How Long Do Electric Car Batteries Last?

And how do they compare to gas-powered engines?

The battery of an electric car on display during Electric Mobility Week.
The battery is the most important and most expensive part of an electric vehicle. Adam Berry/Getty Images.

The battery is by far the most expensive component in an electric vehicle, so estimating how long it will last is an important consideration if you're thinking of switching to an EV. One way to look at it, however, is by asking: How long will an EV battery last before I have to pay to replace it? The short answer: With few exceptions, your EV battery is guaranteed to work significantly longer than an engine in a gas-powered car is, and in most cases, your battery will outlast the rest of your car's lifetime.

The longer answer comes in examining what's under warranty. For electric vehicles, the federal government mandates that manufacturers warranty a battery for a minimum of eight years/80,000 miles. In California, that mandate is 10 years/150,000 miles. A few vehicles even offer unlimited-mile coverage on their batteries. By comparison, most powertrain warranties on gas-powered vehicles (which includes the engine, transmission, and transfer case) are for five years/60,000 miles. The minimum warranty on an electric vehicle battery exceeds that of the average powertrain warranty by three years/40,000 miles. That's a quarter of the lifetime of the average car on the road today.

Understanding the Battery

Illustration of a lithium-ion battery
How energy flows in and out of a lithium-ion battery. VectorMine/Getty Images.

The main battery type in electric vehicles is the lithium-ion battery. Lithium-ion batteries revolutionized portable technology because they are lightweight and “energy dense,” meaning they can carry much more energy per mass than other battery types. This has made them light enough to make electrified transport possible. With increasing economies of scale, lithium-ion battery prices have dropped by 97% since 1991 and continue to keep falling. Since the battery is by far the most expensive component in an electric vehicle, experts predict that the sticker price of an EV will be cost-competitive with comparable gas-powered cars by 2025.

An EV battery is a pack of individual battery cells, each about the size of a AA battery. They are bound together physically and electronically with circuitry and software to regulate the charging and discharging of energy. A battery pack might have 96 individual cells, grouped in eight modules of 12 cells each.

Lithium is the third lightest element on the periodic table, after hydrogen and helium. It has three electrons orbiting three protons with two electrons on its inner shell and one on its outer shell. That one outer electron, bound to the nucleus by electromagnetic force, can be knocked loose by a larger electromagnetic force, which creates a lithium ion with a positive charge (since electrons are negatively charged). The flow of those ions is what creates an electric charge.

What Is an Ion?

An ion is a charged atom. All the non-radioactive elements on the periodic table have the same number of negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons. But when an element loses or gains an electron, it's called an ion. Being unstable, ions move around to gain or shed an electron.

A lithium-ion battery stores lithium ions in separate parts of the battery called anodes and cathodes. A solution called an electrolyte carries positively charged ions from the anode to the cathode, creating the electric charge that runs out of the positive end of the battery and into the circuits of a laptop, phone, or in this case, vehicle's motor, then back to the negative part of the battery. When the vehicle is plugged in, the flow of electrons moves in the other direction—from the cathode to the anode—recharging the battery.

Factors That Impact EV Battery Lifespan

Lithium-ion batteries do have their limits; over time, the amount of energy that they are able to store decreases. Yet concern about battery degradation is more a matter of the range of the vehicle than of its usability—a legitimate concern, of course, but not one that will necessarily require replacing the battery. At an average degradation rate of 2.3% per year, “the vast majority of batteries will outlast the usable life of the vehicle.”

A Problem of Estimates

The problem with estimating what the actual lifetime of an EV battery, rather than its warrantied lifetime, is that the data available is limited by the amount of time in which EVs have been on the road. Of the 1.4 million electric cars sold in the United States since they were introduced in 2010, only around 400,000 are older than five years. The Nissan Leaf was introduced in the United States in late 2010. The Chevy Bolt went on the U.S. market in late 2016, while Tesla's top-selling Model 3 was introduced in mid-2017, and the first Model 3 owner to reach 100,000 miles only did so in 2019. Battery efficiency and energy density also continue to improve on a regular basis. When the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated in 2014 that EV batteries may last 12 to 15 years in moderate climates (eight to 12 years in extreme climates), it aptly noted that “long-term validation [is] still needed.”

What the actual lifetime of the engine in a gas-powered car is no easier to estimate, however. The average lifetime mileage of a gas-powered passenger car is 133,017 miles, but cars come off the road for many reasons other than engine failure. If you asked an expert for an estimate of how long a gasoline engine lasts, you will probably get a vague answer: it all depends on how well the engine is made and maintained. A common estimate is 150,000 miles.

Battery Replacement Costs

While lithium-ion battery prices have dropped by 97% since 1991, and they continue to keep falling, replacing an EV battery is still more expensive than replacing a gas car's engine. Excluding labor, a new engine might cost from $4,000 to $7,000, depending on how many cylinders it has, while a used engine is a tenth of that price. Replacing the 24-kWh battery on a Nissan Leaf can range from a cost of $5,500 for a new battery to roughly half that for a refurbished one—again excluding labor. A Tesla Model 3 battery may cost you $13,500 to replace. Since EV batteries are constructed out of many separate modules, however, and those modules are composed of individual cells, it may not be necessary to replace the entire battery pack. The experts at Current Automotive note that they have encountered only one case where an entire Tesla battery needed replacing.

How to Maximize Your Battery Life

The main thing that influences battery lifespan is the number of cycles each battery cell goes through. (A battery cycle is the discharge and recharge of the battery.) The following advice comes from MotorTrend, CarandDriver, and ClipperCreek, a manufacturer of EV charging stations.

  • As with driving in a gas-powered car, the way you drive influences the amount of energy you consume. The same applies to electric vehicles: quick starts and dramatic accelerations draw surges of power from the battery to the motor.
  • Avoid fully charging your battery if you don't need a full charge. Avoid fully discharging the battery as well. Unless an upcoming road trip or commute requires a full charge, keep your battery charged between 30 and 80%, where the battery is at its most efficient.
  • Avoid temperature and humidity extremes. High temperature cause the battery cooling system to work harder (and use more energy), while low temperatures should be avoided while charging. Temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F are when EV batteries are at their most efficient.
  • Fast-charging is convenient, but it reduces the long-term capacity of your battery.
  • Plan your route ahead of time. If you need to charge while on the road, a good plan can help you avoid having to resort to fast-charging. Should you not have enough charge to get you to your destination, only charge enough to get you there, then complete your charging upon arrival.

Built to Last?

If electric vehicle manufacturers are going to attract customers, they need to reassure them that their vehicle is built to last, including the battery. While the relatively recent emergence of electric vehicles on the market makes it hard to know their future, experts in the automotive industry predict that the battery on your EV is likely to outlast the rest of your car.

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