Range anxiety was one of the early issues held up as a reason the general public might not adopt EVs, but that has largely faded as many new electric models offer gas engine-rivaling range numbers. Charging speeds and charger availability are more significant issues, but buyers still question how long they can expect their new EV to last. Mostly, they worry about the battery. Unlike gas cars, which have well-known issues and repair costs at this point, EV battery replacement costs are largely a mystery to many buyers because of the vehicles’ relatively brief time on sale.
The good news for new owners is that automakers and the government have worked to increase EV warranty length, and the lifespan estimates for most new models are on par with their gas-powered equivalents. This guide will help you understand EV battery lifecycles, how to preserve battery life, and the costs involved if you need a replacement. Let’s get rolling.
What are electric batteries made out of?
The batteries in electric vehicles are made of the same materials as the batteries powering cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices. Though some companies have developed alternative chemistries, batteries typically contain lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt. The proportions of those elements may vary between batteries and vehicle types, and other materials may be used, but the basic building blocks are relatively consistent. Automakers are working to engineer cobalt out of their batteries due to the environmental impacts of extracting the material, and solid-state batteries will further change the EV supply chain when they finally arrive.
How long do EV batteries last?
Insurance site The Zebra surveyed Americans last year, finding that the average length of car ownership is about eight years. The good news is that EVs have long battery warranties, and most can be expected to offer a usable life of between eight and 12 years. Automakers are required to provide at least an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty for electric vehicles, and EVs sold in California are required to have a ten-year/150,000-mile battery warranty.
That said, many EVs are close to exceeding that 12-year threshold. The Tesla Model S debuted in 2012, and there are several on sale today with odometer readings far exceeding 100,000 miles. These examples might not be in top condition, but their batteries still have enough life to make them practical as commuters. So, while an EV’s battery might not offer the best capacity after several years on the road, it’s not like the car just stops working as it degrades.
What affects EV battery life?
EV batteries degrade over time for a variety of reasons, not all of which are related to driving. Just like that old Nokia phone you threw in a drawer 15 years ago, EV batteries lose capacity over time, even if they’re not in use. Automakers were cautious early on, advising that batteries could degrade as quickly as five years after the car was new, but those warnings now seem overblown. Industry research firm Recurrent said that it’s not unusual to see a five to 10 percent drop in capacity after five years, which would yield somewhere around a 20 percent reduction during the warranty coverage period.
Frequent DC fast charging may also lead to more battery degradation than slow charging. Many new EVs come with Level 3 or DC fast charging capabilities, but most automakers advise only occasional use to prevent premature capacity loss. Kia quotes a ten percent loss over eight years due to DC fast charging. Still, several factors play a role in that degradation, including the robustness of the vehicle’s battery preconditioning system.
The weather impacts battery life, though the effects can be temporary, depending on the situation. Cold weather causes a range loss and can make charging much slower. Using the vehicle’s climate control systems can drain the battery faster, and the drop can be as much as 40 percent for some vehicles. Charging takes far longer, and systems like regenerative braking might not work as well in extreme cold. Some new EVs have heat pump systems and preconditioning routines that warm the battery to prepare for charging, but the reality is that the cold can make owning an EV annoying at times.
Warm weather has a similar effect, though its degradation can be permanent. Battery preconditioning systems can help prevent some of that loss, but the differences in degradation between cars with robust battery management and those without can be minor over time.
How do I prevent my EV battery from degrading?
One of the best things you can do to maintain your EV’s battery over time is to avoid fully charging or discharging. It’s best to try not to run the battery down past ten percent, and unless you absolutely need the range, avoid charging to more than 80 or 90 percent. Many new EVs offer detailed range estimates with the ability to opt for a limited charging session. They can also tell you, with reasonable accuracy, your car’s state of charge.
It also helps to manage the temperatures your EV is exposed to. If possible, park in a covered garage or shaded area to prevent excess heat buildup. Leaving it plugged in can also help, as many models offer battery temperature management when charging. That can also help manage your range while preconditioning the cabin with the air conditioner or heat. Plugging in does not mean leaving your car on a DC fast charger, which is not only rude to other people looking to charge but can cause faster degradation over time.
Can you replace EV batteries?
The short answer here is yes. You can replace EV batteries. If you’re lucky, the battery replacement can happen under warranty and might not cost a fortune to perform, but owners of older EVs might not be so fortunate. Depending on the model, it can cost as much as $20,000 or more, though many plug-in hybrids have smaller batteries that cost far less. The cost per kilowatt-hour varies, but some estimates peg the number as high as $500 or more per kWh. There’s good news in the fact that batteries are getting cheaper as the technology improves, which could push prices down to less than $200/kWh in the near future.
As EVs proliferate, third-party companies are hopping into the game, offering as much as a 20 percent discount over a factory-backed dealer battery replacement. They could be a solid option if your warranty has expired, but it’s best to go down the OEM-approved route if your car still has coverage. There’s also the matter of time, as battery packs can take weeks or even months to arrive, depending on the vehicle. That could render your car useless during the waiting period, which, for many EV owners, is not possible.