How to maintain and service your electric car
13 May 2021 - Autocar
Contrary to assumptions, EVs should be cheaper and easier to look after than ICE cars
Packed with cutting edge technology, you'd expect electric cars to be more costly to service and maintain than their internal combustion counterparts. Yet in reality, with fewer mechanical components to fettle, EVs should require less time in the garage and have a smaller impact on your wallet.
However, that's not to say your battery powered vehicle won't require a quick once over with the spanners every so often, because like all cars there's more to maintenance than just the engine. So what's required? Our definitive EV servicing and maintenance guide reveals all.
Which parts of an electric car need servicing?
As we've already mentioned, the electric motor (or motors if your EV is four-wheel drive) are unlikely to require much attention. Petrol and diesel engines have thousands of moving parts, whereas electric motors are fairly simple, with most units made up of no more than 20 components.
As a result, there's no oil to change or filters to renew, or cambelt and water pump to change. However, it will still require a quick check with a diagnostic machine, which will pick up any possible fault codes that might need attention. The same goes for the battery, which is arguably even lower maintenance as it has no moving parts at all. Individual cells will be checked for performance, with any damaged cells showing up in the data.
Technicians will also give the high voltage electrical cables a visual inspection. Typically bright orange in colour, these heavy duty items will be checked for damage and loose connections. Most are well protected from any sort of road debris, so problems are unlikely.
Even the transmission is essentially maintenance free on most EVs. With nothing more than a single reduction gear and differential, this type of gearbox is far less complex than a typical multi-ratio manual, automatic or twin-clutch. Factor in the use of advanced synthetic oils for lubrication and most manufacturers claim the unit is effectively 'sealed for life'.
Like traditional cars, EVs have a cooling system, which in this case keeps the battery at optimum temperature regardless of how hard the motor is working or the outside temperature. Most are liquid cooled and require little more than a visual inspection of the fluid levels and topping up if necessary.
The rest of an EV is pretty much the same as a normal internal combustion engined vehicle, which means it'll receive similar attention. The use of regenerative braking, where resistance in the electric motor helps slow the car, means that the traditional friction brakes are likely to need fewer disc and pad changes. That said, when they are used the extra weight of an EV means they'll be working harder. And, like all hydraulic systems, the brake fluid will need to be changed, something that usually happens every two years.
Suspension and steering components will be checked, while tyres will be assessed for condition,with an EV's extra mass and instant torque delivery meaning you can expect to see a higher wear rate for the tyres in particular.
Finally, the heating and ventilation system will be assessed and in most cases the cabin air filter changed. The air-conditioning system's refrigerant levels will also be checked and re-charged as necessary.
Where can I get my electric car serviced?
Although not mechanically complicated, an EV's use of very high voltage electrical systems means that it can require specialist attention if a repair to this part of the car is necessary. Currently that means for most owners the best maintenance option is through an authorised main dealer. Usually each workshop will have an EV specialist that has been trained specifically for work on that brand's electrical models, which means not just knowledge of the mechanical bits but also the correct safety equipment and clothing.
However, with some early electric cars approaching a decade old, there are an increasing number of specialist workshops that are able to work on EVs. Many will have access to the latest diagnostic equipment plus software that allows them to check the health of the lithium-ion battery pack. The Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Alliance (hevra.org.uk) has a list of accredited independent EV specialists, all of which have been trained on battery powered and hybrid cars and have all the relevant tools and equipment.
Electric car service intervals
Despite having fewer moving parts to tend to, EVs usually follow a similar service interval to their internal combustion cousins. Safety related items such as brakes, suspension and tyres need monitoring, so it would be unwise to leave large gaps between professional mechanical fettling.
Depending on the manufacturer, your requirement to visit a dealer will be based on a time and distance basis. For instance, a Nissan Leaf will need attention once a year or 18,000 miles, whichever comes sooner, while a Porsche Taycan's schedule is two years and 20,000 miles. Like its other cars, BMW's i3 has condition-based servicing, with the onboard computer letting you know when attention is due - although the brand recommends a visit at least every two years even if the car's service monitor still calculates that maintenance is not required. Either way, it's best to check your car's handbook for any specific serving requirements.
Electric car servicing exclusions
Just as with a petrol or diesel car, there will be various exclusions and exemptions when it comes to servicing. For instance, while all the vital components will be checked and fluids topped-up, any consumables that need replacing, such as tyres or brake pads, will have to be paid for on top of the basic service cost. Some manufactures offer all-inclusive servicing packs that do include the replacement of items such as tyres and wiper blades, but these plans can be pricey.
If a component has failed due to a manufacturing fault, then if the car is still within warranty it should be replaced free of charge. However, you will be liable for the replacement of damaged parts or those that have failed outside of the manufacturer's guarantee.
Electric car servicing costs and maintenance plans
With far fewer components that require attention and the elimination of costly and labour-intensive service items, such as oil, filters and a cambelt, maintenance costs can be much lower on an EV. In some cases the cost of a trip to the dealer can be as much as half that of a petrol or diesel.
As ever, there are two ways to pay for maintenance - in a single, one-off payment at each service, or with a prepaid plan. The latter is becoming increasingly popular, as not only does it allow you to budget ahead, it's normally possible to pay the cost monthly or, if buying new, by bundling the cost of the servicing into your finance payments.
To give you an idea of the costs involved, we've compiled a table showing indicative costs of EV service plan prices compared to similar plans for ICE cars. Obviously you'll need to contact your dealer for an exact price on your particular car.
Manufacturer/model Length of plan Cost
Audi e-tron and e-tron Sportback (EV): Two years/variable miles £399
Audi Q5, Q7, Q8 petrol and diesel (engines over 2.0-litres): Two years/variable miles £629
BMW i3: Three years/variable miles £540
BMW 1 Series, petrol and diesel: Three years/variable miles £720
Kia Soul EV: Two years/20,000 miles £239
Kia Stonic petrol: Two years/20,000 miles £329
Nissan Leaf EV: Two years/36,000 miles £368
Nissan Qashqai petrol: Two years/36,000 miles £538 / diesel: Two years/36,000 miles £638
Renault Zoe EV: Three years/30,000 miles £299
Renault Clio petrol and diesel: Three years/30,000 miles £499
What about hybrid servicing?
Although hybrid and plug-in hybrid machines share the use of electric motors and lithium ion batteries with EV models, they also have internal combustion engines. As a result you can expect similar servicing checks and costs to traditional petrol and diesel machines. In fact, the sheer complexity and number of components involved means that in some cases a hybrid will actually be more expensive to maintain than ICE equivalents.