Electric cars are a rare breed within the auto world. Unlike “normal” cars, EVs don’t require regular oil changes, nor do they need new spark plugs or yearly emissions inspections. Heck, it’s unusual to even change the brakes on an EV thanks to regenerative braking technology and the electric motor’s ability to stop without any mechanically based friction. They truly are works of art that also reduce auto maintenance costs significantly.
While electric car maintenance is easier and costs less than that of gas-powered vehicles, it doesn’t mean EV owners can forego trips to their local auto service center. Electric vehicles have their own list of auto service demands – some of which are shared with conventional vehicles – and if those demands are not met, you can assume a very costly repair will be right around the corner. Here are 10 of the most vital EV maintenance tasks that should never be skipped.
1. Battery Maintenance Checks
An electric vehicle is only as good as its battery. Therefore, the most important EV maintenance task you can perform is a regular battery check, especially if your electric car runs on a lithium-ion pack. Certified EV mechanics and technicians will be able to check battery fluid levels, filler openings, and connections, while also assessing the battery’s cycle count.
Most EV car batteries can surpass 100,000 miles with regular servicing. Still, there are a few situations you should avoid in order to extend the life of a standard lithium-based car battery, such as:
- Charging the battery to 100% (an 80% charge is better for the lifetime battery cycle count);
- Parking an uncharged EV for long periods of time;
- Exposing the battery to extreme heat or cold;
- Braking too aggressively;
- Driving over rough terrain, which can cause vibrations that deactivate the battery’s electrical system;
- Charging in direct sunlight and ultimately negating the Battery Management System;
- Consuming battery power with multiple in-vehicle devices;
- Not timing your battery charge to avoid over- or under-charging; and
- Frequently using “Quick Charging” stations, as this can diminish battery longevity.
Performing routine EV battery maintenance annually can save you thousands of dollars, as complete battery system replacements can cost anywhere from $3,000 to over $15,000, depending on the vehicle make and model. A well-maintained battery is designed to last the lifetime of the electric vehicle.
2. Coolant System Maintenance
Most EVs have special thermal management or cooling systems in place to lower temperatures and help ease the burden placed on the battery. The Chevrolet Bolt, for instance, utilizes a rechargeable energy storage coolant system, which is a series of cooling “plates” found underneath the electric car’s battery pack. The system ensures the electric vehicle’s battery is operating at its optimum temperature, increasing battery rechargeability and overall longevity.
Your routine EV maintenance should include a check on the coolant system, as well as coolant or antifreeze flushes when needed. As always, refer to your owner’s manual to see the coolant system maintenance schedule and what type of coolant to use for your EV.
3. Brake Fluid Change
Two primary fluids run through your electric car: coolant and brake fluid. Although the brakes on an EV will last a long time, you’ll still need to check the brake fluid regularly, especially if you see a brake warning light flash on your driver information cluster. Add more brake fluid – check the suggested type in your manual – and keep an eye on leaks. Topping off electric car brake fluid can reduce the likelihood of early brake system failure, which would cost thousands to fix.
If adding brake fluid doesn’t help, or you notice the issue rearing its ugly head shortly after “fixing” the problem, you should immediately have your brake system checked at a certified EV service center. Otherwise, schedule your electric car brake inspection and fluid flush every 3 to 5 years.
4. Tire RotationsThe adage states that you should rotate your tires with every or every other oil change. But since electric cars don’t require oil changes, it’s imperative you keep up with tire rotations per your owner manual’s recommendation. The interval between tire rotations is typically 5,000 to 10,000 miles.
5. Wheel Alignments
If you notice your electric vehicle pulling to either side or shaking violently, especially when traveling at higher speeds, it may be time to get your wheels balanced. A wheel balance, or tire alignment, adjusts the angles of your wheels to match the vehicle manufacturer’s original specifications.
Proper wheel alignment service on an electric car will improve its mile range and reduce tire tread wear, ultimately increasing your tires’ lifespan by a year or more. This should be performed at least once per year, or every 15,000 miles, which could save you from prematurely spending a couple hundred dollars on new tires.
6. Air Filter Replacement
Like conventional cars, many EVs have air filters that will reduce pollen, road dust, dirt, and other potentially harmful particles from invading the cabin. Also like conventional cars, EV air filters are cheap – you can usually purchase one for less than $50 – and should be replaced every 2 to 3 years, or whatever interval is recommended in your manual. If you have a specialty air filter, like a HEPA Filter, you may be able to go up to 5 years between replacements.
7. Air Conditioning Service
Electric vehicle A/C maintenance should be conducted on occasion, too, as things like old refrigerant, dirty lubricants, and deteriorating heater pump elements can reduce air conditioning effectiveness and longevity. Servicing the air conditioning system in an electric vehicle is a task left for a professional; specific AC refrigerant and compressor oil may be required, and there are even federal regulations in place that require you to recycle automotive air conditioning refrigerant appropriately.
8. Windshield Wiper FluidElectric cars are magical but don’t expect them to pull wiper fluid out of a hat. Its reservoir will need new windshield fluid added manually every 5000 to 10000 miles, or whenever it runs dry. I’d assume 99.9% of EVs can utilize the standard window wiper fluid, though you’ll want to (again) check your manual and add fluid that will work best in your climate.
9. Underbody Wash
Car washes are fun for electric cars, too! They’re also essential parts of your EV maintenance routine, as road salt, oil, and other chemicals can damage the undercarriage of your vehicle. (We’re talking about rust, people, and rust on a car is not to be trifled with.) A good washing under your car will prevent early-onset oxidation and rust from forming, which would be catastrophic if left untreated.
If you drive an EV in Kansas City, be sure to up your car-washing game every winter. Consider getting a membership to a local carwash, and bring your vehicle after every big snow storm. A few hundred dollars each year is far better than buying a new EV to replace your rust bucket.
10. EV Charging Station Maintenance
Along with electric car service, you’ll also need to keep up with maintaining your at-home EV charging station. Luckily, most home chargers for electric cars require little or infrequent maintenance and can last for 10-plus years under ideal conditions.
Three main types of EV chargers you’ll find in the garage are Level 1, Level 2, and DC Fast Charging systems. Each requires its own maintenance.
- Level 1 ESVE units can be cleaned with damp cloths and dish detergent. You may also be required to periodically replace the commercial-grade outlet; certified electricians should be able to install new outlets for less than $200.
- Level 2 ESVE systems are typically modularly designed, allowing you to replace OEM components rather than purchase and install an entirely new charging unit. The same cleaning technique can be applied to Level 2 units.
- DC Fast Charging chargers do require more upkeep because they are fitted with unique cooling systems and components that aren’t found in typical Level 1 or 2 units. However, most DCFC stations are for commercial, non-residential use.
Time to Buy an EV? You Betcha.
Electric car pricing continues to drop (down 11% in 2018), federal tax incentives and local electrical utility provider rebates are still going, and EVs require a limited amount of long-term upkeep. Clearly, buying an electric vehicle has never been more affordable than right now.
Got any more tips about maintaining or servicing an electric vehicle? You know the drill – leave them in the comments!