Star of the electric car category, the Tesla Model 3 inevitably caught the eye of the curious

The cost of maintaining an electric car is not necessarily the most talked about subject, on the contrary its energy cost, for example. It is however essential to approach the question of revisions and possible repairs because they can represent a more or less important budget for the motorist..

Everyone agrees that the cost of maintaining an electric car is lower than that of a thermal, especially thanks to a simplified mechanics and less prone to wear. However, when it comes to providing concrete figures, we hear everything and its opposite: the difference would be anecdotal for some, while it would reduce its budget by 4 for others. Failing to provide a quantified answer, let us at least try to disentangle the true from the false by relying on the corpus at our disposal.

Electric car battery

Simpler mechanics for limited maintenance

If it is accepted that the cost of using an electric car is lower than that of a thermal, it is mainly – if not exclusively – attributed to its lower energy cost. Result ? We forget a little too often that the maintenance item can also save money on a daily basis.

Simplified engine

Although far from simplistic, the engine of an electric car is much less complex than its thermal equivalent. To put it simply, it is powered by a battery, which is actuated by pressing the accelerator pedal. As a result, it is made up of a very limited number of parts – generally around twenty, unlike a thermal car engine which totals more than 1,000, including the exhaust line and the timing belt. for example.

Due to its composition, the electric motor is very little subject to mechanical friction, while it is not dependent on the exchange of gas and liquid flows. In addition to having less wear, it therefore does not need to perform a drain because it does not require lubrication and is not concerned with the replacement of certain elements essential to combustion engines (filter, spark plug, etc. .). So many advantages that directly affect the cost of maintaining an electric car.

Electric car battery

Greater reliability

The motorization of an electric car also frees itself from the manual gearbox and clutch. Transmission is thus much easier, since it is up to the motor to directly provide the rotation. The absence of these so-called “wear and tear” parts further limits the risk of breakdowns and the maintenance cost associated with them.

It is for the same reason that the risk of engine failure is extremely limited. Since the electric car does not have a belt or hose, the traction is generally intended to be reliable, and this, much longer than on a thermal vehicle. You should also know that most of the mechanical elements – carburetor, gearbox, pistons, etc. – are replaced by electronics, much less prone to degradation.

Less used platelets

Of course, an electric car must also replace its brake pads more or less regularly. However, part of the braking is carried out thanks to a so-called "regenerative" system which uses the engine to punctually recharge the battery during deceleration. The mechanical system is thus less stressed, limiting the wear of certain parts, including the pads.

Less consumables to change

However, you will not be able to escape all the maintenance stations. In addition to checking the coolant and brake fluid levels (and adjusting or replacing them if necessary), you must have a “standard” overhaul done for the chassis, steering, tires, suspension and the body. The same goes for the air conditioning and the various comfort elements.

The fact remains that the revisions will generally be more spaced than for a thermal vehicle. And, in the end, you will mainly have only 3 consumables to be replaced more or less regularly: the brake pads, the tire train and the windshield washer fluid.

Electric car in charge

The danger of the battery

The only big problem electric cars can face is their battery. Although it does not really require maintenance, it will represent a significant cost if its replacement is necessary. It is for this reason that its rental – rather than its purchase – is a choice that can be justified, as are the warranty extensions. Remember, however, that the lifespan of an electric car battery is, depending on the model, longer than that of the vehicle itself.

The cost of maintaining an electric car: a subject under study

For all these reasons, it seems obvious that the maintenance cost of an electric car is lower than that of a thermal. As the technology is still relatively recent, it is however difficult to have sufficient feedback to accurately assess the amount of this post. An exercise all the more complex as many parameters are taken into account (model, driving, mileage, etc.). To try to see more clearly, nothing better than to build on and compare different studies conducted on the subject.

Electric car

Electric and thermal: a similar cost with equal mileage

Our quest for answers first led us to a study by Fatec (1), a French fleet manager. Based on data from a fleet managed by the company, the survey tried to compare maintenance costs between a Renault ZOE and a Renault Clio, but also between the Renault Kangoo ZE and its thermal counterpart.
First observation: the maintenance visits were much less numerous for the electric models. A result that the diamond brand itself seems to confirm, insofar as it considers that the overhaul of an electric must occur every 30,000 km on average, against 15,000 km for petrol and 20,000 km for diesel (2).

Also according to this same study, the electric vehicle would have required on average only € 325 of overhaul and repair expenses over a period of 3 years. A cost that seems, at first glance, extremely low, but confirmed by the following studies. The fact remains that the manager claims that, for an equal contract period, the electric car has maintenance costs four times lower than its thermal counterpart. A result that should however be nuanced since, for an equal mileage, the maintenance cost is this time relatively identical.

Car workshop

More expensive labor

This first study not having really advanced us, this time we are interested in a simulation carried out by the consumer defense magazine Que Choisir (3). First surprise, we discover that repairers often charge more for maintenance of an electric car than for a thermal. In question ? Despite maintenance that seems less complex, the garage needs specific equipment and training, logically passed on to the amount of the invoice.

Despite everything, the maintenance item remains far lower for electric vehicles, and this, for the 3 categories compared by the magazine:

  • Micro-city car : the Volkswagen e-Up! would have required € 826 in maintenance costs per year, compared with € 1,267 for the Suzuki Swift hybrid, or almost 35% difference.
  • Urban : the maintenance budget for the Renault ZOE is € 1,046, compared with € 1,314 for the Renault Clio petrol, i.e. a 20% difference.
  • Compact : where the Nissan Leaf requires € 1,336, the Peugeot 308 diesel costs € 1,556, or just under 15% of difference.

The disadvantage of renting

Through its investigation entitled " The motorist's budget », The Automobile Club Association (ACA) tried the same exercise (4). However, unlike the previous two analyzes, the decision was made to focus on a long-term rental offer (LLD) to avoid various errors of assessment. The calculation is however delicate since, in the example taken into account, maintenance is the responsibility of the manufacturer. So that the maintenance cost is only € 360 for a period of 3 years for the Renault ZOE studied. In fact, only the replacement of a set of tires (not covered by the contract) was necessary.

The cost of the maintenance contract being included in the rent of the vehicle, it is difficult to know what part it actually represents. The fact remains that the Renault Zoé in LLD is much less competitive if we take it into account, insofar as the total cost is then € 2,553 per year (rental and maintenance). For example, the Renault Clio compared in parallel had a total budget for the rental and maintenance item of € 1,986. A difference that should – once again – be nuanced because the two vehicles do not display the same list price (€ 10,000 difference after deduction of the ecological bonus). Suffice to say, it is a bit like comparing cabbage and carrots.

Car maintenance

Electric car maintenance: what we think about it abroad

With the exception of the study conducted by Que Choisir, the investigations of our compatriots have not given us much lessons. Except, of course, that the subject is complex. To deepen these results, let's go this time across the Atlantic. In Canada, The 2 Degrees Institute relied on data made available by the data supplier Vincentric to compare 4 vehicles: the Volkswagen e-Golf and the Kia Soul EV, as well as their respective thermal version (5). It appears that these two electric vehicles have a 47% lower average maintenance cost, or $ 489 per year for the first, against $ 931 for their thermal equivalent.
On the other side of the border, in the United States, the Electric Power Research Institute compared the cost of maintaining several vehicles, not per year, but per kilometer traveled (6). It shows that the total maintenance price of a Chevrolet Cruze is $ 5,317 for 150,000 miles traveled, compared to only $ 1,183 for the Nissan Leaf (- 78%). Results to be taken with tweezers because, remember, 150,000 miles still represent almost 240,000 kilometers. Hard to believe that the Nissan Leaf can travel such a distance under normal conditions of use, it which at the date of publication of the study only had a battery with a capacity of 24 kWh.

In Florida now, a study has compared the maintenance costs over 10 years of 3 electric vehicles (Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Spark EV) with 4 thermal vehicles (Volkswagen Eos, Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Spark) (7). The annual maintenance item was $ 568 on average for the first, compared to $ 712 for the second, or about 21% difference. Note, however, that according to this study, the Tesla Model S stands out with an average annual budget of only $ 453.

Let us conclude our world tour of studies in Germany where, this time, the researchers tried to answer the question in a mathematical way, using scientific data and calculations that you will certainly excuse us for not transcribing. The result ? Quite simply that an electric car can reduce its maintenance costs by 19% on average compared to an equivalent thermal vehicle (8). We invite you to refer to the study in question to possibly question the methodology used.

Electric car: a maintenance cost to be taken on a case by case basis

As you will have seen, the difference in electric-thermal budget oscillates between 0 and 78% according to these different surveys. So what do they really teach us, if not that no one agrees? First of all, this lets us know that too many criteria are taken into account to be able to advance a precise figure. The reliability of the model, the driving style, the annual mileage, the rates charged by the mechanic … so many elements that make the results too uncertain and require each motorist to analyze his own budget. So beware when a manufacturer tells you that you will reduce your repair and overhaul budget by 20 to 30%, as Renault is doing (2). These figures will most often come out of his hat. This is why, a priori, it will take a few more years – especially while waiting for the electric fleet to develop – to be able to answer the question more factually.

On the other hand, it is true to say that the maintenance cost of an electric car is – except in exceptional cases (battery problem, etc.) – lower than that of its thermal equivalent. From there to advance an average budget or a percentage difference, there is a gap that we will not cross. However, we can remain more optimistic about the frequency of overhaul, since most studies agree that an electric vehicle will be able to drive longer before going to the garage. But let's not face it: it is not this item of expenditure which, as a general rule, will allow you to make miraculous savings, or even to amortize the higher cost of purchase of an electric. For that, it will be better to ask yourself about the charging solutions to use for your electric car. Why ? Quite simply because it is the recharge that can have a real impact on your daily budget.

(1) Source: Transforming your fleet into electric: an economical solution? – Fatec – 2019
(2) Source: All about the maintenance of an electric car – Groupe Renault – 2019
(3) Source: Electric is a bonus! – What to Choose – 2018
(4) Source: The motorist's budget – Automobile Club Association – 2019
(5) Source: Comparing Fuel and Maintenance Costs of Electric and Gas Powered Vehicles in Canada – Ryan Logtenberg et al. – 2018
(6) Source: Total cost of ownership model for current plug-in electric vehicles – Electric Power Research Institute – 2012
(7) Source: Electric Vehicle Life Cycle Cost Analysis – Electric Vehicle Transportation Center – 2017
(8) Source: Cost analysis of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles including Maintenance & Repair Costs and Resale Values ​​- Bernd Propfe et al. – 2012