Once the sole province of science fiction movies, electric vehicles have started to edge into the mainstream. The auto-buying public no longer has to take out a second mortgage to buy a Tesla as manufacturers keep adding new models to their lineup every year.
You’ll find everything from subcompact budget models to family SUVs and everything in between. Even pickup trucks have gone electric. As EV charging stations become more common, electric car portrayals in films such as “In Time” (streaming on Hulu + Live TV) are now a reality rather than mere fantasy.
While you’ll still pay more upfront for an EV, what is it like owning one? Are maintenance needs similar? We’ll walk you through what you need to know about electric vehicle maintenance needs and tips on how to keep your EV running well.
Electric Car Maintenance Advantages vs. Gasoline Cars
Electric vehicles have some decided advantages over their gas counterparts when it comes to maintenance:
- The engines have fewer moving parts, so there is less to wear out.
- EVs have a different braking method, which reduces wear and tear.
- The servicing schedule is less frequent, requiring less time in the shop and fewer maintenance dollars.
Research indicates that electric cars, on average, cost at least 30% less to maintain over their lifetimes and, in some cases, as much as 50% less. Fewer moving parts are a significant cost savings factor, as fewer things can wear out or break down. Other notable differences in servicing include maintaining fewer overall vehicle fluids.
No Engine Lubricant or Gas Exchange Required
Electric motors have no friction between moving parts, meaning they need no oil, filter, or exhaust system maintenance, making a big difference in overall maintenance costs. Electric motors have fewer “wear parts” that affect how they run. You won’t find timing belts, cylinder head gaskets, cooling hoses, etc., all of which regularly break down in combustion engines.
EVs also have a simplified transmission as there is no gearbox or clutch as the electric motor delivers the direct drive, eliminating all breakdowns related to transmission.
The Difference in Braking
As all-electric cars have some form of regenerative braking, the electric motor slows the vehicle, making braking more efficient. Regular braking only kicks in after regenerative braking has started. This action puts less wear on the brakes, with disks, drums, and pads requiring fewer replacements.
These advantages add to considerable savings over the lifetime of your vehicle. Nevertheless, you’ll still need to bring in your EV regularly to ensure it operates properly. Let’s take a look at some things you’ll need to consider.
Other Systems Still Require Regular Maintenance
Your EV will still require regular preventive maintenance, as well as eventual repairs. Check your owner’s manual for specific intervals so the warranty remains in effect. Not following the recommended schedule can void the warranty, and you may end up paying for repairs that the warranty would have covered.
Whenever you bring in your EV for repairs or even routine maintenance, make sure a technician certified to work on electric vehicles performs the services. Finding qualified mechanics is not a problem if you have your car serviced at the dealer, but the shop down the street may not have a certified EV mechanic on staff.
Systems and Items That Require Regular Maintenance
Most maintenance will consist of various mechanical inspections performed by trained mechanics at recommended intervals. As an owner, you can check tire pressure and adjust as necessary, check tires for wear and top off windshield washer fluid.
Your mechanic should perform the following services as recommended by the manufacturer:
- Tire rotations
- Check coolant levels for the battery, cabin heater, power inverter, accessory power, and charger modules
- Check for fluid leaks
- Inspect brakes and perform maintenance as needed
- Inspect power steering, half shafts, and drive shafts for excessive wear or damage
- Check the airbag system
- Lubricate body components
- Inspect the suspension for wear, cracks and other damage
- Replace brake fluid
- Replace the cabin air filter
- Replace worn windshield wiper blades
Don’t forget you’ll still need to replace tires with worn tread, headlamp and taillamp bulbs, and get a wheel alignment if your EV pulls to one side or shows uneven tire wear.
What About Battery Maintenance?
One of the main concerns new EV buyers pose is how much maintenance their vehicle’s lithium-ion battery requires, as it is arguably the car’s most important component. Today’s batteries are designed to last at least ten years, and in some cases over the life of the vehicle. You don’t have to check your EV’s battery regularly, and if an issue arises, your car’s onboard computer will alert you to it. Manufacturers generally provide EVs with a long-lasting warranty designed to cover defects. Typical warranties cover batteries for eight years or 100,000 miles. You can expect that batteries requiring replacement outside the warranty period will have a significant cost, yet manufacturers believe the cost of replacement batteries will decline significantly over the next decade as production costs decrease and volume increases.
However, you should remain aware that EV batteries have a limited number of charging cycles, which is the number of times they can be charged and discharged. All EV batteries will degrade over time, although this happens slowly. The issue is more prevalent in older EVs with limited range than in new ones with a 200-plus mile range.
It’s also a good idea to set a timer when charging. Keeping your battery charged between 10% and 90%, except when going on a long road trip, is recommended. Having it charged too fully, or too little can reduce its capacity more quickly.
How You Drive Will Affect Your EV
Driving habits will affect your EV more than any other factor. Think about following these practices when operating your EV:
- Don’t overload your car, as the battery will have to work harder.
- Coast when you can, especially in heavy traffic, as regenerative braking only recovers a fraction of lost energy.
- Conserve battery usage in cold, wet weather by not running your heater as often and minimizing other electrical components as the battery must be warm to deliver full performance
Paying attention to where you park is another essential habit that affects EVs. In the summer, park in the shade when possible to prevent using additional power to cool the car. In the winter, do the opposite by parking where sun exposure can help warm your vehicle while you’re away. If your EV has a thermal management system, ask your dealer how this will affect your EV in various temperatures and act accordingly. Following these tips can help maintain your battery’s maximum power over time.