I have a neighbor who is on the precipice of taking the EV plunge. Like most people, he has a lot of questions about the EV experience. We have had several conversations about home charging vs. highway charging, range anxiety, and what regenerative braking is all about. The other day, he asked me how long EV batteries last. This is certainly an important question, as the price of a new battery pack, installed, can be $10,000 or more — maybe much more.
The EV Batteries Urban Legend
People have concerns about new technology. My old Irish grandmother refused to fly. She was convinced airplanes were unsafe. People were afraid of microwave ovens at first, lest standing too close to one might scramble their brains (considering the state of society today, there might be some truth to that). Older readers may recall seeing diagrams showing precisely how the electronic emanations from cell phones would cause brain cancer.
As Mark Twain once observed, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you near as much as what you do know that ain’t true.” The only way to dispel fear is by shining a light on what scares us. Information is power and information is what the folks at Recurrent are all about. “Like your phone, EV batteries degrade over time. Factors like temperature, age, charging habits, driving style, and battery chemistry all impact battery performance. Recurrent provides transparency so you can have confidence in your EV and its battery.”
Those who use the Recurrent app will receive monthly status reports on the condition of their battery. When it comes time to sell, the Recurrent report can be used to reassure prospective buyers that the battery is in good condition and not about to saddle them with a big repair bill. For EV owners, the Recurrent report may be more valuable than a CarFax report.
More than 14,000 EV owners use the Recurrent app. With the data supplied by all those electric vehicles, Recurrent has created a report that demonstrates precisely what the history of the batteries is in various EV brands and models. One general conclusion is that the replacement rate of EV batteries is about 1.5%. Another is that newer batteries have far fewer problems than older batteries.
Things got off to a rocky start at the beginning of the modern EV age, which began in earnest when the first Nissan LEAF EVs appeared. The batteries in those early cars degraded rapidly in hot, dry climates like Arizona. Nissan, to its credit, was quick to find a solution and soon began equipping its cars with batteries that used a different chemistry. As a result, Nic Thomas, Nissan’s marketing director for the UK, told Forbes recently, “Almost all of the batteries we’ve ever made are still in cars, and we’ve been selling electric cars for 12 years. We haven’t got a great big stock of batteries that we can convert into something else.” In 2019 Francisco Carranza, managing director of Renault-Nissan Energy Services estimated that LEAF batteries may last 22 years.
And yet, the repercussions of those early battery failures still echo today. Early Tesla Model S batteries also had a tendency to degrade quite quickly, and so the urban legend was created that battery replacements would be a frequent occurrence for those who dared drive electric cars.
I confess I allowed myself to fall victim to this fear. The battery in my 2007 Toyota Prius was only warranted for 100,000. Not wanting to get stuck with a big bill (there were other reliability issues with my Prius that concerned me as well), I sold the car with 80,000 miles on it. It was only later that the reports started coming in about Prius taxis with more than 300,000 miles on the odometer that still had their original batteries. I spent way more to purchase a replacement for my Prius than I ever would have spent to replace the battery. We learn from experience — at least in theory.
So, How Long Will My Battery Last?
How long is that EV battery going to last? Recurrent says we simply don’t know for sure. “Electric cars have not been around long enough for us to tell. The best we can do is observe the apparent degradation in those cars on the road. Even that observation can prove a challenge, though, since most EVs have been on the road well under six years, with almost 30% sold in 2022. We still have very little sense of how they degrade over their lifetime. So far, it seems that EV batteries have much longer lifespans than anyone imagined, since very few of them have been replaced, even once the 8-year, 100,000 mile warranty period ends.”
Some of the concerns about EV battery life are based on experiences we have had with other battery-powered devices — especially cell phones and laptop computers. We are lucky if we get 3 years of service out of them. Why should we expect anything different from the batteries in our electric cars? “The good news is that your EV battery is far more complex and sophisticated than other lithium ion batteries in your life and is built to ensure its lifetime exceeds its warranty — and more,” Recurrent says. Here’s a chart they put together based on the data collected from the subscribers who use their app.
The takeaway from that chart is that if you own a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y, you have almost nothing to worry about when it comes to replacing the battery in your car. Early Model S sedans? You might want to think twice about buying one. The Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona issues are well known and all of them were covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Early LEAF cars are still problematic. Other than that, the battery in your EV should last as long or longer than the engine in a conventional car.
Other Considerations For EV Batteries
It is impossible to say whether the battery pack in your car is one of the 1.5% of all batteries that will need replacement. If you are concerned about what might happen after the manufacturer’s warranty runs out — the federal government requires automakers to warranty the battery pack for 8 years or 100,000 miles — you can protect yourself by purchasing an extended warranty either from the manufacturer or a third party.
What we don’t know yet — there is not enough data available — is how driving and charging habits affect battery life. If you drive 300 miles a day and are using fast chargers on a regular basis, will your experience be different than someone who goes to the store a few times a week and charges at home every ten days or so? Almost certainly. Should you limit charging to 80% most of the time? How low should you let your battery get before recharging? These are questions with no solid answers, at least not yet.
What about vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home use? We simply don’t know. The idea of using EV batteries to store power to stabilize the grid or keep a home operating during a grid outage is something more and more people are interested in, especially since the frequency of such outages due to severe weather events is increasing. Tesla steadfastly refuses to consider such systems, which may give other manufacturers a marketing advantage. Ford, Volkswagen, and Hyundai are moving forward with V2H systems, which may force Tesla’s hand at some point.
The bottom line here is that EV batteries are still terra incognita for most drivers. The technology is changing rapidly and will continue to do so for years, maybe decades to come. LFP batteries seem to have a greater life expectancy than NMC batteries, but with a small performance penalty. But the lesson from the research done by Recurrent is that battery failures are not the major issue many people worry about. In the final analysis, it comes down to this. If you plan to keep your car after the warranty expires, buy an extended warranty from a reliable company. Once you have done that, drive electric and be happy.
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