Besides reducing exhaust emissions, an electric car can save you money on gas. But what about maintenance costs? We spoke with Cory Ermold at CarShop Chester Springs to learn more.
Give us the basics. What’s under the hood of an electric vehicle?
Cory: For starters, the engine isn’t in the place you’d expect. –The power source is a battery that runs under the platform of the car, usually from nose to tail. Under the hood, where the engine would be in a combustion vehicle, it’s generally just a storage space. A lot of manufacturers refer to it as a “fronk”—a front trunk.
That sounds totally different.
Cory: Actually, from the standpoint of the driver, you might not notice. You step on the accelerator, and you’re driving down the road. But from a technician’s point of view, an internal combustion engine has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 moving parts, whereas a Tesla, for example, needs only 15 to 20 moving parts to get going.
How does that impact maintenance?
Cory: Part of the benefit of having so few moving parts is there’s a lot less to go wrong. In an electric vehicle, it’s basically a battery and computers. There’s no oil. There’s no filter. The only air filter in the vehicle is going to be your cabin air filter that filters the air you breathe.
So fewer trips to the shop?
Cory: Typically speaking, yes. For an electric vehicle, you really only have to rotate the tires and do the brakes. The maintenance schedule is about 7,000 to 10,000 miles between the rotations and brakes as needed, omitting state standards and things that can happen with any car, like a headlight bulb burning out. Less maintenance means the cost of ownership is going to be a little bit lower, not to mention the cost of energy. Of course, the initial point of entry cost is higher than comparable gas vehicles in most cases, because of the technology.
What’s the deal with the battery? Does it wear out over time?
Cory: It’s a little like your cellphone, in that how you use it can make it work more or less efficiently. Manufacturers recommend that to prolong battery life, you charge the battery to 80% of capacity and run it down to around 20% before recharging. Of course, on long trips, it’s perfectly acceptable to charge it to 100% and go down to practically zero, but in general, you really want to keep the vehicle in the 20% to 80% capacity range.
And if you don’t?
Cory: You might start to lose some of your max range. Maybe instead of your top range being 300 miles, you’ll find the maximum charging range is only 280 miles. I should point out that electric car batteries do wear a bit over time too, regardless of usage patterns, but you really don’t have to worry about failure. Manufacturers have tested them for 500,000 miles, and it’s more likely your electric car will come to the end of its rolling life before you reach the end of its battery life.
What about the computers on electric cars?
Cory: One thing that’s different about electric cars is their reliance on computerization. Everything is controlled by chips, processors, and computers, all the way down to your steering, your suspension—everything’s controlled by computers.
Like your home computer, you get upgrades and updates. While my vehicle is charging at night, I often get a notification that a software upgrade is available, and I’m asked whether I’d like to do it now. I just click “yes” and when I come back in the morning, it gives me a snapshot of the changes. So, a lot of potential bugs are fixed with those overnight Wi–Fi updates.
Any last thoughts on electric cars?
Cory: Electric vehicles are getting better every day. The infrastructure is improving too; it’s not like with gas, where there’s a gas station on every corner, but particularly with Teslas—they’ve got their own charging stations but also have adapters that allow their plug to fit other charging stations—it’s better than ever. I just plug a destination into the computer, and it routes me to charging stations en route. It even tells me how long I’m going to need to charge when I get to the station. Given the cost of gas and the fact that 300 miles of charge can cost $8 to $10 versus the $50 to $60 you might pay to fill up at the pump, there’s never been a better time.