Electric Cars Vs. Gas Cars: Comparing Maintenance & Battery Costs


Writer: Mary Reed Davis

 

It’s no secret that the overall cost of owning an electric car vs. a conventional gas-powered car is much lower. While the savings in fuel costs are where electric vehicles really shine, their maintenance costs are impressively low compared to conventional cars. Why is that? Because the basic mechanics of an electric motor are very simple, containing less than a dozen moving parts. An internal combustion engine, on the other hand, has several hundred moving parts. Thus, there’s a much higher likelihood that a traditional engine will need several replacements during the life of the vehicle.

 

Maintenance Costs

 

Most of the things that forced you to the mechanic with a traditional car don’t exist in electric vehicles. You’ll never need an oil change, a fuel filter, a spark plug replacement, or an emissions check. These are all found in internal combustion engines, and are a thing of the past for EV owners. While universal expenses like tire rotations and windshield wiper replacements are part and parcel of owning any car, there are several exceptional cost savers when it comes to maintenance and service bills of electric cars. The biggest difference will be in how often you need to change your brakes.

 

Nearly all of the latest electric vehicles come with regenerative braking, a process that recaptures a car's energy while it slows down, and converts it into electricity to recharge the car battery. This feature comes with a host of benefits, the main one being that you won’t have to stomp on the brakes half as much while driving an electric car. Electric motors slow themselves down when your foot is taken off the accelerator, which means you don’t need to use the brake pedals, the brake pads, or the rotors as much. These parts last longer and therefore need be replaced less often.

 

Depending on which electric car you purchase, you may be able to buy a maintenance plan created especially for the service of that vehicle. For example, Tesla offers maintenance plans of 3 and 4 years for its Model S and Model X vehicles, which cost between $1,500-$3,000.

 

Battery Replacement

 

The biggest and most expensive maintenance cost for your electric vehicle will be a battery replacement, if you ever need one. Keep in mind that this may not be a necessary service for those of you who are leasing an EV, or if you plan to sell your electric car before your battery warranty expires. But for those of you who have used your EV consistently for several years, you will find that the battery will begin to feel the effects of continual use.

 

Whether it's an AA battery you are putting in your remote control, or battery used to power your tablet or cellphone, batteries eventually lose the ability to hold a charge. The same is true with battery-powered vehicles. Electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries that are drained and recharged repeatedly, which causes natural degradation of the battery, leading to range loss over time. Most estimates have projected that a typical lithium-ion electric battery car can be driven about 100,000 and maintain a good driving range. But if you realize you are needing to recharge your battery too often, you may want to take it in and see whether it needs to be replaced.

 

Electric Car Battery Warranties

 

All of the top-selling electric vehicles come with battery warranties. While electric car batteries do lose capacity over time, it does not happen as fast as the average electric consumer device, which has a 1-4 year expected battery life. Most car companies will offer a warranty based on a number of years from purchase, or the number of miles driven, whichever is reached first. If within the warranty period, the car’s battery is unable to charge above a certain capacity, the battery can be replaced. Here are a few examples of today’s popular EV battery warranties:

 

Model Period Capacity

BMW i3

8 years/100K miles 

70%

Ford Focus

8 years / 100K-150K miles**

Not specified

Chevy Bolt EV

8 years/100K miles

60%

Chevy Volt Plug-In

8 years/100K miles

Not specified

Nissan Leaf (24kW)

5 years/60K miles

9 bars*

Nissan Leaf (30kW)

8 years/100K miles

9 bars*

 

 

 

*The Nissan LEAF has 12 “battery capacity bars”. 9 bars are equal to circa 70%, but there is no percentage specified in the warranty.

 

**The Ford Focus can go up to 150K miles under a warranty in the following states: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

 

Cost of Battery Replacements

 

In the case that your car is no longer under warranty and needs a new battery, it will undoubtedly be the steepest service cost you need to pay as an EV owner. Thankfully, the price of lithium-ion batteries has gone down significantly as the market of electric vehicles has proliferated over the past decade.

 

A few years ago Nissan set up a battery replacement program for its various LEAF models. The company offers a replacement battery for $5,499, plus installation cost which can be completed in about 3 hours. LEAF models from 2011-2015 can have their battery replaced, pending that LEAF owners turn in their old battery in exchange, which the company values at $1,000. Note: owners of 2011 and 2012 LEAFS will need to pay an extra $225 for a special adapter kit to retrofit the new battery to their cars.

 

It is important to read carefully when signing the warranty of your EV battery, as several cars including the Nissan LEAF have conditions that must be adhered to in order to receive your battery replacement free of charge. For example, if a “non EV certified technician” services your LEAF battery pack, it could invalidate your battery replacement warranty.

 

While the LEAF has been on the market for several years and is the world’s best-selling EV, many other electric cars have not been around long enough to have a large number of car owners require a battery replacement outside of their warranty. But for thoroughness, we will take a look at one example of a recently released EV and the hypothetical cost of replacing the battery outside of the warranty.

 

Given that the Chevy Bolt EV’s earliest model is a 2017 make, it’s extremely unlikely that any owner will have driven enough to surpass of the company’s battery warranty of 8 years/100,000 miles or 10 years/150,000 miles (depending on which state you live in). However, if the battery needed to be replaced without a warranty, it would set you back $15,734.29. While that is a lot compared to Nissan’s battery replacement offer, the Bolt EV’s battery packs much more power and sophistication in the way it was engineered (the 2018 Nissan LEAF has a mile range of 151, while the 2017 Bolt’s mile range is 238).  Additionally, Chevy’s communication team noted that the design of the battery was created in a way that would mitigate the need for whole battery-pack replacement.  Interesting to note, the GM said that in the seven years that they have been selling the Chevy Volt Plug-In, they have not once needed to replace a battery under warranty due to degradation. Thus, it seems as if the batteries on GM electric vehicles were indeed built to last past their warranty period.

 

Choosing Your Electric Car Based on its Battery

 

As the battery of an electric vehicle is one of its most important components, it’s paramount that potential EV buyers research which batteries will pair best with their lifestyles. In general, electric car batteries are most applicable to cars with a shorter driving range, in other words, the distance you can drive with a fully charged battery. If you buy a car with a 100-mile range and you commute 50 miles each day, your daily usage of the car would be considered a “deep discharge” of your battery, given that it’s drained 50% each day. Compare this to buying a high-powered electric vehicle with a 300-mile range. A 50-mile commute each day would only use about 16.7% of your battery, which is considered a “shallow discharge”. The deeper the discharge the more degradation your battery will experience. So if you plan to spend a lot of hours on the road, best to invest in an EV that packs a lot of battery power.

 

Here are the mile ranges for the same electric model cars we looked at above:

 

 

Model

Range (miles per charge)

BMW i3

114

Ford Focus

115

Chevy Bolt EV

238

Chevy Volt Plug-In

53 (420 with a full tank and full battery)

Nissan Leaf (24kW)

107

Nissan Leaf (30kW)

151

 

 

No matter which model you choose, make sure you speak with the manufacturer to understand the parameters of the warranty you’ll be receiving, and what your options are in the case that the battery degrades rapidly.

Extending the Life of Your Electric Car Battery

 

The US Department of Energy suggested several tips for maximizing your battery range, thus slowing the degradation of your battery.

 

- Utilizing Economy Mode: Many EVs come with “eco mode” which is similar to your cellphone’s battery-saving power mode. The option will turn the car battery off when you are stopped, and reduce general energy consumption around the vehicle.

 

- Planning Ahead: If you know you are going out, but you haven’t unplugged your vehicle from your home charging station, try pre-heating or pre-cooling the car while it is still connected to avoid using power from the battery while on the road.

 

- Slowing your speed: Efficiency of an electric car battery usually decreases once your speed gets about 50 mph, so consider easing off the accelerator when at all possible.

 

- Avoid Hard Braking: While the use of regenerative brakes saves energy, a hard break will require that the car use its conventional friction brakes, which will not regenerate any power back into the battery.

 

 

References:

 

-https://www.energysage.com/electric-vehicles/buyers-guide/battery-life-for-top-evs/

 

-https://www.forbes.com/sites/constancedouris/2017/10/24/the-bottom-line-on-electric-cars-theyre-cheaper-to-own/#5063ed3610b6

 

-https://understandsolar.com/chevy-bolt/

 

-https://understandsolar.com/2018-nissan-leaf/

 

-https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1110881_how-much-is-a-replacement-chevy-bolt-ev-electric-car-battery

 

-https://cleantechnica.com/2016/05/31/battery-lifetime-long-can-electric-vehicle-batteries-last/

 

-https://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-parts/brakes/brake-types/regenerative-braking.htm

 

-https://www.gobankingrates.com/saving-money/true-cost-owning-electric-vehicle/


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