Good news. Electric cars really do cost less to service because, put simply, there is less to service.
Manufacturers will all tell you this because it might persuade you to take the leap. An electric vehicle (EV) does not have an internal combustion engine (ICE) with oil, filters, belts and plugs to change. Nor does it have a gearbox or clutch to wear out. There is a cooling system for the battery, but it rarely needs looking at.
Perhaps it’s an obvious thing to say but EVs still have wheels and tyres, brakes, steering, suspension and windscreen wipers which affect safety and can’t be ignored. You still won’t want to run out of screenwash – so opening the ‘bonnet’ (Tesla famously calls it a frunk) and lifting a lid to pour in some fluid will still be needed sometimes.
How much does an EV service cost?
On a web search, unless you ask for an individual quote you can’t see costs between brands. However, some manufacturers are upfront about costs because it’s positive.
Vauxhall says £90 for an interim EV service, £239 for a main and £265 for a major (with genuine Vauxhall parts). In comparison a plug-in hybrid (which has both battery and a regular ICE engine and gearbox) is £199, £249 and up to £429 on the same basis.
In its fixed price service plans, BMW says that an electric ‘I’ model (of which there are now several in several sizes) will cost £15 a month on a 36-month plan whereas a 1 Series, and X1 or an X2 will be £20 a month.
Some manufacturers of ICE cars – such as BMW – allow their cars to work out when they need a service according to how they are driven, hence the condition of the oil. Mainly motorway miles extends the oil change interval and is easier on the brakes and clutch.
This doesn’t apply with EVs so it’s back to how often they should be seen. However, even if there will be less to do, service schedules are as varied as the manufacturer. Kia sets the intervals for its electric Soul and Niro models at 10,000 miles or 12 months, the same as the petrol models.
A Peugeot e-208 or e-2008 has a first service at 8,000 miles, then every 16,000 miles or two years, at which point the brake fluid and the pollen filter are changed. The chemical balance of the coolant for the battery doesn’t get its first check until 80,000 miles or four years.
Brake fluid doesn’t perform its job well forever, and a change every two years is a common recommendation. You don’t have to have the air con serviced or the pollen filter replaced, but the car will be nicer and healthier to be in if you do, and longer-term air-conditioning needs to be used to keep the condenser, pump and pipes in good shape. Pollen filters can also block up and collect water which seeps into the car.
As befits its radical ethos, Tesla does not require annual maintenance or regular fluid changes and says that not servicing the car won’t invalidate the warranty. It does, however, recommend its cabin air filters are changed every two or three years depending on the model, and testing brake fluid every two years and replacing as needed. A Tesla Model 3 can wait six years for an air-conditioning service.
Will the way I drive my EV make a difference?
You would be wise, as with any car, to keep an eye on your tyres and check the pressures regularly. When you learnt to drive you might have been told not to rev the engine when cold or perch your foot hallway down on the clutch or you’ll wear it out. But none of that applies to EVs.
“That’s one of the big differences between a traditional car and an EV,” says Matthew Tumbridge, Chief Operating Officer of The Car Expert partner Motoreasy which offers warranties for older cars. “On a traditional car you could change the oil more often, warm the engine up, you can drive it sympathetically but with an EV you can only really avoid potholes and speed bumps which will save you money on wheel and suspension problems because there’s so much weight in these cars they are going to suffer suspension costs but that’s about it.”
You can also be easier on brake pad and disc wear by using the regenerative braking function, which will also extend the range. Given that miss-aligned wheels and under-inflated tyres can affect steering and tyre wear, unusually for a carmaker Tesla specifically recommends rotating the tyres every 6,250 miles or if tread depth difference is 2/32in or greater, whichever comes first.
Apart from hitting it in an accident or bashing it with a wheel jack you can’t mis-treat a battery (although you can mangle a charging cable) but carmakers have tips on how often and how much to charge, and what to do if you need to park an EV up without using it for a long time. Peugeot says to optimise battery lifespan, avoid regularly charging it to 100% or, conversely, allowing the charge to drop below 20% too often.
Older EV servicing
Here it gets a bit muddier. Most manufacturers offer fixed price servicing for ICE cars older than three years old (usually once they are out of warranty) at lower prices to keep the dealerships in continuing work, but because most electric car models are so new (for example the Volkswagen ID models) these plans are not yet appearing for older EVs.
There are few models of EV which have been on sale for many years, but some of the longest are the Tesla Model S, Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3. Once a comparable ICE car is out of warranty any decent independent garage can provide as good a service as a main dealer and should be able to handle the standard items on EVs which are shared such as brakes, brake fluid and air conditioning/filters.
The difference comes in their ability to diagnose faults and fixes in the control systems and electric motors because the knowledge and training is lagging behind. You can try the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance, a UK association of ‘EV-friendly’ independent garages where members are vetted for the right qualifications, tools and equipment to service and repair electric and hybrid vehicles.