Do EVs Have Lower Running Costs?
Drivers choose to go electric for three major reasons – because they are attracted to the technology, because they want to do their part to help the environment, and because they see the potential to save money on fuel and maintenance. With rising fuel costs, going electric has never been more attractive from a driver’s perspective – the more you drive, the more you save compared to a conventional vehicle.
From a mechanical perspective, electric vehicles are also much simpler than their gasoline or diesel equivalents. There are no reciprocating pistons and their associated connecting rods, crankshafts, camshafts, valves, and pumps. An electric motor literally has one moving part instead of hundreds.
Most electric vehicles have a single-speed (or a two-speed) gearbox instead of a complex multi-gear transmission. And there’s no fuel system – tanks, pumps, lines, and sensors – to deal with.
Still, that is not to say that electric vehicles won’t require maintenance. They are still cars – with wheels, tires, brakes, suspensions, windows, heating and cooling systems, and, of course, ever more complex electronics.
No More Oil Changes to Pay For
When thinking about maintenance and repairs on electric vehicles, one area where you are sure to save is on the drivetrain. You won’t have to worry about oil changes, valve adjustments, replacing spark plugs, transmission rebuilds, or any of the messy, expensive, and time-consuming procedures associated with keeping gasoline or diesel engines running smoothly.
That said, do not think that electric drivetrains are completely maintenance-free. Electric motors and batteries each have cooling systems that will, over time, require maintenance – like there are still liquid reservoirs, pipes, pumps, and control units. All will require service or repair at some time in the future – though the time required to do those procedures will likely be less than regular maintenance on a gasoline vehicle.
Brakes will also be one area where an EV should deliver much longer life than a conventional vehicle. Most use regenerative braking, turning the motors into battery chargers when you’re slowing down – reducing the strain on the actual braking system.
While the battery warranties on new electric vehicles are significantly longer than the powertrain warranties on gasoline vehicles – some EV batteries have limited warranties for up to 10 years – if you do have a problem with your battery, you will likely be visiting a dealer rather than a local mechanic shop to sort out the problem. Only certified electric vehicle technicians will be able to work on your car, as they require special training and tools to work on high-voltage systems.
Where You Will Spend
One area where EVs are at a disadvantage to gasoline vehicles is their weight. The sheer heft of the batteries EVs carry around puts additional strain on their suspensions, wheels, and tires. These components are all similar to their equivalents on gasoline vehicles, and expect to be maintaining them slightly more frequently due to the extra weight they are supporting.
High-performance electric vehicles will put particular pressure on their tires. The immense amount of torque their electric motors produce instantaneously can vaporize rubber if you drive aggressively. Many more expensive EVs are also fitted with air suspension – it gives the benefits of variable ride height (to improve aerodynamics), a smoother ride, and more stable cornering when you choose a stiffer setting. But after many years of driving, you will probably have to service the complex air bladders and their associated hardware.
You’ll Need Dealer Service
And as EVs acquire more and more autonomous driving technology – almost all have some form of active cruise control, and many can already steer for themselves in limited situations – the importance of having properly calibrated sensors for sophisticated driver assist systems will only increase. Radar systems, cameras, proximity sensors, LIDAR, and the electronics that connect all of them to your car’s drivetrain, brakes, and steering, need to be working perfectly to actually be safe – and to actually keep you safe.
These systems – as well as the complex suspensions and the high-voltage electronics – mean that when your EV requires service, you’ll likely need to go to the dealer. Your corner mechanic won’t have access to the diagnostic tools required to figure out what’s gone wrong – and won’t have the tools necessary to properly calibrate sensors. Only dealers will have access to the manufacturers’ proprietary software, as well.
Looking at the Future
EVs are still a relatively new phenomenon, so it’s hard to know for sure exactly what they will need in the years down the road. The important thing to remember is that they are still cars – and still have many of the features that any car has: heating and air conditioning; suspensions, brakes, wheels, and tires; electronic systems.
As EVs are still relatively in their infancy, many of the electric cars on the road are still under warranty and will give faithful, low-cost service for many years to come. Many EVs, including most of the ones being introduced now, also offer the ability to perform software updates over the air, meaning that minor glitches and problems could possibly be solved without having to visit a dealer.
The good news is, that between what you will save on oil changes as well as your fuel savings – not to mention federal, regional, and local incentives – driving electric is still an amazingly attractive value proposition. You can do your part to save the planet, and enjoy the savings as well.