Wherever you stand on the practicalities of owning an electric vehicle (EV), no one can deny their surge in interest amongst the car-buying public.
Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders point to a 41% year-on-year increase in battery electric car sales. At the same time, petrol and diesel car sales have fallen by -23% and -52% respectively (SMMT April 2022).
The rise of EVs comes despite the well-publicised inadequacy of a nationwide charging network. However, one area that fails to generate much attention is the subject of EV reliability.
On face value it may seem there is not much that can go wrong with an EV – one big battery effectively replaces a complex array of engine components, gearbox, clutch and exhaust system.
But the stark reality is, while electric vehicles have been rushed into production as manufacturers chase the social and political drive for cleaner energy, the internal combustion engine has taken a century or more to evolve into the fine-tuned beast it is today.
In simple terms, electric vehicles just haven’t been around long enough for us to know the range of faults and problems that may yet arise. Compared to petrol and diesel cars, there are also fewer examples that have clocked-up more than 100-150,000 miles.
Electric Vehicle Repairs - what can go wrong?
Despite the early stages of EV adoption, MotorEasy data on warranty claims and EV repairs suggests electric vehicle faults occur in four broad areas:
- Sensors and controllers within the electric drive system, such as those controlling the traction motors that feed acceleration and deploy regenerative braking.
- Gadgets and associated software and electronics, including touchscreens and cameras, as well as the electric motors that control features like pop-up door handles. A repair to a Tesla pop-out door handle for example can easily top £350
- Suspension, shock absorber and wheel damage that reflect the relatively high weight of electric vehicles, lugging around a hefty drive battery as they contend with the day to day grind of potholes and traffic calming features.
- General faults that mirror the gamut of failures in all other cars, from air-conditioning, sun-roofs and seat heating, to headlights, airbags and oil pumps.
Within this panoply of faults, some can prove difficult to diagnose simply due to the lack of familiarity with EVs across the nation’s garage network.
According to Matt Tumbridge, Motoreasy’s Chief Commercial Officer, “when something goes wrong on a fossil-fuel car, a good garage can identify the problem in minutes. In contrast there are very few independent garages or specialists that are able to deal with older electric cars”
This apparent knowledge gap can leave the EV car owner with a difficult choice – fork out £200 an hour or more with a franchised workshop or put your faith in a local garage that might struggle to diagnose or fix an underlying issue. Given the complexity of electric components, that could amount to an open-ended bill clocking-up.
A further issue that can complicate all repairs is the way modern cars are put together. Matt Tumbridge references the Renault Zoe as a particular problem car, thanks in part to its compact nature, “one of our customers had a fairly typical air-conditioning problem that could only be fixed by taking the whole body off. A highly expensive solution to a very basic issue”.
So, all things considered, should a potential EV buyer worry about vehicle repairs any more than a petrol or diesel car owner? In reality its difficult to give a clear-cut answer, in general cars are more reliable than ever, but when things go wrong it can be very expensive to repair.
Not long ago a broken headlamp could be fixed with the aid of a Haynes manual and a trip to Halfords, but now, thanks to integrated electronics, a fix could be in excess of £1,000.
The jury is out on whether EVs are less reliable than other vehicles. It’s simply too early to say. That said, if you're looking to take the plunge on a second hand electric car it could pay to take out an extended car warranty that protects you against potentially expensive diagnostics and complex repairs that could run into their thousands.