Electric cars are flooding the market and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Each year, dozens of models are being released from large companies that have traditionally been in the ICE business, more known as the internal combustion engine (or just gas engine). Names like GMC, Ford, Cadillac, Aston Martin, and more are all adding their own EV models to their repertoire, but how is that going to impact things around the world? While we don’t often think about it, the fundamental difference between an EV and an ICE isn’t necessarily the way they get energy, but how they use that energy. Let’s explore some of the ways this impacts traditional car “things” and what the future looks like for EVs.
Do Electric Cars Use Oil?
One of the biggest changes that a new EV owner will notice is the lack of noise. Since no explosions are happening within a metal chamber under the hood only a few feet in front of you, the distinct quietness of an electric motor can be stunning. While this can be nice, it points to something else: EVs don’t have engines.
As a machine without an engine, one of the consequences (benefits) is that you don’t have to do things to maintain the engine that you normally have to do with an ICE vehicle. The most common and routine maintenance for ICE vehicles is the lack of oil. In short, you never have to get an oil change with an EV because no engine needs fluids to begin with!
Engines need oil to act as a lubricant and to help keep things cool. Over time, that oil can accumulate debris or simply leak or burn up, requiring an owner to replace it. In an EV, there is no engine and no need for oil changes … ever.
What Things Do Gas Cars Have That Electric cars Don’t?
Aside from oil changes, there are a few other things that EVs don’t need simply because they are EVs. Anything that is normally needed for an engine, EVs do not need. This list extends to parts and associated fluids including, but not limited to:
- Transmissions and transmission fluid
- Engine coolant
- Power steering systems, pumps, or fluid
- Brake pads (sort of)
- Timing belts
- Spark plugs
- Catalytic converters
- Emissions sensors and parts
Since most of these parts account for the 10 most common car repairs in America, regular maintenance is drastically reduced with EVs when compared to ICEs.
Is the Maintenance Costs Less on an Electric Car?
With reduced parts, the general rule is that there is reduced maintenance. Thankfully, that rule extends to EVs as well as anything else mechanical. Let’s break down the average.
The exact maintenance cost will vary according to the make, model, and age of a car. Replacing the oil filter on a 2003 Toyota will run you less than $20 while getting your oil checked for a foreign car (BMW, Audi, or Mercedes) can easily run you $200. Still, the data shows that in 2017, the average cost to maintain a new vehicle each year was $1,186. One can only assume that number increases with the age of a car as things begin to wear.
On the flip side, AAA (the ones who did the study for the ICEs above) reports that EVs are at least 40% cheaper to maintain annually. For most people, if the only maintenance is a tire rotation, new wipers, and window fluid, that 40% could be drastically lower. Even more, that doesn’t include money spent on gasoline.
Do You Have to Maintain an Electric Car?
While EVs have significantly reduced maintenance costs, there are still some things that need to be maintained. The regular maintenance needs for EVs are wipers, wiper fluid, and tires. Less regular maintenance could also include brake pads (depending on the model), brake fluid, and potential battery cell replacement.
Like anything, it’s important to keep things maintained to get the best life out of the product. Although EVs require less hardware maintenance, they still require some. Additionally, there are still things that can wear down in EVs and ICEs alike. AC blower motors, paint chips and scratches, material wear on the seats, and more are all things that, for the foreseeable future, we will need to care for on any car we have.
Do Electric Cars Need Brake Pads?
One of the most common questions surrounding EV maintenance is their use of brake pads. What makes people ask this question is often a technology referred to as “regenerative braking.” Regenerative braking allows a vehicle to turn the electric motors on the tires into power generators. As crazy as it sounds, turning using the inertia of the car can charge the batteries, albeit only slightly. This regenerative braking allows for three things:
- Increased distance per charge
- Single pedal driving
- Reduced strain on brake pads
Instead of using the brake pads to stop, the car is using its motors. The closest thing in an ICE vehicle would be if you could get extra gas from engine braking while heading down a hill. Using regen braking, a lot of wear is taken off of brake pads, drastically increasing their life.
Even more, some companies have released brake pads that are “essentially infinite”. In practice, these brake pads can reach at least 250,000 miles and potentially even further.
Is it Cheaper to Own an EV?
One of the biggest selling points with an EV is the reduced expenses, primarily from not using gas and having little routine maintenance. In isolation these expenses are less than the equivalent for an ICE, but overall, is it still cheaper to own an EV?
First, it’s important to know all the things that go into car ownership. Yes, gas and maintenance are part of it, but so are insurance, monthly payments, and more. Your living situation will ultimately determine if an EV will be cheaper for you. Let’s go through a few scenarios.
Breaking Down Buying Scenarios
If you currently own an older ICE vehicle outright (a 2014 Honda Accord, for example), get decent gas mileage, and pay a reasonable amount for insurance, getting an EV would likely cost you an extra few hundred dollars a month if you finance, and tens of thousands if you outright purchase it. Owning a car outright will almost always be cheaper than establishing a payment on a newer one, even if you happen to save a bit on maintenance.
In this situation, owning your current car requires no monthly payment, but you spend ~$200 a month on gas, ~$60 on monthly maintenance, and $120 on monthly insurance. Your total monthly payment would be ~$380. If you were to purchase a new EV and sell your Accord for a down payment (around $12k), how much would it cost? The base model Tesla 3, the best-selling EV in the world, runs around $45k after taxes. Minus the down payment of 12k and financed at 3.25%, you are going to be paying ~$600 in payments and insurance a month BEFORE charging costs. In this case, buying an EV would be nearly twice as expensive.
Alternatively, if you are looking to buy a car and are deciding between two new cars of equal price, only one is an ICE and the other is an EV, the EV would almost assuredly win. Financing two cars of equal value with the only variable being gas/electric charging plus maintenance, most EVs could save a little bit of money each month, albeit not a lot.