Today I completed the annual maintenance on my 3.5 year old electric car. I refilled the wiper fluid and added a bit of air to the tires. That’s it. Except for two other things, that’s all I’ve done in the life of the car, though one of those things was a doozy.
The promise of the electric car is that it needs almost no maintenance. There are no oil changes or minor, regular and major service appointments. There are far fewer parts and fewer things to go wrong. In time, I’ll need new wiper blades and a few other minor things. Many drivers report their brake pads not wearing out after 200,000 miles because EV driving almost never uses the brakes.
I did change out the internal air filter to add a HEPA filter for the wildfire and Covid problems of today. That cost about $40 and a bit of time, and probably will need doing again 3 years later.
The doozy was needing new tires at around 28,000 miles. That was much too early, far before their rated life. One reason for this was a stupid mistake on my part. In the past, I’ve taken my gasoline cars in for regular service, and they were rotating my tires as needed during this service. Not taking my EV in for service, I never got the rotation done. That not only meant the drive tires of my car wore out faster, it also meant I could not make a warranty claim on them. Lesson learned.
There is more to the cost than that. EV tires do cost more than tires of similar cars, and may wear out faster than expected for 3 reasons:
- EVs are heavier than the equivalent car. That means you need tires with a higher weight rating, and they will wear out a bit faster.
- With EVs you care more about fuel efficient tires. Even though wasted electricity costs you less money than it costs in a gas car, you care more because more efficient tires mean more range.
- EV motors run fairly silent, so you care even more about getting silent tires and will pay more for this.
Some EV tires may also have tread for high-performance acceleration, though you don’t have to buy these — though you must get a tire that supports the weight of your vehicle.
Traditional gasoline car maintenance is estimated at about 5 cents/mile with tires adding another cent/mile. For EVs, expect the other costs to get very low and the tires to go up a bit.
Some cars recommend regularly checking and lubricating the brake calipers because you aren’t using the brakes. If you book a service appointment just for this, it could cost you money, but it’s an easy add-on to anything else, like the rotation of your tires that you should be doing. And most tire centers give free lifetime rotation on tires they install — but they do that hoping you will need other service when you come in, a hope that may not work on for EVs. Today the service industry is streamlined for the world of oil changes and minor service, and soon there will be streamlined paths for EVs as well.
Indeed, one of the side benefits of not needing service is not needing to take time out of your day for it. With a gasoline car, you regularly have a service day where you must take your car to the shop for a day, find alternate transportation during the day, and pick it up. Tire rotation still needs a service appointment, but may be short enough to do while you wait and surf the internet — and perhaps may be done with a mobile service van in the future, though probably not for free.
Tesla also lists replacing the air conditioner desiccant bag every 4-6 years, and also checking the brake fluid and replacing it if it gets contaminated. As these cars age, more things may get on the list, but there’s nothing like the >$1,000 timing belt replacement you need to do every 7 years on a car like my old Honda to stop the engine from self-destructing if it fails. That’s a whole other world. I would not be too surprised to see a maintenance schedule show up for the 12v battery on a Tesla.
EVs do incur costs for what is more classed as repair than maintenance. There have been reports of many Tesla
12v batteries failing, though mostly under warranty. Parts for expensive cars are always expensive, if you chip a windshield or whack a mirror or get a car burglary. Tires also fail from road hazards and for other reasons. When it comes to this, your mileage may, as they say, vary. And the battery will degrade over time, but there’s not much that can be done about that unless you get a serious problem that hits the warranty threshold.
The EV shift will also mean a shift in the future for the ecosystem of service centers and auto parts stores that serve cars today. Cars with fewer parts and fewer things to wear out just won’t need that industry quite as much. Today, EVs are just a few percent of total cars, but they were over 10% of car sales in California, which is the bellweather of the future. That trend will grow around the world.