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Electric Car FAQs: Do EVs Need Maintenance?

Electric cars are just like gas cars — until they’re not. In this FAQ series, we’ll explore that 1% of the time that EVs are just different enough to require some explanations.

Supporters of EVs will tell you that electric cars are just like regular cars. For the most part, they’re right. You step on the pedal on the right and the car goes, you turn the wheel and the car turns, and the only real difference is what kind of fuel goes in it. We say stuff like that all the time, in fact. If we’re being completely honest, though, that’s only mostly true. 99% of the time, the only difference is what kind of fuel goes into the car, but that last one percent probably needs explaining.

To provide that explanation, we’ve launched a new segment called “Electric Car FAQs” that hopes to answer those oddball questions that come up one percent of the time. Today’s question: do EVs need maintenance?

 

Electric Car FAQs: Do EVs Need Maintenance?

Image courtesy GM.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: yes, your electric car needs maintenance. Yes, even though it doesn’t have an engine, and yes, even though it may not have a transmission. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, I want to talk to you about the first-generation Chevy Volt and how it “inspired” this question.

I remember the first time I had a chance to talk a Chevy Volt owner, way back in 2011. It wasn’t for an interview or an article, it was just me and this old dude, Harry, vibing over his brand-new, fresh-off-the-lot hybrid in the Bob Evans parking lot. It was a cool, early spring evening under a Midwestern Ohio sky, and the car looked beautiful in that “golden hour” light. It was a fantastic moment, sure, but what stuck with me most about that conversation — and what I find myself thinking about a decade later — was how utterly and completely clueless Harry was about his new Volt.

“It never needs oil changes,” he said, excitedly. Which, OK — not quite right. “You never need to do any maintenance,” he followed, emphatically, “because it’s electric, so it has no moving parts!”

Where to begin!? I tried to explain to Harry that he had bought a hybrid. His new Chevy Volt did, indeed, have a gasoline-fueled ICE sending power to the battery and, at times, even to the road, by driving the wheels at highway speeds (where the higher rpm efficiencies of the ICE motor starts to overtake the low rpm torque benefits of electric motors). The level of cognitive dissonance he experienced was too high, though. He called me a liar and all sorts of horrible things before he huffed, grumpily, back into his car.

Oh well, no good deed goes unpunished. All the same, I imagine that there are quite a few “Harrys” out there, walking around saying things like, “electric cars don’t have any moving parts, so they never need maintenance.” Heck, you might even think that yourself — and that’s OK! That’s why you typed, “Do EVs need maintenance?” into Google and ended up here. We’re glad to have you. Now, open your mind and get ready to learn what it takes to keep your EV running strong for years to come.

 

Common Electric Car Maintenance Items

1. The Fluids — unless we’re talking about a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) or an EV with a gas-powered “Range Extender,” your “pure” electric car isn’t equipped with an internal combustion engine. As such, it does not require the same kind of regular oil changes that you’re probably familiar with. Even so, there are other fluids in an EV that need to be checked and, on occasion, changed out. Some of these fluids include:

There’s no universal rule for when these need to be changed. What’s more, the longevity of these different fluids can vary wildly between places like Chicago, which sees both freakishly cold winters and murderously hot summers, and more temperate climates like Southern California.

2. The 12V Battery — learning that your super-advanced, ultra-high-tech PHEV or BEV still has an old-school 12V battery can come as a bit of a shock to people, but here we are. Just like the 12V battery in a conventional ICE car, the 12V battery in an EV powers accessories like the headlights, turn signals, dashboard lights, power windows, and sunroof motors. It also powers the ECU and CAN bus systems that manage charging — and, when it fails, it can leave you stranded. The good news is that if/when that happens, you can “jump start” said 12V battery to get you where you need to go. The bad news is that you’ll occasionally have to buy a new one as part of regular maintenance, and (in a pure BEV, anyway) you won’t get that telltale sign of a slower and slower crank each morning to warn you that it’s coming.

So, add “getting the 12V battery checked” to your list of electric car maintenance items that should be done every year. Ideally, just before your area experiences its most extreme weather scenarios — that’ll be different for Minnesota and Arizona, you know? (For Tesla owners, note that Tesla’s system will notify you of your soon-to-die 12V battery days in advance. Just be sure you notice the notification.)

3. The Tires, Brakes, and Suspension remember that electric cars are just like regular cars? In the case of tires, brakes, and suspension, they are just like regular cars — very heavy regular cars. The vehicle battery’s extra mass means that most EVs are significantly heavier than their ICE-powered cousins, putting a greater load on the tires, brakes, and suspension components than you might think.

Most mechanics recommend a multi-point inspection every year or so at a minimum to ensure that the tires are wearing evenly and have sufficient tread, that the brake pads and rotors have enough life left to be dependable until the next checkup, and that there are no physical issues with the suspension — torn boots, blown shocks, worn bearings, etc. — that could present safety issues if left unchecked. (Regarding brakes, note that an EV’s brakes typically last much longer than a gas car’s brakes due to the fact that most braking is done using regenerative braking systems.)

4. Filters sure, pure BEVs don’t have fuel filters, oil filters, or engine air filters. They do have cabin filters, though, and those will have to be changed out fairly regularly.

Why? Because cabin filters stop contaminants like smoke, pollen, mold, chemical weapons, and even harmful diesel particulate matter (which have been shown to increase of heart attacks, respiratory illness, stroke, and other health problems) from entering the car’s passenger compartment. Cabin filters also keep other small debris, such as bugs and rodent droppings, from being diffused throughout the cabin.

 

EV Manufacturer Maintenance Schedule

Image courtesy Polestar.

As with ICE-powered cars, different auto manufacturers recommend different schedules for electric car maintenance. At Volvo/Polestar, the first scheduled maintenance is at two years or 20,000 miles and includes a multi-point inspection (fluids check, wiper blades, making sure everything is working as intended, etc.) and a change of the cabin air filter. Tesla, meanwhile, recommends a tire rotation every 6250 miles or when tires show a difference of more than 2/32” of tread wear (whichever comes first).

If you’re following the recommended maintenance schedule and find yourself driving more than 12,000 miles in a given year — the low end for US national average annual miles driven — that means you’ll be working on your Tesla at least twice a year.

So, while EVs certainly present lower maintenance costs and better insulation against swings in energy prices than conventional ICE-powered vehicles, it’s simply not accurate to say that electric cars are maintenance-free.

 
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Written By

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and have been a part of the Important Media Network since 2008. You can find me here, working on my Volvo fansite, riding a motorcycle around Chicago, or chasing my kids around Oak Park.

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