Battery-electric vehicles owners can expect to pay more to service their vehicles, including maintenance and repairs, at least during the first year of ownership, according to new research — but the cost quickly tumbles and, by year three, BEVs have a significant cost advantage over conventional gas-powered vehicles.
Previous research revealed that consumers also can expect to see a sharp drop in energy costs with a battery-electric car, especially if they do most of their charging at home.
With more and more battery-electric vehicles now on the road, and plenty of new models set to debut in the coming years, “Consumers are trying to understand the risks and what they’re going to have to deal with if they buy one of these vehicles,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of automotive operations for research firm We Predict.
The study looked at the cost of servicing a battery-electric vehicle, breaking it down into three buckets:
- Routine maintenance, such as replacing wipers and filters and keeping a vehicle in tune;
- Repairs, including broken body and drivetrain parts; and
- Recalls, though manufacturers normally cover the cost of these repairs.
Higher costs up front
Right out of the box, BEVs cost about 2.3 times more than gas-powered vehicles during the first three months of ownership, the study found. Most of that is in the form of repairs and recalls.
But costs quickly start to decline for battery-powered cars, while rising for vehicles using internal combustion engines, or ICE.
For the first full year, service runs about 1.6 times higher. Breaking that down by category, maintenance costs an average $7 per vehicle for BEVs compared to $30 for the average gas model. But repairs ran $247, nearly double the $142 the owner of a typical gas model spent. BEVs also ran up $50 in recall costs compared to just $12.
“Over time, the relationship changes,” however, according to Stephens.
Lower costs later
BEVs continue to have lower maintenance costs — since they don’t need oil changes, tune ups and the like. But other service costs also begin to drop, as well.
After three years, the typical BEV ran up $77 in maintenance bills, $301 for repairs and $136 for recalls — for a total of $514.
By comparison, ICE models averaged $228, $387 and $136 in those respective categories, for a collective $751.
Now, not all of those expenses come out of pocket. Recall costs are normally born by the manufacturer and, depending upon the warranty, maintenance, and even some repair bills could also be shifted away from the owner. But the study shows how BEVs are, during the life of a vehicle, less expensive to service.
Energy cost savings
And other studies have added to that equation. Energy costs typically run less than half as much for a battery-electric vehicles, depending upon where it is charged. The savings mount when charging is done at home overnight using the reduced rate programs many utilities offer.
“A typical EV owner who does most of their fueling at home can expect to save an average of $800 to $1,000 a year on fueling costs over an equivalent gasoline-powered car,” Consumer Reports concluded in a report released in October 2020.
The magazine concluded that when all ownership costs are added in, a typical BEV buyer can expect to save $6,000 to $10,000 during the vehicle’s lifetime — even after an apples-to-apples comparison to an otherwise identical gas-powered model.
Recalls remain a headache
The higher initial cost of repairs for a BEV appears to reflect problems manufacturers have with some electrical and electronic components, said We Predict’s Stephens. And, that’s not unusual for new products in the period immediately after they launch. Most of the repair and recall problems appear to show up during the first year of ownership and then come down “rapidly,” though not always.
She also anticipates that average BEV repair costs will come down in the future as automakers learn to avoid problems with battery packs and other expensive components.
That will be critical in dealing with recalls, as well. Stephens cautioned an update of the BEV cost study could show a sharp surge in average recall costs as the result of some high-profile problems. That includes battery pack failures involving the Hyundai Kona EV and Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV models.
Chevy is replacing the battery packs on all Bolts built since the line’s initial 2016 debut. Parent General Motors forecasts the program will cost about $1.9 billon. So, dividing that by 142,000 vehicles works out to around $13,000 for each and every Chevrolet Bolt — though all costs will be covered by the manufacturer.