Electric vehicles and maintenance: Six ways to maintain your EV
04.23.2020 - by Tim Setterfield
Electric vehicles and maintenance: Six ways to maintain your EV

This guest blog post was submitted by Plug In America supporter Tim Setterfield. If you would like to submit a guest blog post for possible inclusion in a future newsletter, please contact us at info@pluginamerica.org.

Electric vehicles are great, but like traditional cars, they too need some occasional maintenance. The great news is that it’s not nearly as much work, as electric cars are vastly simplified compared to their fossil-fueled cousins. If you have an EV, here are six suggestions to ease your maintenance chores.

1. Check the tires

Check the pressure regularly and fill as needed according to the manufacturer specifications. Do the checks only when the tires are cold, with first thing in the morning being best. Visually examine the tires every so often to see if there are any tears and/or significant tread wear. Do these checks every 1-3 months, depending on how much you drive. Newer cars may include Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems which will warn you of low inflation pressures, but being proactive by keeping them near the upper recommended level pays dividends, resulting in better economy. Every six months or as the manufacturer specifies, you’ll want to have the tires rotated, so as to equalize wear.

2. Check the fluids

Just like traditional cars, EVs have fluids that need to be checked regularly. The windshield washer fluid will be easily accessible; you’ll want to keep it topped up. Two other fluids you may need to check are the brake fluid and the coolant fluid. Check the manufacturer recommendations.

3. Battery health

The battery is probably the most important component of your EV. Fortunately, you do not need to check this regularly and if there was a problem, the car’s on-board computers would indicate this.

EV batteries are designed to have an extended life, but they will lose some capacity over time. When it’s not working optimally anymore, you may choose to replace it with a new one. The great thing about EV batteries is that they last very long, at least 10 years or more. Manufacturers also generally provide warranties for batteries in this same duration. You should check the battery warranty offered by your manufacturer.

4. Set a timer when charging

When charging your EV car, you may want to set a timer. Your car may allow you to charge to 90 instead of full, or you may set a timer on your charger to do this.  Keeping your battery state of charge between 10% and 90%, except when going on a long road trip, is good general practice. Having your battery too full or too empty often may reduce its capacity over many years.

5. Check the brake pads

EVs have regenerative braking, which actually creates electricity that goes back in the battery when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal. Although you will use the traditional brakes a lot less often, you still should check your brake pads regularly to make sure they are working properly. You’ll find they won’t wear out as quickly as in a gas car.

6. Watch your driving

Your driving habits impact your EV more than anything. You want to follow these best practices when driving your EV:

  • Keep it light. Your car has to work harder when there is more weight to carry.
  • In cold, wet weather, give yourself an extra cushion of energy. Running the heater uses some of your battery, plus batteries are less capable in cold areas and need to be warm to deliver full performance. Also, cold air is dense, costing more energy to get through it and wet roads have less traction, requiring more energy to get to the destination.
  • Coast when you can. Regenerative brakes are great for conserving energy, but remember that it only recovers a fraction of energy lost. When driving in places where you’ll likely stop often, such as heavy traffic, coast.
  • Park thoughtfully. Park in shaded areas, where possible, to prevent using additional power usage to cool the car. In the winter, park where sun exposure could help warm the car while you’re away. Many EVs have a built-in thermal management system and it will keep running if your car is out in the sun. This uses up unnecessary battery energy, which can reduce its lifetime use.

Which of these tips did you find the most useful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

13 comments on “Electric vehicles and maintenance: Six ways to maintain your EV”
  1. Jay says:

    Don, too much regenerative braking is not such a good thing. On EVs that offer more driver control options and have a Neutral setting, coasting down a long hill, especially at highway speeds is more efficient and easier on the battery than regaining down and then powering up. Gravity is Even better than Regen.

  2. Tom Houlden says:

    For those asking about charge levels, you can check out BatteryUniversity online, but I’ll try to clarify the confusion (1 & 2 below):

    First though, I’d like to point out that the vast majority of owners of sub-100-mile-range cars (like my $6k 2013 Fiat 500e) almost certainly charge fully every night. They’re also more likely to go below 10%, but I have yet to find any believably-detailed report of measurable range loss in a 500e, even after over 5 years & 50,000 miles, & monitoring 2 major forums. Cycle life tests indicate it should take over 100,000 miles to lose 10%, but just driving a tiny bit slower makes a HUGE difference.

    In other words you can pretty much just treat it like your phone & plug in whenever you want, as long as you want. The only US exception* I know of is the Leaf, which has no cooling system for the battery (only for the motor/charger). The eGolf battery is also air-cooled (like the original Bug & Bus) but doesn’t seem to suffer the same battery degradation.

    1) Old-fashioned NiCad batteries (NOT lithium-ion) live longer when periodically fully discharged & then fully charged.

    2) Since the earliest Leaf or Bolt, the Li-ion batteries in ALL EVs live longer if you avoid extremes of: charge level, temperature, & current (like DCFC).

    For extreme lifespan, you could keep it between 30% & 70%, or even 40 & 60, but obviously that can be pretty impractical!

    HOWEVER, some EVs (eGolf, 500e, & probably others) should be fully charged once in a while, in order to “balance” all the cells within the battery pack to the same peak voltage. I do that every couple of months, right before I take a longer drive to get it right back below 90% again.

    Most (if not all) EVs have a built-in top-end buffer. My Fiat 500e will only charge to 85% of the battery’s actual full capacity. Teslas are similar. SO, when I charge until my gauge shows “90%”, it’s really more like 77%. They all have similar buffers on the low end too, at which point the car stops before damaging the battery. Apparently 1st-gen Bolts operate only between about 30 & 70%.

    As for EV maintenance, which is much less than a gas car, note that the PHEVs mentioned in these comments require MORE maintenance than a gas car.

    * There’s an “only in Europe” EV that was even worse.

  3. Tom Lombard says:

    The Honda Clarity PHEV has built-in buffers that cap charging at 90% and prevent full battery discharge when it hits 10%.

  4. Bill Riker says:

    The Bolt has a “hilltop reserve” setting which charges to about 87% and which I always use unless planning a trip that might cause a bit of range anxiety.

  5. Beveridge Webster says:

    “using additional power usage” could have been your point d.

  6. Joe Meyers says:

    My goal is to buy a used BEV or PHEV most likely a 2015-2017 Ford C-Max Energi SEL or Titanium model. I am also checking to possibly lease a 2020 Chevy Bolt instead. In Columbus, Ohio, where I live, the only choices of “affordable” mainstream BEV’s you can buy locally are the Nissan Leaf and Nissan Leaf Plus, Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3. Of course, if you are wealthy, you can also choose an Audi e-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X. Hyundai and Kia only sell their BEV’s in selected states. Unfortunately, Ohio is not one of the selected states. I met a couple who bought a new 2019 Kia Niro EV in Gaithersburg MD last year and drove it back to Columbus.

    I am changing the subject. Now about coasting. On some if not many BEV’s, there is no need to shift in neutral to coast in heavy traffic. For example, I drove four different Chevy Bolts. In that car, shift to D and you can coast the same way you would in a gasoline car. If you shift into L, the car will automatically slow down gradually to a stop. To keep it going, just tap the accelerator enough to keep it moving. Tap it and let go and let the regenerative brakes do its job energizing the battery. When needed, repeat. Either way, you are maintaining the charge. I think I got that right.

  7. Brian Leung says:

    On the Tesla website and from advisor, charge between 10 and 90% unless you’re going on a long trip, then charge to 100%. Don’t know if Tesla batteries are any different than other EVs.

  8. William Brock says:

    Another item to be maintained is the Cabin filter. It should be changed once a year. There are after market filters with a carbon later added. This give better filtering than the original paper only filter. The cabin filter is easy to change. There are you tube videos showing how to do it. It took me about two minutes to change the one iny 2019 Chevrolet Bolt.

  9. Don says:

    The brakes regenerate the battery, so never put in neutral! Also safety issue.
    A lot leave maintenance with an EV!

  10. Ira Josephs says:

    When it says “coast” in the article, I don’t think “coasting in neutral” is being referred to. I shift into neutral a lot and really coast. There are so many times on flat or slight downhills where you would be pressing the accelerator to keep up your speed when you can coast instead. Try it, It can really add miles to a trip.

  11. Marcia says:

    My 2020 Chevy Bolt has a reminder to charge the battery whenever it’s not full., even when I’ve only driven the 4 miles to town and back. Is this battery a different design that won’t be aged like some others (which?) that should not be charged at more than 90%?

  12. David, Kona Owna says:

    Which of these tips did I find most useful?

    Boy, it’s hard to choose, but I’d say the one that tells me to “charge my EV car to go or…” is my favorite!

    a. Pick a font in which the 9 is distinguishable from the g.
    b. Use a % sign to make it a LITTLE easier to tell what the heck you mean.
    c. Don’t call it an “electric vehicle car.” SMH

  13. Ruta Jordans says:

    Tip number 4 is exactly opposite what I’ve been told. Rather than charging only between 10 and 90%, I’ve heard that a lithium battery capacity, whether in smart phones and tablets or EVs, tends to shorten if it is not allowed to get low and charged all the way to full. How can I find out which is right?

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