Do Electric Cars Use Oil?

How does EV maintenance compare to that of gas-powered cars?

The open hood of an electric Volkswagen e-Golf reveals its motor.
An electric vehicle has fewer moving parts and less need for lubricants than a gas-powered car. Nigel Treblin/Getty Images.

In short, no, electric cars do not use oil. In internal combustion engines, oil is used to lubricate the moving parts of the engine. The engine in a gas-powered car is driven by pistons, valves, valve springs, connecting rods, crankshafts, bearings, cylinders, to name a few parts—all of which need oil to reduce friction when these components come in contact with each other. Reduced friction means reduced heat, corrosion, and wear-and-tear on an engine. Without oil, an engine's parts will be doing battle with each other rather than work in harmony. Eventually, they will stop moving and "seize up," at which point, it's time to get a new engine—or a new car.

One of the key benefits of owning an electric vehicle (EV) is its fewer moving parts and thus its lower maintenance cost. Since they use electricity stored in batteries to rotate the car's motor, they do not use motor oil.

Electric Vehicle Maintenance

EVs do require other lubricants, however, which do need maintenance. How much maintenance varies from model to model; as always, refer to your owner's manual for proper scheduling of fluid maintenance.

Transmission Fluid

Most EVs have motors with only one gear, which can spin up from 0 to 10,000 RPMs (or more, in some models), whereas a gas-powered car needs multiple gears to shift from lower to higher RPMs. With no shifting between gears, EVs require no motor oil to lubricate the gears. EVs do have transmission systems which require fluid maintenance, but because of the special type of fluid required, it is not recommended that consumers try to replace it themselves.

Battery Coolant

The lithium-ion batteries in EVs need coolant to keep them from over-heating and potentially catching fire. EV batteries, however, are sealed for safety reasons, and any maintenance of the coolant will need to be done by a dealer according to the vehicle's maintenance schedule. Tesla no longer recommends battery coolant replacement on its vehicles as it did on older models, while the Chevy Bolt has a recommended replacement rate of every 150,000 miles.

Brakes

Like gas-powered cars, EVs have brake fluid (also known as hydraulic fluid), which needs regular maintenance. In an EV, however, the brakes are used less frequently because of regenerative braking. Regenerative braking allows the EV motor to send energy back into the battery as it slows the car down. This reduces wear-and-tear on the brake pads, but not necessarily the need to replace brake fluid on a regular basis. For a gas-powered car, the range of recommended brake fluid change can be between two to five years, or from every 20,000 miles (for a Mercedes-Benz) to every 45,000 miles (for a Chevrolet Malibu). For electric vehicles, the range is roughly the same, with Tesla-brand vehicles recommending fluid changes every five years to the Nissan Leaf recommending every five years.

Common Lubricants

It should come as no surprise that windshield washer fluid replacement is no different between an EV and a gas-powered car. The same applies to steering fluid (for vehicles with hydraulic power steering, which is increasingly rare), air conditioning fluid, as well as grease for suspension systems, door locks, wheel bearings, and other small moving parts.

Gasoline vs. Electricity 

The main fluid that distinguishes an EV from a gasoline-powered car is—you guessed it—gasoline, and it's here that cost savings are the greatest. Calculating the cost of the electricity needed to drive an electric vehicle can be complicated, compared to the cost of gasoline. Just as those costs can vary depending on the efficiency of gas-powered cars, the efficiency of electric vehicles varies from model to model. And like gasoline prices, electricity costs vary from state to state as well.

But consider this statement from the U.S. Department of Energy: “The cost to run your [electric] car over the course of a year can be less than running an air conditioner.” According to a 2020 study from Consumer Reports, electric vehicles “were estimated to save consumers about 60% on fuel costs compared with the average vehicle in their class.” The study also points out that as vehicles age, those savings increase even more, as the efficiency of a gas-powered engine decreases more quickly than the efficiency of an electric motor. A five- to seven-year-old used EV saves an owner two to three times more in fuel costs than a comparable gas-powered vehicle. The study estimated that electric vehicle owners could save between $6,000 to $10,000 over the life of a vehicle.

Sticker Price vs. the Total Cost of Ownership

The sticker price of an electric vehicle is usually higher than a comparable gas-powered car. But given the savings from maintenance and fuel, the total cost of owning an EV versus a comparable gas-powered vehicle can erase the differences in sticker price, or make an EV even less expensive to own than an equivalent gas-powered car.

View Article Sources
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  2. 2020 Bolt EV Owner's Manual, 303.

  3. Mercedes-Benz Premier Prepaid Maintenance, 2.

  4. Malibu Owner's Manual 2021, 307.

  5. 2019 Leaf Service and Maintenance Guide, 22.

  6. Charging at Home.” U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

  7. Harto, Chris. “Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs: Today's Electric Vehicles Offer Big Savings for Consumers.” Consumer Reports, October 2020.