By: Byron Mathioudakis

How does servicing an electric car compare to servicing a regular car?

One of the most touted advantages of owing an electric vehicle (EV) is the lower cost of running it.

We’re not just talking about the generally lower price of electricity versus petrol or diesel that’s required per-kilometre for an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.

Servicing can be cheaper too. At times, much cheaper. This is due to there being far fewer moving parts in an EV’s electric motor(s) compared to an ICE. At the same time though, EVs can wear tyres more quickly due to their heavier mass and the high torque outputs of their electric motors.

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Both should be taken into consideration if you’re in the market for an EV, given the ownership expenses can be spread differently compared to servicing of ICE vehicles.

This doesn’t mean EVs don’t require regular servicing and maintenance, it just means there are some differences, and similarities.

So let’s outline the similarities as well as differences, to better understand what is involved in maintaining an EV.

See through car frame showing chassis and wheels 

Differences between servicing an electric and a non-electric car

For the purposes of simplicity and clarity, we’ll talk about a full battery EV, as opposed to an EV/ICE combination known as a hybrid.

For many people, what’s under the bonnet is a bit of a mystery.

Some serviceable items in EVs are much like those of a normal ICE vehicle, such as the 12-volt battery, the fluid reservoirs, the brakes and even the suspension.

Under the bonnet though, things look radically different.

The heart of an EV, the electric motor, is an enclosed unit that needs no regular maintenance itself and can last between 15 and 20 years if used within normal conditions. It does not require the spark plugs, leads, fuel and engine air filters, and belts required in an ICE car to keep it going. All these require regular changing in an ICE and that adds up significantly as the vehicle ages.

Close up of electric car engine 

However, external elements like excessive dust, vibration or heat/cold can affect an electric motor’s internals. This means that EV owners must ensure that the electric motor’s support systems, including related fans and cooling fluids, are serviced on time.

In an EV, the main traction battery stores electricity, just as the fuel tank in an ICE vehicle stores the energy contained in the fuel. But don’t confuse an EV’s main traction battery with a regular 12V car battery, which EVs also have.

When the driver presses down on the accelerator pedal, a controller sends electricity via an inverter, which changes direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), before it is then sent to the electric motor. That electrical energy is then converted into mechanical energy that rotates the electric motor’s rotor, which drives the vehicle’s transmission (also known as the reducer or reduction gear) that turns the wheels.

An EV’s traction battery pack

The traction battery packs in an EV are currently almost all lithium-ion based. As with your smartphone battery, they start to degrade over time, and this shows up as reduced distance range between recharges. But they usually have a serviceable life of over a decade if properly maintained.

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Most manufacturers provide an eight year/160,000km traction battery pack warranty, guaranteeing at least 70 per cent capacity after that period of time/mileage.

Beware that some are for longer periods and some a bit shorter. Check the fine print. The Renault Kangoo and now-discontinued Zoe EVs only had five year/150,000km warranties, while Tesla’s battery warranty, in terms of mileage, varies depending on the model, reaching up to 240,000km.

Most batteries do last a lot longer, especially if they’re charged regularly and aren’t limited to a constant cycle of full-depletion/recharge. Manufacturers advise that varying the charging amount will extend your traction battery pack’s life, so don’t always run it down to empty.

Exposed electric car chassis and battery pack

Exhaust systems

You won’t have to worry about exhaust pipes, mufflers, manifolds, particulate filters, catalytic converters or other emissions-related items on an EV: they simply aren’t fitted.

Similarities between servicing an electric and a non-electric car

They might be different in size or specification, but there are still plenty of shared parts between an EV and an ICE vehicle that need scheduled servicing.

These include:

  • Regular annual or mileage-based electrical diagnostics that check the vehicle system’s health, be it EV or ICE vehicles.
  • Cooling systems that require fans and fluids can require top-up and maintenance.
  • 12-volt car battery that powers systems like central locking, in-car climate control and multimedia systems among other items.
  • Brake pads, discs, calipers, brake fluid and other related items that are expendable over time and distance travelled, meaning that these too need routine check-ups and maintenance.
  • Windscreen glass, wiper arms, wiper blades, wiper fluids and related rubbers degrade or disappear over time, so these also fall under regular servicing.
  • Safety systems need to be monitored, from the stability and traction control software and hardware, through to the airbags, since sensors can fail.
  • Air filters for the car’s cabin require replacement to help keep the air clean inside, especially in higher-end vehicles that have specialised equipment to screen out airborne toxins.
  • Suspension components are a big-ticket item shared by EVs and ICE vehicles. Whether we’re talking about constant velocity joints, shock absorbers, springs, tie rod ends, ball joints and other suspension items, they do wear out, or require new parts to stay in tip-top condition. Maybe not initially, but certainly within five or so years of driving for some items.
  • Tyres wear over distance and can also harden over time, so need to be rotated, swapped around or replaced with regularity. And of course, all cars still need to have the correct air pressures in their tyres.
Close up of car wheel

How often do you need to service an electric car?

Most, but not all, vehicle service schedules are set at 12 months or between 10,000km and 15,000km. Some are less and a small handful are for longer times and distances between visits.

The best rule of thumb is an annual check-up, or sooner if you clock up more kilometres than the manufacturer’s service period allows.

This is to ensure that – be it EV or ICE – items like filters, tyres and sensors are in tip-top condition for the next 12 months. After all, no vehicles are manufactured in Australia anymore, and most come from climates that may not be as extreme or environs as demanding as ours.

These take a toll on a car over time.

Also, being an EV, make sure that the garage or service centre you use is equipped and trained to service your vehicle.

RAC Auto Services can also support your electric vehicle repair and maintenance needs.

Cost of servicing an electric car

Just as your regular ICE vehicle’s servicing costs differ dramatically according to brand, complexity, technologies, size, vehicle age, price and other factors, the same also applies to EVs. The variation can be endless. A Toyota costs less to service and maintain than a Mercedes-Benz.

So, to demonstrate the differences between the two propulsion types, let’s use the example of the popular Hyundai Kona small SUV, which can be had in an ICE or EV version.

Blue car on the road
Hyundai Kona Elite Electric

For fairness, we’re comparing the $31,600 Kona Elite 2.0-litre four-cylinder front-wheel drive with the $54,500 Elite Electric Standard Range front-wheel drive equivalent.

Both recommend 12-month/15,000km servicing intervals, with fixed-price servicing quoted over a five-year period from a Perth metropolitan dealership.

Kona Elite 2.0L petrol

12 months/15,000km $264
24 months/30,000km $264
36 months/45,000km $264
48 months/60,000km $364
60 months/75,000km $264
72 months/90,000km $325
84 months/105,000km $255
TOTAL COST $2000

Kona Elite Electric EV

12 months/15,000km $165
24 months/30,000km $165
36 months/45,000km $165
48 months/60,000km $165
60 months/75,000km $165
72 months/90,000km $165
84 months/105,000km $165
TOTAL COST $1148

Breaking down these service costs, here’s what is involved at the 36-month/45,000km service interval for the Kona Elite Electric EV, costing $165:

Carry out complete global diagnostic system check, check operation of instrument warning lights, gauges and illumination, check vehicle for outstanding recalls or service campaigns, inspect airbag and pre-tensioners, inspect air conditioner refrigerant/compressor, inspect 12V auxiliary battery terminals and condition, inspect bolts and nuts on chassis body, inspect brake fluid, inspect brake hoses, lines and connections, inspect brake pedal, inspect climate control air filter, inspect cooling system level and hoses, inspect disc brakes and pads, inspect drive shafts and boots, inspect front suspension ball joints, inspect operation of lights/wipers and controls and accessories, inspect park brake, inspect reduction gear fluid, inspect seat belt webbing and operation, inspect steering rack and all linkage components and boots, inspect tyres including pressure and tread wear, lube door, boot, bonnet hinges and latches, and rotate wheels front to rear.

For the Kona Elite 2.0L petrol costing $364:

Most of the above, plus perform fuel system treatment, replace engine oil and filter, replace fuel filter, inspect fuel lines, hoses and connections, inspect drive belts, inspect drive shafts and boots, inspect fuel tank air filter, inspect fuel vapour hoses and inspect fuel cap.

The Kona Electric has fewer parts that require servicing or replacement, adding to its lower cost. The parts that do need servicing/replacing are generally on a par price-wise with the ICE version.

Red car on the road
Hyundai Kona Elite ICE

DIY

If you’re handy around the garage, then by all means, check your EV’s radiator coolant levels (where fitted and if accessible), tyres, wipers and lights.

However, for the diagnostics testing, software updates, filters and other electrical components, it’s best to stick with the service providers offering servicing that can be done as specified by the manufacturer – a requirement that includes trained technicians. This does not have to be done at a dealer, just by trained people, at the right service intervals using appropriate quality parts and servicing equipment.

Summary

Overall, EVs are cheaper to run and service than an equivalent ICE vehicle.

Plus, as we move to increased EV take-up, broader EV infrastructure and greater ownership incentives in terms of taxes, parking and registration, it may become even more affordable to own and run an EV.

Especially if Australia eventually follows some other countries’ policies of banning the sale of new ICE vehicles after 2030. Whichever way you look at it, EVs are here to stay.

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Last updated: January 2022