EVs without needing servicing, is it possible?

Tesla is hiring a ‘Senior Manager Zero Service’, Elektrec.co spotted a few days ago online. The candidate will join Tesla’s Service Operations organization “and lead the team responsible for identifying and eliminating the reasons our cars require service”. Is that possible? Do electric cars need no servicing at all?

You will often hear that EVs need less maintenance simply because they use far fewer moving parts in the drivetrain than a classic car with a combustion engine: roughly twenty compared to 2,000. Still, several parts that ‘wear out’ need replacement, just like in ICE cars. And what about the ‘far higher repair costs’ in case of an accident? Let’s go through the points once again.

No real friction

Electric motors need fewer parts, are less prone to wear out, and require little to no regular maintenance. As the rotor spins in a magnetic field created with a stator, there is no natural friction, and there is no need for complex camshafts, timing belts, and chains bathing in oil to convert the vertical movement of the pistons into a circular movement. There are also no spark plugs or fuel and air filters to replace.

Except for a few high-end models, like the Porsche Taycan, which has two gears, most EVs have a single-speed reduction gear mechanism. Without a complex gearbox or continuously variable transmission, this mechanism can last indefinitely under normal usage.

Torque at any given RPM

As most drivers know by shifting manual gears, the standard for decades in Europe, internal combustion engines only generate efficient power at specific RPM ranges. Electric motors produce a consistent amount of torque at any given RPM within a particular range, and that is fully available from the start, while ICE cars have to ‘rev up’ first.

Carmakers developed carefully calculated gear ratios to maximize the electric motor’s efficiency without having to switch through gears. As the engine and gearbox start to spin, the EV starts to move instantly, giving it more snappy accelerations than an ICE car.

The motor of a Tesla spins at 16,000 RPM in large drive units with 335 – 475 kW output, for instance, and 18,000 RPM in small rear and front drive units with 220 kW output. Most gas-powered engines rotate at a maximum rate of around 7,000 RPM.

Hundreds of thousands of km

As there are no parts that wear out over time, electric motors can, in theory, last for hundreds of thousands of kilometers with, in some cases, occasional disassembly and cleaning. For combustion engines to reach the same mileage, costly overhauling might be needed over time, and many components that wear out and fluids like oil and coolant must be replaced regularly.

EVs do need fluids, too, also for lubrication and cooling, but to a far lesser extent. Unlike the oil in an ICE car that ‘deteriorates’ and loses its lubrication properties over time as it has to go through thousands of thermal cycles, the oil in an EV can last for years, maybe needing to be topped off occasionally when leaks occur.

The same goes for cooling fluids. Most EVs use a glycol-based coolant that doesn’t contain water and doesn’t conduct electricity, which should be safer to use with lithium-ion batteries. You don’t usually have to change the coolant regularly, as it easily lasts five years. It will never get as hot as in a combustion vehicle, where changing every two years is recommended.

‘Burning’ tires

You’ll have to change parts that wear and tear as much as on an ICE car, like wipers (wiper fluid, of course) and maybe even tires, to a greater extent. The main reason is the EV’s heavier weight due to the battery pack, although that difference might be less pronounced when comparing EV sedans with ICE SUVs or, even worse, PHEVs with dual propulsion systems and a bigger battery.

EV-specific tires on the market are designed with beefier sidewalls to cope with EVs’ extra weight, provide less rolling resistance, and improve range by up to 7%. But, depending on the driving style, EV tires can wear out 20 to 50% faster, especially with 4WD, which is often a popular option in EVs.

The instant torque delivery in EVs adds to the wear, as the more ‘brutal’ the force on the driving wheels, the faster they’ll wear. That’s no different from tires on performance cars with combustion engines.

Brake pads not wearing out?

Brake pads and discs, on the other hand, could last forever on an EV if you like ‘one-pedal driving’. EVs use the motor to slow down the vehicle once you lift your foot off the throttle, and it kicks in as a generator to regenerate electricity that goes back to the battery to extend the range.

The hydraulic brake system with calipers, discs, and brake pads that use friction to stop the motion is often only used when the car has almost stopped below 10 km/hour. Volkswagen even equipped its EVs with cheaper drum breaks at the rear, as the more performant disc brakes in the front can perfectly assist the motor brake.

Thinner discs?

Some specialists, like Continental, propose that even using thinner discs, similar to those on motorcycles, could be an option for EVs. Car manufacturers, like Hyundai, let you set the amount of braking force the motor delivers. Others, like Porsche, don’t believe the regenerative braking adds sufficiently to the car’s range and it doesn’t offer one-pedal driving.

Porsche prefers to let the Taycan use its kinetic energy entirely by letting the car wind down freely. While coasting, the electric motors disengage for reduced drag, allowing the vehicle to move along without using any energy. According to Porsche, this more closely mimics the feeling of driving an ICE sports car.

Batteries: primary headache

Then, a primary headache pops up every time EVs are discussed: the battery. First, there is the 12-volt battery, which, just like in an ICE car, powers all electrical and electronic systems of an EV, except for the motors.

That one will also need replacement just every five to seven years. And when it dies out, you won’t be able to start the EV, despite the huge – probably fully charged – battery pack underneath the car floor. An important difference in using 12 V lead-acid batteries in ICE vehicles versus EVs is that an ICE requires about 500 A peak output current to start, which is not required for an EV.

Lasting for 500,000 km or more

Today, the EV’s main battery pack is the most valuable component, which can account for up to 40% of the car’s value. Although carmakers commonly guarantee the battery’s capacity to be more than 75% after eight years or 200,000 kilometers, there are many examples of cars – like Tesla’s, for instance – in which the battery can last for 500,000 or more kilometers and have after ten years still more than 80% of capacity.

Most important is the thermal management of the battery and the way it is (fast-)charged during its lifetime. Thermal management prevents your battery from getting too hot in one way and prepares the battery for better charging in extreme cold by pre-heating it in time.

EV batteries subject to extreme hot and cold temperatures won’t last as long as those used in a mild climate, where 15 years of lifespan is attainable. Temperature management is always active, even when the EV is idle, which is why it is recommended to keep your EV plugged in when unused for a more extended period.

Frequent DC fast charging

Frequent DC fast charging also accelerates battery degradation and capacity loss, especially if you want to charge the battery to 100% every time. Due to the chemical processes in a battery while charging, the last 10 to 20% of capacity takes nearly as long as the first 80 – 90%. Chargers will slow down automatically to achieve this, as they will also do to prevent overheating.

That’s why most EVs let you set the charging threshold to 80 or 90%. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries tend to be less prone to degradation when fully charged regularly, unlike the more expensive but more performant NMC batteries often used in premium EVs.

Depleting the battery below 10% has also been proven to shorten its lifetime, so you’ll actually use only 70% of your battery’s full capacity (and the range that comes with it) most of the time. On the other hand, there is no maintenance at all to do on the battery pack except for topping up the coolant fluid of the thermal management system if needed.

More expensive repairs

Last but not least, there is the question of more expensive repairs, as rental companies like Herz are learning with ups and downs, getting rid of a large portion of their fleet of EVs to reduce costs. On the one hand, EVs are more accident-prone when driven by people not used to the extreme power and accelerations you usually only experience in sports cars, which most don’t have before.

On the other hand, when an electric car gets damaged, the high-voltage architecture of the car (400 up to 900 V) and the risk of thermal runaway of a damaged battery pack require costly prevention measures and trained staff to deal with it.

Today, most car repair shops aren’t prepared for this yet and are still learning. That means more time is needed than to repair an ICE car, which the sector has some 140 years of experience with, and time is money.

Replacing even when scratched

Often, insurance companies will write off an EV completely, even when the battery casing is only lightly scratched or damaged, or demand for the entire battery pack to be replaced by a brand new one. Most EV manufacturers, like BMW, for instance, claim that today, they are working on better battery repair by replacing only the casing or damaged modules.

All these factors make, according to a recent report by British Thacham Research, that BEV accident claims are currently 25.5% more expensive than their ICE equivalents and can take 14% longer to repair. Thacham Research is, in its own words, the UK’s only ‘not-for-profit automotive risk intelligence organization’ focused on safety, security, and sustainable repair.

They say much of the car insurance sector has yet to adapt to the challenges of mass BEV adoption, and the implications remain unquantified in terms of repair capacity, training and skills, cost, and BEVs’ lifetime sustainability.

“This lack of awareness means many BEVs are often deemed irreparable, leading to premature write-offs due to the high battery cost and the lack of value the UK ecosystem can recover from them.”


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