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Electric Car Maintenance: What You Need to Know

Tesla Model S

Electric cars, particularly pure electric vehicles operating without a supplementary gasoline generator, offer comparatively little maintenance to the typical passenger vehicle. There are fewer moving parts, a reduced number of fluids and extended brake wear intervals, thanks to regenerative braking. Still, there are a few electric car maintenance items that must not be avoided, including the following essentials as outlined in your owner’s manual. If you own an electric vehicle, here’s what you need to know about electric car maintenance.

Brake Care

Regenerative braking, a process that harnesses energy from the parts stored in the battery system for later use, means your brake pads will last longer. Maintenance intervals may stretch to twice as long as a conventional vehicle. But that doesn’t mean the brakes can just be ignored. Road debris can dirt can find their way into braking system components and affect how they work. For example the Tesla Model 3 owner’s manual suggests cleaning and lubricating the brake calipers every year (or 12,500 miles whichever comes first). The pads themselves may still have plenty of life in them, but they need to operate smoothly to be the most effective when duty calls.

Tire Rotation

The Nissan Leaf is an all-electric vehicle requiring minimal maintenance.Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for tire rotation and you should enjoy a lengthy amount of time with all four tires. There is no advantage with tire maintenance in electric vehicles nor is there a disadvantage. Some electric vehicles use special low rolling resistance tires that may cost a premium over normal tires. If that is the case for your vehicle then following a proper tire rotation schedule can help maximize tire life. If your vehicle has different size front and rear tires, then your options will be limited.

Coolant System

Electric cars with a thermal management system make use of coolant, just as they do in traditional passenger vehicles. Components like the drive motor and battery may be cooled/heated via liquid coolant. From time to time you may need to add coolant, replacing the same per the vehicle’s maintenance schedule. Pay special attention to the owner’s manual and only use the exact coolant (or equivalent) specified. While the coolant does not see some of the same harsh conditions as an internal combustion engine, it can still break down and suffer from contamination.

Wiper Blades

There is absolutely no difference between the wiper blade care for your electric vehicle and a typical internal combustion engine car. Wiper blades should be replaced when worn, or twice annually, such as just before summer and again before winter settles in. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to change wiper blades, as some vehicle may be different than others. For example some Tesla models must have the wiper system put into “service mode” via the onboard touchscreen system. This allows the wipers to be accessed easily for replacement.

Fluid Check

Besides coolant, two other fluids are present in your electric car: brake fluid and windshield washer fluid. Brake fluid should be checked and replaced per your owner’s manual. Test strips can be used to detect signs of corrosion in brake fluid and thus signaling the need for a change. Windshield fluid should be added periodically; choose a winter blend to lower the freezing point during cold weather.

Most other fluids, if present, are sealed and cannot be accessed. However, if you own the Tesla Model S, there’s a differential gear box containing transmission fluid requiring replacement as scheduled. Furthermore, all electric cars come with air conditioning, and that system must be recharged on occasion.

Battery System Replacement

The one maintenance area that may cost you more is the electric vehicle battery system. Electric cars use a nickel-metal-hydride, lithium-ion or similar battery pack, and these do have a limited lifespan. These are high-tech components designed to safely house sometimes hundreds of smaller power cells that are harnessed together to power your vehicle. They are complicated and have little in common with a simple classic lead-acid car battery.

Fortunately, many electric car manufacturers provide a battery drive train components warranty covering the battery pack and related components for eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. In some states that warranty is for 10 years or 150,000 miles.

Electric batteries lose efficiency over time and if the car is kept long enough the battery pack will need to be replaced. That expense varies, but a Green Car Reports article stated a new Nissan Leaf replacement battery would cost $5,499 after a mandated $1,000 credit for turning in the old pack is taken. Tack on three hours of installation time and taxes, and your cost will push $6,000. Those costs can be avoided by leasing the electric car or selling it before the battery system requires replacement.

Cabin Air Filter

Don’t feel bad if you forget about the cabin air filter, most internal combustion vehicles owners forget about it too. Your cabin air filter keeps the air inside your electric vehicle clean. The location can vary by vehicle so check your owner’s manual, but a common location is just behind the glovebox door. Changing a cabin air filter on most vehicles requires few if any tools and can usually be done in minutes. If you can’t remember the last time the cabin air filter was changed, then it is likely due.

Not on Your Electric Car Maintenance List

As for oil changes, spark plugs and wires, and air/fuel filters, these maintenance items are a thing of the past in electric cars because they don’t have these parts. Exhaust system maintenance, including the muffler and a catalytic converter, are simply not found in electric vehicles either. No need for emissions systems either, so no PCV valves or EGR system.

Owning an electric car can be a less stressful experience but it isn’t completely care-free. Keep up your routine maintenance and you’ll be driving on electrons for years to come.

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on electric car maintenance, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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