Electric car servicing explained

Nearly ready to take the plunge on an electric car, but unsure about how servicing works or what it'll cost? Keep reading for the answers

James Wilson
Nov 6, 2019

Satisfied that electric car range is enough for you and you've picked an economical electic vehicle (EV) that should cost peanuts to charge, but worried that it'll be costly to service? Read on to find out how electric cars compare with petrol and diesel alternatives. Hint; it's good news.

Part of the uncertainty around owning an electric car is how servicing and maintenance work. Nevermind cost, what do owners have to do to ensure their shiny new electric car keeps running silently?

In short, not much. Compared with a petrol or diesel engine an electric motor is super simple to look after and so - in theory at least - electric models should be cheap to service. Much of what makes an electric motor work is stationary, whereas a fossil-fuel-powered engine has hundreds of moving parts – all of which need to be kept in tip top condition to avoid issues. Miss a series of oil changes or fail to change the cambelt on time and a petrol or diesel engine could fail dramatically, causing a similarly dramatic dent in your bank balance.

That said, engines (or electric motors) are only one aspect of a vehicle. Electric cars still feature steering, suspension and brakes that will need to be looked after from time to time. Even though fossil fuel-powered cars and battery-powered cars use similar, if not the same systems for these, there are still a handful of important differences to keep in mind.

Read on for all the details on electric car servicing, including a comparison of prices for maintaining an electric car vs petrol and diesel alternatives, according to the manufacturer guidelines.

 

EV servicing: general information

By and large, the experience an owner has servicing an electric car will be the same as they would have had with a petrol or diesel vehicle. It goes a little something like this. After a predetermined period of time or distance covered you take your car to a garage and get them to service it.

Following a short interlude - normally a few hours - without your car, you will be reunited with it in its freshly serviced state. Depending on how intensive the service needed is, your car may have been cleaned and/or the service could have been performed in no time at all while you waited at the garage. The question remains though, what are you getting for your money with an electric car service?

Which parts of an electric car need servicing?

When it comes to servicing an electric car, the major areas checked include the electric motor(s), battery pack, high-voltage electric cabling, suspension, brakes, steering, wheels, tyres and lights. There can, of course, be more to this list, but these are the major points.

As mentioned earlier, electric motors require little servicing thanks to a handful of bearings taking the brunt of the wear and tear. Other major electrical components commonly touched upon are battery packs and high-voltage cabling.

When you go in for an electric car service any workshop worth its electrified salt should be able to do a health check on the battery. This doesn’t mean taking it apart and looking inside. It means plugging into the car’s computers and analysing the data.

At the same time, a visual inspection of the high-voltage cabling is important to make sure being out on the road hasn’t caused the protective outer layers of a cable to perish or its connectors to break.

Moving away from the electrons (slightly), batteries have systems to stop them getting too hot or too cold and often these rely on some kind of fluid to do so. Making sure there is enough fluid in good condition will form part of an EV service. Aside from the main electronic components, there are the brakes, tyres, steering, suspension and lights to check for defects. Assessment of most of which is the same as it would be for a petrol or diesel car.

However, most EVs have something called 'regenerative braking' which uses the electric motor to slow the car (and recharge the battery) under braking. This system staves off the use of traditional friction brakes, meaning your brake discs and pads should last longer.

Much like traditional cars, EVs might have minor and major services. This is because not all parts of a car need checking (or replacing) as regularly as others, so for some services it is okay to skip a few parts. Naturally, minor services take less time and cost less, while the reverse is true for major services.

Where to get an electric car serviced

The most obvious place to get an electric car serviced is at the manufacturer main dealer and while these will likely be the most expensive option, they should be the most competent. Being that EVs are still an emerging market in the UK they may well be your only option if your local independent garage is not yet competent in servicing EVs.

While you don’t have to use a main dealer to get the service work done, many manufacturer warranties stipulate that only manufacturer-approved parts can be used in servicing otherwise the warranty can be voided. So make sure wherever you go approved parts are used.

Also, some warranties state that only certified garages can do the work, which means you may be forced to go to a main dealer anyway. That brings us on to the small matter of the bill...

Electric car servicing plans

There are two main methods of payment for servicing. You either sign up to a service plan, which is much like a phone contract where you agree to pay a set amount each month (you can also pay it all in one lump sum) and in return get a set period of service cover.

Cover periods typically range from two to five years, depending on how much you want to spend. The other option is to pay as you go, i.e. when you get to the point your car needs a service you simply take it to a garage and pay for the service.

Whether monthly instalments or pay as you go servicing is best for you will likely depend on your financial situation and how long you plan on having the car. The longer you keep a car, the more miles you will put on the clock and therefore the more important it becomes to maintain a car properly.

Bear in mind, too, that if you're financing the car through PCP finance, Hire Purchase or PCH leasing, the finance company may demand that you service the car on time at a main dealer every time, to avoid end-of-contract charges.

Electric car servicing: service intervals

When weighing up your options, it is worth remembering that the service intervals on an electric car are often longer than those of petrol or diesel alternatives, but not always. Nonetheless, it is important to follow service schedules as future buyers will want to see a car has been well looked after. If you're financing the car, the finance company may demand you service the car on time - as they own it until you've made all the payments with PCP and HP - and if you own it, you're likely to get a better price for a fully-serviced car when you come to sell.

That said, intervals vary greatly between makes and models. For example, the all-electric Kia e-Niro should be serviced once a year or every 10,000 miles (whichever happens first) according to Kia. Meanwhile, a petrol Nissan Qashqai only needs servicing every year or 18,000 miles.

Many cars, including recent BMW models, are moving towards condition-based maintenance, where the car tells you when it needs servicing. This means that you should only replacing components as and when they need it and not at fixed intervals, where there might still have been some life left in an item.

Electric car servicing vs hybrid servicing

Although all-electric cars are easier to service, not all plug-in models are – namely hybrids. Thanks to having both a petrol or diesel engine plus an electric motor (and all the additional parts that go with both), hybrids are quite complicated. Naturally, there are more components to check and service.

The result is that plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and self-charging hybrids are more pricey than the all-electric models and even many petrol and diesel motors to service. As a note, diesel vehicles tend to be more expensive to service than petrols, as in turn they have more complicated technology under the bonnet, such as extra emission control systems, which add further servicing cost.

Electric car service costs

There are differences (both good and bad) between electric vehicle servicing costs and traditionally powered vehicle servicing. As a general rule of thumb, full-electric cars are cheapest to service, regardless of whether you go for a monthly service plan or a pay as you go service. On the other hand, hybrids can cost as much, if not more than petrol alternatives depending on make and model, with diesels typically costing more to service than petrols, too.

As a guide, below is a table which shows the costs of service plans for some of the most popular EVs on sale in the UK compared to some of the closest petrol and diesel equivalents from the same manufacturers.

Make/modelFuel typeLength of planTotal cost
BMW i3Electric3 years/30,000 miles£540
BMW 1 SeriesPetrol3 years/30,000 miles£720
Diesel3 years/36,000 miles£720
Kia e-NiroElectric3 years/30,000 miles£259
Kia NiroPHEV3 years/30,000 miles£459
Hybrid3 years/30,000 miles£459
Kia SportagePetrol3 years/30,000 miles£349
Diesel3 years/30,000 miles£499
Nissan LeafElectric1 year/18,000 miles£159
Nissan QashqaiPetrol1 year/18,000 miles£209
Diesel1 year/18,000 miles£249
Renault ZoeElectric3 years/30,000 miles£399
Renault ClioPetrol3 years/30,000 miles£449
Diesel3 years/30,000 miles£449
VW e-GolfElectric2 years/20,000 miles£386
VW GolfPetrol1.5 years/20,000 miles£297
Diesel1.5 years/20,000 miles£297

Electric car servicing: exclusions

It is important to note the typical exclusions of an electric car’s service plan. Servicing doesn’t normally involve fixing any faulty components, it is about maintaining the ones already there. Typically this means visually inspecting items and making sure fluids and lubricants are at the correct levels.

If a major defect is spotted during a service, it will either be covered under your vehicle's warranty - in which case it shouldn't cost you anything - or the garage will price up the option of correcting the issue. Depending on the severity, you may have no option but to pay.

Still baffled by electric car jargon? Check out our electric vehicle glossary to get to grips with all the terms you're likely to come across.

 

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