The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Maintenance: Batteries, Tires, and More

While there's a lot less going on under the hood, EV maintenance is still required.

An open hood reveals the motor of a Volkswagen e-Golf electric car.

Nigel Treblin/Getty Images

The main difference between the maintenance of an electric vehicle and a gasoline car is that there's less of it. Without an internal combustion engine, there are far fewer parts in an EV to need repair or replacement. The running joke among EV owners is that all you need to maintain are windshield washer fluid and air in the tires—but there is certainly more to do than that.

EV Maintenance Overview

The elements that EVs share with gas vehicles—like wheels and brakes—do need maintaining. Filters get dirty. Taillights burn out. As with any machine with moving parts, lubrication is needed to make the vehicle run, well, fluidly. Coolants are needed so that parts don't overheat.

But as their name suggests, internal combustion engines run much hotter than electric vehicles (190 degrees C compared to 40/50 degrees C), which means EV coolants break down more slowly and need less frequent replacement.

Along with the lower price of electricity compared to gasoline, the cost to maintain an electric vehicle is one of its greatest selling points in terms of the lifetime cost for owning an EV. Consumer Reports estimates that, on average, the maintenance of an electric vehicle adds up to $0.03 per mile—half that of a gasoline-powered car.

If a function or part of an electric vehicle isn't mentioned in this maintenance guide, it's because it's the same as on a gas-powered car. But some functions in common with gasoline cars have different maintenance requirements, as do elements that are unique to EVs.

What Doesn't Need Maintenance in an EV

  • Alternators
  • Catalytic converters
  • Engine air filters
  • Engine gaskets
  • Fuel pumps
  • Mufflers
  • Oil changes
  • Oil filters
  • Pistons
  • Serpentine belts
  • Spark plugs
  • Timing belts
  • Tune-ups

Batteries

The battery pack is the most expensive component in an EV, and replacing it can wipe out the average lifetime savings of $4,600 in maintenance costs for owning an EV. A replacement battery for a Nissan Leaf, for example, can cost $5,500 plus installation fees.

Despite worries about having to replace expensive lithium-ion batteries, however, an EV battery is likely to outlast the rest of the vehicle, especially if you take care of it properly, and that likelihood is bound to increase. Unlike internal combustion engines, which haven't changed much in the past 40 years, new developments in EV battery chemistry (such as lithium iron phosphate) hold out the promise of extending the lifetime of EV batteries to more than a million miles.

The lithium-ion battery that fuels an EV is sealed for safety reasons, and any maintenance should be performed by a professional. An EV battery is actually a pack of thousands of individual lithium-ion cells, with electronics and a thermal cooling system tying them all together. The thermal cooling system has coolants that need flushing periodically; EV batteries have long warranties, so this may be covered under your warranty.

An unidentified General Motors employee smiles as he gestures to the battery pack for the concept car, the Chevrolet Electrovette.
Car manufacturers have been experimenting with the chemistry in EV batteries for decades.

Marion S Trikosko/US News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

You may be surprised to learn that there is a second battery in an EV: a standard, lead-acid 12-volt battery like the one you'll find in a gasoline car. Without it, you wouldn't be able to unlock your car, since it's needed to run electronics like lights, door locks, and other low-energy functions that have long run on 12 volts. Scaling down the energy from a 300+ volt lithium-ion battery to run electronics that run on 12 volts is highly inefficient and costly, not to mention dangerous. Periodic inspection is required.

Tires

As with internal combustion vehicles, EVs have tires, rotors, shocks, struts, driveshafts, and boots that periodically need regular rotation, inspection, maintenance, or replacement. Maintaining proper tire pressure and tread depth is important on any car but may be more even more so on an EV.

EVs have instant torque (rotational force of the wheels), which on slippery roads can increase the likelihood of spinning. And EVs are, on average, heavier than comparable gas-powered cars in the same category, so once the vehicle begins to slide, it may be more difficult to control. Proper tire maintenance, a good set of snow tires in the winter (where applicable), and sensible driving habits can prevent slippage.

Brakes

Since electric vehicles primarily use regenerative braking rather than traditional friction brakes, discs and pads are subject to less wear and tear. While Tesla CEO Elon Musk has tweeted that “brake pads on a Tesla literally never need to be replaced for [the] lifetime of the car,” brake pads can still wear out, depending on how you drive. Even the Tesla Model 3 Owner's Manual recommends replacing worn brake pads. Brake drums, linings, hoses, and fluid also need regular inspection.

Motor

Compared to an internal combustion engine, an electric motor is a rather simple machine that will in all likelihood never need replacing. Most electric vehicles have a single multi-speed motor, meaning there's no transmission that shifts the vehicle between multiple gears. (Some EVs have two to four motors, but power is distributed electronically between them rather than through shifting gears.) That means no transmission fluid, at least in the traditional sense.

EVs do have a reduction gearbox—which some people call a transmission—between the motor and the wheels that need lubrication—which even EV manufacturers may call “transmission fluid.” Usually, the gearbox is sealed, so a qualified mechanic will need to perform inspection and maintenance on it.

A diesel engine
There are far fewer parts to maintain in an EV than in an engine running on gas or diesel.

DjelicS/Getty Images

Climate Control

While gas-powered vehicles draw heat from the engine to heat the car, EVs use either resistance heaters that draw their energy from the battery, or highly efficient heat pumps that, in general, need less maintenance. Cooling the vehicle tends to work the same, with an air conditioning compressor that needs refrigerant inspected and air filters periodically replaced.

Software Upgrades

EVs run on electrons, so keeping your electronics updated is more important in an EV than in a gas-powered vehicle. Software and firmware upgrades can increase the efficiency of an EV, add new features, or increase the vehicle's electronic security. Some EV manufacturers offer over-the-air updates, just as you would get for other digital devices. For many vehicles, this requires being within range of your home wifi. Other manufacturers require a visit to the dealership to perform upgrades. 

A Typical EV Maintenance Schedule

Note that schedules vary per model. These are some general guidelines:

Monthly

  • Inspect interior and exterior lights.
  • Inspect tires for wear and proper pressure,
  • Check for loose wheel lugs.
  • Inspect windshield washer fluid level.
  • Check coolant level.
  • Check exterior lights.

Six Months

  • Check 12-volt battery connections. Clean if necessary.
  • Check body and door drain holes for obstructions.
  • Check cooling system fluid level and coolant strength.
  • Check door weatherstrips for wear.
  • Lubricate hinges, latches, and outside locks if necessary.
  • Check parking brake for proper operation.
  • Inspect safety belts for wear and function.
  • Inspect safety warning lights for operation.
  • Inspect windshield wipers and washer spray for wear and function.
  • Use plain water to flush corrosive materials like road salt from the underbody.

12 months or 10,000 miles

  • Rotate tires.
  • Replace climate control filter.
  • Perform a multi-point inspection (12-volt battery, lights, fluids, horn, half-shaft dust boots, suspension, steering, tires, windshields, washer spray and wipers).
  • Inspect brake pads, rotors, drums, brake linings, hoses, and parking brake.
  • Inspect steering linkage, ball joints, suspension, and tie rod ends.

Every 15,000 miles

  • Replace the windshield wiper blades.

Every 20,000 miles

  • Change cabin air filter.

Every three years

  • Change brake fluid.
  • Change coolant.

10 years or 150,000 miles

  • Change transmission fluid.
  • Change air conditioning dessicant.

Maintenance Required

No machine as complicated as a motor vehicle is maintenance-free, and the simplicity of maintaining an EV can be overstated. Taking good care of your electric vehicle is just as important for your safety and the longevity of the car as it is for a gasoline-powered car. Fortunately, that safety and longevity can come at half the price.