When you look under the bonnet of a petrol or diesel car, you expect to see an engine. But what’s under the bonnet of an electric vehicle?
Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) work in a different way to conventional cars, so they need different maintenance and servicing. But don’t be put off - EVs can often be more reliable than a petrol or diesel car.
Read our useful guide to find out how to charge an electric car.
In this article
- Are electric cars less maintenance than petrol or diesel?
- Do electric cars have fewer moving parts?
- What maintenance do electric cars need?
- Do electric cars need oil changes?
- What kind of repairs do electric cars need?
- Are electric cars cheaper to maintain?
- How often do electric cars need to be serviced?
Are electric cars less maintenance than petrol or diesel?
Conventional internal combustion engines (ICE) have hundreds of moving parts. That means there’s a lot that could potentially go wrong over a petrol or diesel car’s lifetime.
Electric motors only have a handful of parts in comparison, which can result in less maintenance for electric cars. But EVs do have complex electrical components, including:
- High voltage (HV) relays
- HV air conditioning pumps
- HV inverters
With an electric car, like an ICE vehicle, you’ll need to regularly maintain parts like brakes, tyres and wipers. But you won’t need to worry about topping up engine oil or replacing parts like the timing belts.
Did you know that our breakdown cover includes electric vehicles as standard?
Do electric cars have fewer moving parts?
Yes. Electric cars have far fewer moving parts than conventional cars because they have an electric motor instead of an ICE.
Internal combustion engine parts
ICEs have hundreds of moving parts. Even as many as 2,000, according to this research by Forbes. Here are just a few of a conventional car’s parts:
- Spark plugs
- Fuel pumps
- Timing belt
Electric car parts
The drive train in an EV has only around 20 or fewer parts. Electric car parts include:
- Electric motors
- Electronic power control modules
- HV inverters
- HV chargers
Car parts common to all vehicles
There are lots of parts which are common to all cars. That means EVs have components for:
All of these components are subject to the usual wear and tear and could need to be maintained, repaired or replaced over the car’s lifetime.
Discover more about how electric vehicles work.
What maintenance do electric cars need?
The main parts like the traction battery, drive motor and associated electronics require little maintenance. But parts that are common to EV’s and ICE vehicles, like tyres, brakes and windscreen wipers, will need to be checked regularly.
It’s especially important to check these elements before you book an MOT test to give your car the best possible chance of passing.
EV traction batteries have proven to be very robust, but you should make sure to refer to the manufacturer's recommendations about charging the traction battery. Generally, you'll need to:
- Make sure the battery doesn’t run out completely.
- Charge your battery according to the owner’s manual (the most efficient is often 20% to 80% full charge).
EVs use regenerative braking as well as conventional brakes. The energy which is lost when the car slows down is converted back into stored energy in the battery. It makes braking more efficient so there’s less wear and tear on your brake system.
You’ll still need to occasionally replace parts:
- Replace brake pads and discs.
- Replace brake fluid.
Our useful guide to car brakes covers how they work and what causes them to wear out.
EVs may have specific tyres to cope with additional weight and more accelerating power. They also have reduced rolling resistance, and create less noise.
- Rotate your tyres according to the owner's manual.
- Keep tyre pressure topped up.
- Replace tyres when worn.
Learn more about legal tyre tread depth and how to check it.
Most electric cars use coolant to manage battery temperatures. How often the coolant needs flushing or topping up varies from car to car, so check the owner’s manual.
Typically, EV cooling systems are sealed and should only be checked/topped up by a qualified HV technician
Do electric cars need oil changes?
Electric cars don’t use engine oil. But they do often use oil inside their reduction gearboxes, which may need to be changed over the car’s lifespan.
Unlike conventional petrol and diesel cars, you won’t have to worry about any of these with an EV:
What kind of repairs do electric cars need?
Electric vehicles require less maintenance than petrol or diesel cars and are more reliable, so they won’t need as many repairs. That can help to keep the costs of running an electric car down.
But there are still parts which can go wrong. Most of the electric car breakdowns we see are caused by punctures or issues with the 12v battery.
With an electric car, you might also need to maintain or replace the cabin air filter (also known as a pollen filter), brake fluid or air conditioning.
Whether you drive an electric or hybrid, we can help get you back on the road
Are electric cars cheaper to maintain?
Electric cars can often cost less to maintain in the long run. A study in 2018 found that EVs cost 23% less to run than petrol vehicles on average. The study was run by automotive data experts Cap HPI and looked at data over a 3-year/100,000 km period.
You should use the manufacturer recommended tyre specifications with an EV to avoid accelerated tyre wear. Parts, like the braking system, will last longer because of innovations such as regenerative braking.
How often do electric cars need to be serviced?
You should check your owner’s manual for your manufacturer's service schedule. But usually, electric cars need to be serviced at the same intervals as conventional cars.
As there are fewer parts to an electric car, there’ll be less to check during the service and usually you’ll need fewer repairs.
In the short term, it might be slightly harder to get your electric vehicle serviced and repaired locally due to mechanics being more familiar with combustion engines. But big chains offer EV services and smaller garages are training their mechanics to deal with EV repairs so this is unlikely to be an issue for much longer.
Read our complete guide to car servicing.
Published: 25 August 2020 | Updated: 1 July 2021 | Author: The AA