Thursday, May 16, 2024

Are EVs High Maintenance?

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An EPRI analysis dispels the notion that EVs are expensive to maintain.

At the end of 2023 and the start of 2024, confusion was the best word to describe the public perception of electric vehicles (EVs). On the one hand, there is ample data demonstrating the rapid growth of EVs in the U.S. and around the globe. For example, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported that nearly 20 percent of all passenger vehicles sold around the world in the third quarter of 2023 were EVs and that 2024 sales of EVs were expected to climb by about 18 percent.

Expanding EV choices, falling upfront costs, and generous incentives for EV purchases in the U.S. and elsewhere also drive growth in electric transport, both among individual drivers and fleet operators. At the same time, however, there has been a steady drumbeat of news stories about a supposed EV sales “slump” and “slog” and automaker frustrations about EVs sitting on dealer lots for months.

Adding to the overall confusion about the demand for EVs have been stories about insurance companies totaling EVs after minor accidents and sky-high repair costs. “I think everybody agrees there is a lot of confusion about maintenance and repair costs for EVs versus ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles,” said Purandhya Vij, a strategic insight engineer at EPRI. “Readers don’t know what to believe.”

Repair and Maintenance are not the Same

Analyzing which assertions about costs are supported by data was the goal of the recent EPRI technology innovation spotlight, “Are Electric Vehicles Expensive to Maintain? Taking a Closer Look at the Cost of EV Maintenance,” which Vij completed with Marcus Alexander, an EPRI transportation technical leader. The research benefitted from EPRI’s decade-plus of research into electric transportation, including extensive analysis of the total cost of ownership of EVs compared to ICE vehicles.

The goal from the start of the project was to provide clarity on the topic of EV maintenance and not add to the confusion. “The way we approached this was we wanted to make it very clear and simple,” Alexander said. “One of the strengths of EPRI is that we can provide clarity based on years of research.”

Defining what is being measured is part of delivering clarity about the comparative costs of EV and ICE vehicle maintenance. Indeed, in some news articles, repair and maintenance costs are conflated, even though they are distinct expenses. Maintenance costs refer to the expenses associated with keeping a vehicle operating reliably. For an EV, this can include replenishing critical fluids, replacing brake pads, rotating tires, and any necessary battery upkeep. In comparing routine maintenance costs, EPRI found that the light-duty vehicle maintenance costs for ICE vehicles was about 10 cents per mile, while light-duty EV maintenance costs were slightly over 6 cents per mile.

There’s good reason for a higher ICE vehicle maintenance price tag. Gas-powered vehicles have more components that need to be maintained or replaced than EVs, including a transmission, timing belts, oxygen sensors, and spark plugs. Repair costs, by contrast, are entirely different and are far less predictable than maintenance expenses. Repairs are necessary when a vehicle’s components are damaged or destroyed in a collision or fail due to wear and tear or a malfunction. Being clear about the difference between repairs and maintenance—including that maintenance expenses are predictable and depend on a vehicle owner’s diligence while repairs are more variable and subject to chance—is the foundation of relevant cost comparisons.

Makes and Models Matter

Comparisons of repair and maintenance costs between EVs and ICE vehicles also must consider the specific types of vehicles being compared. For example, the average collision losses for EV pickups and SUVs made by Rivian are nearly 50 percent higher than for the average gas-powered pickup truck.

But comparing a Rivian, a high-end luxury vehicle, to an average-priced ICE pickup truck or SUV is misleading. A more apt comparison for an expensive vehicle like the Rivian is a Range Rover with similar technologies and features. Using more of an apples-to-apples comparison found that collision losses for a Rivian are well below those of Range Rover, Porsche, and Mercedes G-Class SUVs. Outside the realm of luxury vehicles, an analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) compared repair costs of vehicle models that offered both electric and gas-powered versions. The report’s conclusion: EVs cost just two percent more on average to repair.

Part of the reason repair costs are similar is because EVs and ICE vehicles are largely similar, except for their drivetrains. “A lot of repairs have nothing to do with the powertrain,” Alexander said. “There was a story about a Rivian that had a $60,000 repair bill for a rear-end collision, but that had nothing to do with the battery. Generally, we expect repairs to be about the same across powertrains.”

Impact of Newer Vehicle Design

The Price Impact of Newer Designs

Another factor often overlooked in comparison of repair and maintenance costs is age. Newer cars—both EVs and gas-powered—have far more sophisticated design and technologies than older models. That often translates into higher repair expenses for newer, more luxurious vehicles.

For example, replacing a windshield in older vehicles is a straightforward and inexpensive repair, costing $150 to $200. But replacing a windshield in a car that offers some measure of self-driving, including cruise control, can be more complicated and costly.

“With newer vehicles across the board, they’ll often have cameras mounted on the windshield or integrated into the windshield,” Vij said. “If you have a windshield replacement, you have to disassemble all the cameras, put new ones on, and complete a calibration procedure. A windshield replacement can cost $1,500, but it has nothing to do with being an EV. It’s just that these technologies, including sensors throughout the vehicle, make everything more complicated to repair.” Even though EVs are new to the market and include the type of modern features and design that can make them more expensive to repair, HLDI found that gas vehicles are three times more likely to be declared a total loss by insurance companies after a crash.

EVs fare well in EPRI’s analysis of repair and maintenance costs. And there’s also reason to believe that the infrastructure, tools, and skills necessary to fix and maintain EVs will improve. While traditional automakers are now producing EVs, their initial growth has been driven by startups like Tesla and Rivian. Startup companies in a new industry take time to scale up a robust network of parts suppliers and maintenance and repair shops. “As these companies get bigger, they are going to have more parts and more body shops that are qualified to work on their vehicles,” Alexander said. “It’s just a matter of time and scale.”

EPRI Technical Experts:

Purandhya Vij and Marcus Alexander
For more information, contact