Electric Cars are More Reliable — Mark Renburke

A primary reason consumers choose one car over another, according to J.D. Power, is “expected reliability.” With that criterion, electric vehicles should be right up the top for a new car pick.

But fear and sometimes outright misinformation points a lot of people away from that choice. In 2013 and 2015 Harris Polls, the reliability of an electric vehicle was cited as a leading worry by over half of respondents. In the same polls, nearly 60% indicated that maintenance and repair cost was another chief concern they had about going electric.

The truth is that today’s electric cars are often actually more reliable on average than their gasoline only counterparts — and cheaper in the long run, saving the average driver hundreds of dollars in maintenance in just the first few years of ownership — and thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle.

Gas Engine High Maintenance Why does a conventional car’s gasoline motor — Internal Combustion Engine, or ICE for short — need all that regular maintenance? Why do they sometimes have a seemingly sudden breakdown and require expensive repairs? Because an ICE has hundreds of moving parts; parts that require a wide range of maintenance, from regular oil changes, fluid and filter changes, tune ups, and so forth.

Complex Transmission And the ICE in a car has a complex transmission, which is required to allow the engine’s narrow power band to actually be able to propel a car off the line without stalling and cruise at a variety of speeds. We’re so used to our modern ICE cars that most of us have long forgotten that you don’t get power until the RPMs are well revved up and this type of engine would sputter and stall if it’s turning too slowly when engaged with the wheels — a situation any new driver of a stick shift learns the hard way.

EV’s Just are Simpler An electric vehicle’s motor has basically just one moving part: the motor shaft and its connected part of the motor called the rotor, which rotates inside a stationary part called the stator. Therefore, EVs require FAR less scheduled maintenance and are inherently more reliable because there are just few mechanical systems to maintain or that could break down.

The motor controller and charger are just solid state electronic devices with no moving parts, and so also require little or no maintenance for the life of the vehicle. And most EVs have no transmission, just a simple gear set to provide an appropriate fixed gear ratio. That’s because of one of the OTHER benefits of an electric motor: 100% torque at any rpm that translates to direct drive power, direct from the motor to the wheels.

· Video — “Why You Can Expect Reliability from an Electric Car” (electric rEVolution, Episode 2, part 1)

Save on Fuel, Save on Maintenance The consumer financial results are now in from the past seven years of first generation electrics on the road. It’s estimated by Edmunds .com using real world data that an economy compact electric car will save nearly $1,000 in maintenance alone during just the first 5 years of ownership compared to gasoline only equivalent compact. Combined with fuel savings, this often creates a lower 5-year Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for electric cars on average. That’s right, electric cars actually cost you less total in the end, even if you paid more for them at the outset. A smart money buy!

Check out my previous piece on this topic, “Why Driving an Electric Car Could Actually Save You Money” and also Drive Electric America’s TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) analysis

But What about Hybrids you ask? Plug in hybrid electric cars (PHEVs) that have both electric motors to start you off for say 15 to 50+ miles of electric driving and a “back-up” gasoline engine for any longer trips also save in both fuel and maintenance. Despite what some critics say, having a PHEV doesn’t mean you’ll still have all the usual maintenance for its IC engine and related systems, combined with the additional maintenance of the electric systems.

Not hardly. Since Plug in hybrids are designed to use the electric motor first and foremost each day, or each drive after a charge, you’re just not putting much if any wear and tear on the gas engine systems on a typical day. For example, the Chevy Volt won’t even use the engine at all no matter how hard you push the accelerator — plenty of pep in EV only mode.

Based on driving patterns, your results may vary, but at the end of the month or year all that electric mileage means greatly reduced engine maintenance over an ICE or even a non-plug in hybrid like the Prius. Fewer oil changes, filters, tune-ups, etc.

A PHEV’s reduced engine maintenance can be estimated by looking on something called electric utility factor. This represents, on average, the percentage of miles that will be driven using electricity alone by an average driver. For example, the original first generation Chevy Volt has a utility factor of 0.66, which essentially means the average driver could expect just 33%, or 1/3 the engine maintenance of a comparable gasoline only car. The new Volt has 20% more range so even better utility factor and lower engine maintenance. A lower range PHEV such as the Prius Prime with 25 EV miles might only have utility factor of around 0.5…but still, that’s half as much expected long term maintenance and fewer repairs than its gasoline only counterparts.

Compare Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids By Features, Price, Range http://www.plugincars.com/cars

Give me a (Free) Brake And for any plug in car, let’s not forget about savings related to the brakes, or rather lack of using them. Because EVs automatically use regenerative braking first, returning otherwise wasted energy to the battery, the friction brakes often get minor use in daily driving. This means that the brakes may even last the life of the car with little or no maintenance.

Not the Batteries Either We’ve used batteries in devices various for many decades. But now, the tech boom has given us great lithium type batteries — the ones used in every modern electric car and which also allow laptops, cell phones, and other mobiles devices to be light, affordable, and have many hours of use per charge.

Don’t Myth the Point Oh, how often we hear something like this: “After just a few years in an EV, you’ll have to replace that expensive electric car battery, costing many thousands dollars. All the money you saved on fuel and maintenance will be cancelled out.” This argument is a myth!

The quick and factual way to dismiss this fiction is to note that every electric car battery carries a replacement warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles, and that’s extended to 10 years or 150,000 miles in some states.

But Wait Several brands of electrics are proving that they in fact perform very well beyond the warranty period without any sign of any impending battery failure. One’s experience with earlier types of batteries doesn’t necessarily apply when we are talking about the automotive lithium ion batteries being used in today’s electric cars. These batteries are carefully engineered for purpose, and their charging and discharging systems manage the power in ways that small device batteries typically don’t.

It Can Get Even More Amazing A few notable high mileage EVs show little decline even after 100,000 miles. Consider “Wizzy” the electric taxi in the UK, a 2011 Nissan LEAF. When it reached 100,000 miles, it still had 98% of its original battery capacity. In 2016 it passed 150,000 miles, still going strong on the original battery…and original brake pads. And then there is the case of a Chevy Volt affectionately named “Sparkie” in Ohio now has over 400,000 total miles as of October 2017, with over 145,000 of those miles on battery alone. Sparkie still has the same EV range and performance it did when new — with zero detectable battery loss — and still on the original brakes! Obviously these are standout cases, but don’t myth the point: EV batteries are great and long lasting!

Results May Vary You Say OK, let’s say after 10 or more years you did somehow need to replace a battery, out of warranty. A Nissan LEAF battery is only around $5,500 and a Chevy Volt’s is around $3,000. That’s significantly less than the amount of money one would have spent on fuel and maintenance over 10 years versus driving an ICE vehicle, so the electric car will still have saved you, its owner, money in the long run. And remember, just because something’s out of warranty, or no longer working at 100% like new, that doesn’t mean it must be replaced.

· Video — “Why You Can Expect Reliability..Batteries” (electric rEVolution, Episode 2, part 2)

Finally, there’s another way making the switch an electric car might save you money, and this could start the moment you drive off the lot. If you are just wanting to dip your toes into electric life and don’t do a ton of driving: Consider leasing your first plug in, rather than buying. There are a variety of low cost lease programs for electrics, some which can put you behind the wheel for under $200 a month and/or no money down.

Try out a brand and model that interests you most and see if its performance, range, battery longevity, and other features meet or maybe even exceed your expectations. Mine sure did.

Mark “The Electric Car Guy” Renburke is Executive Director of Drive Electric America, subject-matter expert on electric vehicle advocacy, education, and policy and owner of a ’12 Chevy Volt with over 117,000 EV miles.

Visit http://www.DriveElectricAmerica.org/

Email Mark: DriveElectricAmerica AT gmail DOT com