Cars have been getting very complicated over the last couple of decades. If you sometimes feel like you need a pilot’s licence to understand all the lights, switches, buttons and screens, we hear you.
And now they’re all going electric. That’s going to make owning a car even more complicated, isn’t it?
Yes, there are some complicated parts – high-voltage inverter, anyone? – but there are fewer parts in an electric vehicle (EV) than in a conventional car with an internal combustion engine (ICE). A modern petrol or diesel engine has around 2,000 separate components to make it work: there’s a lot than can go wrong. In an EV, there are only around 20 parts that make the car go. As a result, maintenance costs for an EV can be as much as 50% less than for an ICE car.
There are still some things that EV owners need to do to help keep their car in full working order, though.
Electric car servicing
There’s not much that can go wrong with an EV’s powertrain (the bits that make it go, like the battery and motor), but you still need to follow the manufacturer’s servicing recommendations. Stick to the intervals in your handbook – or, increasingly, the messages that pop up in the car’s display.
When it’s time to service your EV, make sure it’s done by qualified technicians. The manufacturer’s dealer network will be set up to check your car over thoroughly and is the best place to go. If you decide to go to an independent garage, make sure that the technicians are trained to work on EVs.
Although EVs don’t use oil, so there’s nothing to change at a regular service, there are plenty of other things that need tending to. Brakes, for example, are arguably even more important in an EV, because the braking system also tops up the battery with energy that would usually be lost. That means the brake pads, discs and fluid need to be maintained.
Electric car battery maintenance
The battery is the most expensive – and possibly most important – part of an electric car. It supplies the power to make the car move and function, and dictates how far you can go without having to recharge it. And as it’s all about chemistry, it’s not something that any unqualified person can really work on.
Which means that it’s a good thing that battery packs are sealed. They can be opened by technicians if the coolant needs flushing or topping up, but apart from that, they don’t need regular maintenance.
It’s still early days for the modern EV, so we don’t yet know for sure just how long a battery continues to hold all its charge. Current thinking is that 8-10 years seems about average, with eight years being how long manufacturer warranties last.
One thing you can do to keep your battery in optimal condition is to keep it topped up with charge. That may seem obvious, but the lithium-ion batteries in a car are the same (but a lot bigger, obviously) as you’d find in a mobile phone – and we’re told that it’s a good idea to totally empty the battery occasionally. This doesn’t apply to an EV, though: if the battery has no charge, the wheels won’t turn, so you can’t even push it to the nearest charging station.
The solution is to keep the battery between 20% and 80% charged, when it’s at its most efficient.
Tyre maintenance for an electric car
Keeping tyres in roadworthy condition is just as important in an EV as it is in any other vehicle.
Tyres are one of the most important, but also most overlooked, parts of a car. They are the only parts of the car that make direct contact with the road (which is known as the contact patch), so they grip the car to the road and make it possible to steer, accelerate and brake.
So regularly check your tyre pressures and tread depth, and look for blisters, bulges or cracks in the rubber, just as you would with a conventional petrol or diesel car.
Concerns have been expressed that because EVs weigh more than ICE cars (thanks to heavy battery packs), this will increase the wear and tear on tyres, leading to more particle pollution. However, EV tyres are specially designed to cope with the weight of the car, so these concerns are probably misplaced. (That said, all cars contribute to rubber particle pollution from brakes)