Electric Cars: Maintenance and Repair

After a short break, we’re back to bring you our last couple of blog posts on electric cars before we take a breather over Easter. Having looked previously at the costs of ownership and whether or not EV ownership would suit your lifestyle, this week we’re turning to the other key area of expenditure: maintenance and repair. Are they more complicated (and therefore more expensive) to keep on the road? Are they more like to break down? And what would happen if they did.

As always, there is still time to add your questions to be answered in our remaining blog posts of the series, so add your questions to our list.

Check back next week, or sign up for automatic updates using the ‘Follow Blog Via Email’ link on the right of this page, when we’ll be bringing you answers to a range of questions on the costs of electric car purchase and ownership.

As with previous posts, we’ve been joined this week by Andrew Robinson, PhD student in Professor Phil Blythe’s research group, and put ours (and your) questions to him.

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Dr Sarah Sweeney, Theme Administrator, NIReS: As always, thank you so much, Andrew, for taking the time to sit and answer our questions. We’ve only got a few this week, and then a last short batch to go through next week, but all of the information you’ve given us so far has been extremely useful and very interesting.

Andrew Robinson, PhD student, School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences: No problem at all – it’s been very interesting for me to see what questions people have about electric cars.

Sarah: Great. So, to kick off this session, you’ve given us a lot of information so far on how long it takes to charge a car, where you can charge them etc, but what if you’re using an electric vehicle as your family’s second car and not using it every day? If it’s a while between uses of the car, will the batteries drain?

Andrew: That depends on a variety of factors like ambient temperature, type of battery, age of the battery and how much energy is in the battery when you park it. However, the drain is very small relative to the battery’s capacity.  Sodium batteries which were used in early EV’s until a couple of years ago would drain over a period of time, but no discernible drain is measured from new generation Lithium Ion batteries.

Sarah: And how long are their engines/batteries predicted to last?

Andrew: Most electric cars currently use lithium ion batteries which, although they previously had a short lifespan of five years, now typically last for 10 years (but their life can be reduced depending on how they are charged/how many charge cycles they undergo). Using fast-charging points will significantly reduce the battery life. Nissan says the ‘glide path’ for a normal Leaf’s battery degradation is down to 70%-80% capacity after five years and about 70% after 10 years.

Sarah: And how does this compare to a petrol/diesel engine?

Andrew: Typical battery life for a petrol/diesel engine is 10 years as well, so there’s very little, if any, difference.

Sarah: How expensive are the batteries to replace? Will this negate the benefit of the cars being cheaper to run?

Andrew: The cost of replacement batteries depends on the size and type of battery. A replacement battery for the Nissan Leaf, for example, is currently expected to cost approx. £8,000; for other electric car models with less expensive batteries, the costs are significantly cheaper. Also, the costs of electric car batteries are predicted to decrease with more research and increased demand, which may mean that by the time they need replacing 10 years from now, they are much cheaper.

New business models are being explored by car manufacturers as they recognise the cost of the battery and the uncertainty over the life of the battery is the main barrier to adoption of the vehicles (in Newcastle University’s focus groups of electric vehicle triallists a much more significant issue to them than range anxiety).  Renault, for example, ‘lease the battery’ and take responsibility for it.

Sarah: Fantastic, thanks. So, how regularly do electric cars need to be serviced?

Andrew: They will need to be serviced with the same frequency as a petrol car; however, because electric cars require very little maintenance (their engines have five or six moving parts as compared to the hundreds in a petrol engine) the service will be relatively minor and should cost far less than that for a petrol car.

Sarah: Well, that’s definitely good news! Are the chances of break down and the cost of repair the same, better, or worse than a conventional car? Will these cars suffer higher breakdown frequencies and repair costs from having more complex electronics in them?

The good news is the smaller number of moving parts in electric cars means that they are far less likely to break down than a typical petrol or diesel car. The bad news is that because they are relatively new, repairs are likely to have to be carried out at the dealership rather than a standard garage, which could make not only the repair more costly. Also, in the event of a breakdown, as things currently stand, what may happen if you break down is that the roadside recovery services may not have the skills or tools to get the car going again on the roadside and it will most likely need to be transported to the nearest dealership for repairs, so roadside assistance may also cost more. Having said that, as we’ve stressed before in these interviews, these sort of issues usually do crop up when you’re dealing with very new or cutting-edge technologies, and as electric cars get more widespread, repair and recovery services are bound to catch up to the technology so those costs should start to come back into line with the equivalent costs for a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle.

Sarah: That’s great, thanks again for your time Andrew – see you next week!

2 thoughts on “Electric Cars: Maintenance and Repair

  1. In one of Andrew’s answers he said that “Using fast-charging points will significantly reduce the battery life”. However, Professor Blythe said recently that:”Fast charging does not seem to reduce life of battery as much as previously feared.”.

    Is that the same answer expressed in different ways or is there a difference of opinion here? Either way, how much does each fast charge take off the battery’s life?

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