, and the 30 kWh pack inside these Leaf models will eventually show some degradation. However, customers picking up a ’16 model will get the battery at the beginning of its useful life. You should have over six years of protection left, making your commute worry-free.

Forget oil changes and other maintenance

Front view of pearl white Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf | Nissan

If you want a gas-powered car to reach some high-mileage goal, you better baby it with regular maintenance and other tricks of the trade. When you drive electric, you can forget about things like oil changes, spark plug replacement, and the usual stuff you deal with when burning gas. You need to have your brakes checked regularly, but you won’t ever need an emissions check or transmission replacement. Just buckle up and enjoy your ride in a ’16 Leaf, the loaded car that happens to be the cheapest commuter available.

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