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Maintenance costs for EVs - are the studies hiding something?

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

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  • Jun 9, 2022

A number of studies are out claiming that the cost of maintenance for an EV is at least 40% less than for a vehicle with an ICE engine.

Having read several of them, I find that most leave out the largest cost of maintenance for an EV. I queried several of the authors and got no response at all from them.

A typical battery, used daily is likely to need replacement before it turns 15 (some as early as 7 or 8 years, a few maybe at 20 years).

A typical vehicle has a 18.7 year life (USDOT) on the roads in the US.

Beyond the typical live of a battery. So should the cost of a battery replacement be factored into the maintenance costs?

For the initial owner, likely not, because top quartile drivers trade cars at around 5 years (some lease for 1 to 3 and some hang on to a vehicle to the bitter end - but the median is 5 years).

For the person who purchases that used car, maybe not, because they tend (median) to get 5-6 years out of the vehicle.

It is the third owner - Typically in the bottom quartile of income that ends up either replacing the battery, or having the car end up in the junk yard.

A 100KWH battery (middle of the projected vehicle battery packs sold in 2023) - is at least a $10,000 part, add the labor to make the replacement and you could easily be looking at a $14,000 bill for a vehicle that has a blue book of $5,000.

So is it fair that the third owner has to shoulder these costs.

Or, does it mean that for a typical passenger car that their life will be shorter if they are an EV?

Because it will not make sense to replace batteries?

Is there anything that should be done about the battery swap?

Should it be required to be factored into maintenance costs?

Should auto insurance policies offer a rider for battery life?

Finally should owners be required to turn in a vehicle with a dead battery if they are not going to replace it within 90 days or so?

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jun 9, 2022

Great post, and surely a topic that hasn't received very much attention.  I'm always entertained by the forums for early Tesla owners and enthusiasts who have gone to great extremes to keep their cars on the road when Tesla appears to want to limit access for owners to self-repair and parts options. 

The market will effectively solve the battery replacement problem for used EVs.  If battery repair or maintenance costs exceed the market value of the used EV, the market will most likely find a way to simply process the low value EV for some form of repurposing. Either the cost of replacement batteries will come down, or the "end of life" EV will get scrapped for parts with the most valuable pieces finding their way into the supply chain.

I suspect that manufacturers will find a way to create incentives, as well.  If EVs truly require fewer repairs and have lower maintenance cost due to their design and build, manufacturers will want to sell more new cars and won't have the market for selling parts and service.  Manufacturers will be forced find a way to create added trade value for aging fleets to churn the older models in favor of newer vehicles.

But, that's just a guess, as no one seems to have really thought through all of the supply chain and customer lifecycle issues. GM and Ford can't afford to alienate their dealer channels to manage a Tesla style direct to consumer program.  And Tesla doesn't have sufficient repair infrastructure in place to scale ongoing support and maintenance the way legacy manufactures engage with customers.  It's all new territory for consumers and manufacturers. 

I'm usually in favor of the consumer somewhat dictating the evolution of the market.  If manufacturers and dealers don't meet customer expectations, they won't get much traction.  The consumer always has the choice not to buy from a provider who doesn't match their needs and expectations.  

Thoughtful post.  Thanks.

Michael Sanders's picture
Michael Sanders on Jun 10, 2022

I'm glad you brought this up.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Jed Marson's picture
Jed Marson on Jun 10, 2022

This topic will go on and on. If Nissan and Tesla can recover the batteries and sell them for as much as the new ones as domestic storage, there seems to be no reason why a market can't develop for cases and connectors, new batteries, independently of the motor manufacturer. In fact it's proved beneficial to set standards then help the market develop.

To help it in its way needs a rapid uptake in a step to convert petrol and diesel engines to electric motors. I'm going to Excel in London for Move 2022 next Wed to meet Aymeric Libeau, who has  perfected this on small hatchbacks in France. Half a day engine swop and batteries for 70-80 Miles range at about 6 grand Sterling. Now trying to scale across the globe. That's more than the average 50 miles a day of most and better than a scrappage scheme. 

This needs funding to set up centres in each region that early adopters can go to. There's so much money floating around that the early tech adopters are able to convert classic cars for ten times the money but there is no Planet B and the #KremlinGremlin, like winter, is coming.  We need to step up to this plate.

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Jun 13, 2022

Tesla is using only NEW batteries in the Power Wall, not used batteries. They are of a different chemistry than what Tesla puts in vehicles. While they are still lithium-ion, they are not the same lithium-ion chemistry that is in Tesla's vehicles. 

Doug Houseman's picture
Thank Doug for the Post!
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