EV Batteries 101: Degradation, Lifespan, Warranties, and More
All new electric vehicles sold in the US come with at least an 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranty. But how long do EV batteries actually last, and what happens when they die?
By Angela Moscaritolo
It’s common knowledge that smartphone batteries only last a couple of years before degradation sets in and performance takes a nosedive. But what about electric vehicle batteries?
Over time, battery degradation is inevitable, so if you’re mulling the switch from a gas-powered vehicle to an electric one, this is a valid concern. I started thinking about this issue recently after an anti-EV post showed up in my Facebook feed. The post claimed to show a graveyard of EVs—rows and rows of them in a field in France, all purportedly abandoned due to dead batteries that were too expensive to replace. The viral post states that replacement batteries cost “almost double” the price of a new vehicle, and that no landfill or disposal would even accept the dead ones.
“These green fairy tale electric cars are all sitting in vacant lots while their batteries drain toxins into the ground,” the post claims. “Still think we need to go green?”
Don’t trust everything you read on Facebook: This post, which first started making the rounds last year, has been debunked. According to PolitiFact, the cars in the photo “are part of a fleet from a failed car-sharing service” and were in the process of “being resold or sold for parts.”
Even so, it got me thinking: What is the lifespan of an electric vehicle battery, and what happens when it dies? I have a personal interest in this topic; Since road tripping 1,000 miles in a Tesla, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of trading my gas-guzzling 2015 Jeep Patriot in for an EV. Let’s investigate.
Learning From the Prius
Concerns about the lifespan of EV batteries are not new. PCMag executive features editor Jamie Lendino, a car expert, tells me that this conversation harkens back to the early days of hybrids. In the late 1990s, people worried about what would happen to the Toyota Prius when its hybrid battery stopped efficiently holding a charge.
Some 25 years later, history offers some learnings. We now know that fuel efficiency isn’t the Prius’ only claim to fame: It’s also one of the longest-lasting vehicles you can buy, and one of the cars with the highest average mileage totals out there.
The Prius tops the list of cars people keep the longest, with 13.7% of owners holding onto the hybrid for at least 15 years, according to iSeeCars.com. Moreover, it’s at least two-and-a-half times more likely to reach 200,000 miles than the average car, the automotive search engine reports.
Toyota’s warranty for pre-2020 Prius models covers the hybrid battery for either 10 years or 150,000 miles in states that have adopted California emission standards, or 8 years/100,000 miles elsewhere in the US. Prius models released in 2020 and later all include the more generous 10-year/150,000-mile hybrid battery warranty. Outside of the warranty, a Prius hybrid battery replacement can cost upward of $4,000 .
So while it may require a costly hybrid battery replacement at some point, the Prius can keep going and going—in rare cases, more than 600,000 miles.
Tesla Battery Life and Warranty Coverage
Now let’s examine the battery life claims, warranty coverage, and potential out-of-pocket replacement costs for the most popular EVs in the US at the time of this writing. This information can help you gauge the potential lifespan of an EV, and whether to be concerned about hefty battery replacement fees you could encounter down the road.
Tesla currently dominates the booming EV market, accounting for about three-quarters of US sales in the first quarter of 2022, according to Kelly Blue Book. Its Model Y ranked as the top-selling EV for the period, followed by the Model 3. The Tesla Model X and Model S also made the top 10, ranking №4 and №7, respectively.
As for their longevity, Tesla says its battery packs are designed to “outlast the vehicle.”
“We estimate that a vehicle gets scrapped after approximately 200,000 miles of usage in the U.S. and roughly 150,000 miles in Europe,” the company wrote in its 2021 Impact Report.
There have been reports of Tesla vehicles running well beyond that benchmark. Tesla itself claims that the Model S and Model X only lose about 10% battery capacity, on average, after 200,000 miles of usage.
All new Tesla vehicles come with a limited warranty that covers the repair or replacement of a malfunctioning or defective lithium-ion battery and/or drive unit for either eight years or 100,000 to 150,000 miles, depending on the model. For all models, Tesla guarantees a minimum 70% battery capacity retention over the warranty period. If you buy a used Tesla that is still under warranty, the coverage will transfer over to you.
The EV maker’s battery-and-drive-unit warranty also covers damage to the vehicle from a battery fire, even if the blaze occurred due to driver error. It does not, however, cover damage to the battery or drive unit resulting from a collision or accident, intentional actions, flooding, or normal degradation.
“The [Tesla] battery, like all lithium-ion batteries, will experience gradual energy or power loss with time and use,” Tesla’s warranty states. “Loss of battery energy or power over time or due to or resulting from battery usage is NOT covered…except to the extent specified.”
In other words, if your Tesla’s battery capacity falls below 70% of the original range while under warranty, you have a valid claim. In that case, if the battery can’t be repaired, Tesla will replace it with a new, reconditioned, or remanufactured part, at its discretion.
“The warranty replacement may not restore the vehicle to a ‘like new’ condition, but when replacing a battery, Tesla will ensure that the energy capacity of the replacement battery is at least equal to that of the original battery before the failure occurred,” Tesla says.
Replacing an Out-of-Warranty Tesla Battery
Out of warranty, replacing a Tesla battery is very expensive. We’re not talking a few thousand dollars like you’d pay for a new Prius hybrid battery. Based on the examples we could find, an out-of-warranty Tesla battery replacement can run you more than $20,000.
Last year, one Finnish Tesla owner infamously opted to blow up their 2013 Model S instead of shelling out the $22,600 they had been quoted for a battery replacement.
Separately, YouTuber Tyler Hoover of Hoovies Garage recently received a similarly steep quote ($22,500) from a Tesla service center to replace the battery in an out-of-warranty 2013 Model S P85. Hoover instead sent the vehicle to a third-party repair shop, and they managed to fix the battery to the tune of around $5,000 instead of swapping it out.
In a third recent example, Tesla charged a Model 3 owner $16,550 for a battery pack replacement and other repairs after the vehicle ran over a large rock, causing damages that are not covered under warranty. In that case, Tesla replaced the broken battery with a remanufactured unit, which itself cost $13,500.
But stories like this are rare, so you shouldn’t necessarily let them scare you from purchasing a new Tesla if you want one. Buying a used Tesla with close to or more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, or holding onto the one you already own out of warranty, is a much riskier decision given the high cost of repairs.
The reality is that EV batteries don’t live forever ( at least not yet). When your Tesla battery dies, the company says to bring the vehicle to any of its service centers instead of attempting a DIY replacement job. Telsa makes “the best effort” to recycle every end-of-life battery pack, so it can extract the raw materials and produce new batteries.
“None of our scrapped lithium-ion batteries go to landfilling, and 100% are recycled,” Tesla says.
Good for a Decade
Other EV makers offer similar, if not better, battery warranties compared with Tesla. That’s not a coincidence: federal law requires them to cover EV batteries for at least eight years or 100,00 miles.
After the Tesla Model Y and Model 3, the Ford Mustang Mach-E was the third best-selling EV in the US in the first quarter of 2022, according to KBB. Rounding out the top 10 for the period were the Hyundai Ioniq 5 (№5), the Kia EV6 (№6), the Nissan Leaf (№8), the Kia Niro (№9), and the Audi e-Tron (№10).
The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Nissan Leaf, and Audi e-Tron all come with the standard 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranty. Hyundai and Kia go beyond that, ensuring their EV batteries for 10 years or 100,000 miles.
When assessing a manufacturer’s EV battery warranty, pay attention to exceptions and exclusions. Many EV makers besides Tesla, including Ford, Hyundai, and Kia, guarantee battery capacity loss no greater than 30% over the warranty period. Others may only provide coverage in the event of a “total failure,” according to MYEV.com.
All EV batteries will experience degradation over time, but the general consensus is that they should last between 10 and 20 years before needing replacement. That’s a wide range, but considering that Americans hold onto newly purchased cars for 8.4 years, on average, it’s safe to say that any new EV you buy will never need a battery replacement while in your possession. And if yours does, it will probably be covered under warranty.
Read More About EVs
Researching EVs opens up a can of worms, with one question leading to the next. If you’re interested in learning more, PCMag has you covered. Our 10,000-mile road trip to find the best mobile network in the US gave us a unique chance to compare electric, gas, and hybrid cars in a fueling face-off to see which one saves you the most money.
EV newbies can also check out our explainer about charging. That article covers the charging ports found in EVs today, adapters that can maximize your options, and tips on how to know if you can charge your car at a specific station before you arrive.
And if you’re wondering whether EVs are really as green as we think, check out our article on their true hidden environmental costs—even if France doesn’t actually have a graveyard for them.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.