Maintaining electric vehicles

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November 4, 2021 by Graham Heeps

From the magazine: Maintaining electric vehicles​

Electric vehicles are an increasingly common sight on our roadways — and in our auto shops. When it comes to servicing these vehicles, here are some key maintenance issues to consider


Electric vehicles are poised to become more common in Canada and around the world.

As global temperatures continue to rise, and the effects of climate change grow increasingly more dramatic, EVs will take centre stage thanks to their relatively low emissions.

Indeed, EV ownership is already on the upswing, with the world’s major automakers joining trailblazers like Nissan, Chevrolet and Tesla to launch battery-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles — everything from luxury sport coupes to 4×4 work trucks — into the marketplace.

As part of efforts to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the federal government recently mandated zero tailpipe emissions from all cars, SUVs and light trucks sold from 2035. This measure will drive further growth in EV sales.

An increase in EV sales means that maintenance of such vehicles will take an increasing share of the workload in automotive repair and service shops.

It’s true that removing a vehicle’s internal combustion engine (ICE) simplifies its service needs. However, there are still plenty of EV maintenance and repair tasks for auto technicians to sink their teeth into.

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Replacement tires​

Worn tires are likely the first thing that’ll bring an EV to the shop for the first time — but they’re not as straightforward a fix as the tires on an ICE-powered vehicle.

Even though the tire sizing may be similar, EV tires are typically heavier. For example, a Hyundai Kona electric weighs about 300 kilograms (or 21 percent) more than its gas-powered equivalent.

Translation: EVs demand a tire with a higher load index.

New EVs are also fitted with low-rolling resistance tires. This means they may wear faster than tires on other vehicles due to a combination of the special rubber compounds used and the extra load placed on them by a heavier vehicle that has a lot of torque.

Keep in mind as well that tire-road noise is more noticeable when you remove a car’s engine from the equation. EV tires often feature a tread pattern that’s designed for low noise.

Paying attention to all these factors when selecting a replacement set of tires is key, says Darryl Croft, co-owner of OK Tire & Auto in Etobicoke, Ontario.

“It’s important to educate the vehicle owner because, otherwise, they can make the mistake of going purely by tire size and having to live with the repercussions of poor handling and high noise,” says Croft, who actively markets to local EV owners. “There’s quite a range of durability among the brands, so you could do the client a disservice if you fit a faster-wearing tire. They’ll be back in a hurry—and they’ll be upset.”

Annual tire rotation and balancing checks are also important to maintain that smooth, quiet ride that EV-owners adore.

“It’s important to educate the vehicle owner because otherwise they can make the mistake of going purely by tire size and having to live with the repercussions of poor handling and high noise.”​

Watch those brakes​

EVs rely on regenerative braking. This uses the electric motor to recharge the battery when the driver lifts their foot from the accelerator. The car slows, but the regular friction brakes — which typically slow the car via brake pads and discs — don’t come into play unless there is hard braking.

This means the friction braking system should last much longer than in an ICE-powered vehicle, right? Sure, in theory. But proper annual servicing is vital to keep those brakes at their optimum. Otherwise, they may start to stick, leading to an undesirable early replacement and an unhappy customer.

A technician’s visual inspection isn’t enough. Since the EV driver uses their friction brakes less often compared to ICE drivers, chances are there will be plenty of pad material left when you look. But freeing up and cleaning the pins and calipers on an annual basis will reduce the risk of those brakes sticking when they are in use. It’ll also help keep rotor corrosion under control.

And keep in mind, automakers like Nissan and Tesla recommend a brake fluid check and/or change every two years or 24,000km.

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An electric vehicle plugged in to charge.

Alignment and suspension​

There’s just no getting around the fact that an EV owner faces inherently higher tire costs compared to the owner of an ICE-powered car. But an alignment check every six months to a year can help to reduce those costs. Poor alignment will result in the car wearing the tires even faster.

If you’ve got an EV customer with two sets of tires, consider doing the alignment check in the fall when the winter tires go on. The other major annual item, the brake service, can then be done after the winter — leaving you with a happy customer who appreciates having those maintenance costs spread out a bit.

In the longer term, EVs that reach 100,000 kilometres or more will encounter the same suspension issues as any other vehicle. Shocks and struts wear out, with the owner potentially facing a hefty bill to remedy the situation.

According to Croft, the difference here is that the EV owner might be more willing to pay that bill than other drivers.

“Aftermarket advisors sometimes shy away from bringing up shocks and struts,” he explains. “It’s traditionally been a very difficult item for the ICE vehicle owner to commit to because their car has needed other maintenance or repair services during its life. But in the EV scenario, the owner hasn’t had those [major] problems up to that point and may be more likely to want to maintain a smooth, comfortable ride by refreshing the suspension.”

Cabin air filter​

The cabin air filter is something that often needs attention in an EV. Tucked away out of sight, it’s not an obvious maintenance item to the EV owner, who may not even be aware of its existence.

Failing to replace it at the right interval (both Nissan and Tesla recommend a swap every two years or 24,000km) may lead to a musty smell in the interior, with the customer none the wiser as to why. If it’s the first time the vehicle has been into your shop, check the history and replace as required.

“But in the EV scenario, the owner hasn’t had those [major] problems up to that point and may be more likely to want to maintain a smooth, comfortable ride by refreshing the suspension.”​

Pay attention to the 12V​

When it comes to battery power, both EV owners and auto technicians tend to focus their attention on the long-term health of the car’s high-voltage drive battery. But in the short term, at least, it’s the humble 12V battery that’s far more likely to cause problems.

Checking the health of the 12V battery in a regular, ICE-powered vehicle is a typical item on just about every maintenance shop’s seasonal checklist. But the 12V can fall through the cracks during EV inspections.

In an EV, the 12V is essential to the control system of the high-voltage battery. If it fails to take or hold sufficient charge, the result can be unusual error messages and erratic operation of the vehicle that could potentially leave the owner stranded at the roadside.

EV drivers won’t be coming in for regular oil changes. That places the obligation on the shop to make sure the battery is checked annually. Consider making it part of a dedicated inspection sheet for EVs — and remind your EV customers to keep their 12Vs topped up, either through regular driving or by using a battery tender.

Like with most other vehicles, the 12V battery in an EV should be replaced every three years or so.

As EV ownership becomes increasingly prevalent, it’s more crucial than ever to be able to adapt to the changing needs of Canadian drivers. Luckily, the EV maintenance process starts with many of the same tasks that apply to gas or diesel-powered vehicles. And getting those basics right will undoubtedly help to build EV customer loyalty — while also helping to make a difference in the fight against climate change.
 
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