What is it like to own an electric vehicle? Your insurance, maintenance, and battery questions answered.

What is it like to own an electric vehicle? Your insurance, maintenance, and battery questions answered.

Paul Bordenkircher

Are you thinking about buying an electric vehicle (EV), but have questions about the long-term costs of ownership? Consider these three aspects of EV ownership: insurance, maintenance, and battery life from an experienced used-EV owner.

I’ve often been told a good rule of thumb is to check the vehicle’s auto insurance rates before buying any car. Insurance companies factor in the costs of repairing a vehicle in the case of an accident, as well as the availability of parts, when determining the premium you’ll pay. 

In my case, the insurance on my car, a 2016 Chevy Spark EV, is only a few dollars more a month than my wife’s 2007 Nissan Pathfinder. That would be good enough, but I priced our rates for vehicle usage at 8,000 miles a year for the Spark and only 4,000 miles for the Pathfinder. Nearly the same rate for twice as many anticipated miles. Not bad.

Maintenance for EVs is almost a non-issue considering there are many moving components of a gasoline-powered vehicle that an EV simply doesn’t have. EVs do not need oil changes, spark plugs, radiator fluids, belts, hoses, or any of those pesky things that wear out over time in a gasoline-powered car. As an example, I took my Spark EV in for the 30,000 mile service, which consisted of rotating tires, checking my wipers and filling my washer fluid. That’s it! 

EVs have far fewer moving parts than gas vehicles. By comparison, gasoline engines have literally hundreds of parts in the drivetrain. Plug-in hybrid cars and fully electric EVs do have to replace brake pads from time to time, but far less than a gasoline-powered car. These vehicles have what’s called regenerative braking. Regenerative braking happens when you take your foot off the gas — the car uses magnetic power to slow the car and actually return some of that kinetic energy back into your battery. As a result, your brake pads last a lot longer! I spoke to a Prius owner who drove 150,000 miles before new brakes were needed.

Now the big one: battery replacement cost. Like gasoline-powered cars that blow engines, an EV battery pack may also need to be replaced. But, this is usually after hundreds of thousands of miles of driving! We’re talking a decade, if not longer — though, this depends on how the driver will charge. Like computers, cell phones and other devices with batteries, the ability to hold a charge will lessen over time. (You know, you start the day fully charged with your phone but by 1pm you’re down to 30% battery life and need to plug in again.) But unlike computers and cell phones, this ability to hold a charge lessens over many years and many hundreds of thousands of miles driving. Recent Tesla research shows their batteries can go nearly 1 million miles without needing to be replaced! In terms of replacement costs for the battery, estimates I’ve seen range anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 — about the same cost as replacing a gas engine. There are two factors to keep in mind:

  1. Major brands offer a manufacturer’s warranty to cover battery life, which helps ease the fears of potential buyers. But what about warranties for used EVs? In most cases, the warranty transfers to other owners. If you’re really concerned, look at Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) EVs. My Spark EV is a CPO, and the battery warranty is extended to 100,000 miles.
  1. How often do battery failures actually happen? The vast majority are not failures, but a loss of storage capacity or range. This is most often covered in the manufacturer’s warranty, and each brand is different. Being smart and following manufacturer’s guidelines for caring for your battery will reduce the likelihood of a battery failure. This is no different than caring for the battery in your cell phone or computer. 

There are many maintenance and cost factors to consider when buying any vehicle, but EVs are becoming the technology of choice even when you factor in the up-front and long term costs of ownership. Check out my earlier blog about buying an affordable used EV to learn more. 

Do you own an electric vehicle? Email info@nevadacleancars.org and tell us your story!