Electric Vehicle Buyer’s Guide: Will Maintenance Cost Less Than A Gasoline-Powered Green Car?

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Buying an EV should mean a lower cost of maintenance. True or false?

Luxury EVs

Luxury EVs like the Tesla Model S and Model X are perhaps the most expensive modern vehicles one can maintain. Don’t take our word for it. Here is the Tesla maintenance program offerings directly from its website:

Further, “Tesla recommends an Annual Service Inspection every year or 12,500 miles to maintain your vehicle to top performance standards.” The company also says this is the most economical way to maintain your vehicle and it includes such things as tire service, software updates, windshield wipers, keyfob batteries and the like. In the northern area of New England, Tesla presently has two service centers to cover the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. So budget your time and maybe factor in a hotel room.

 – EV Buyer’s Guide – Gas Savings vs. Other Green Car Options

Contrast Tesla’s service fees with those from Jaguar and BMW.  Jaguar includes service on its (gasoline) vehicles for the first five years of ownership. BMW does for four years. Had you heard that Tesla offered a flat $100 service fee for home visits? It did, but that went out the window. Along with free unlimited Supercharger use and Tesla’s resale value guarantee.

Which leads us to the least expensive luxury EV to maintain, the BMW i3. By including all required maintenance (except tire replacement) for four years, BMW pretty much blows the rest of the EV field out of the water in terms of cost management. Trade, or return a leased BMW at year four and you have a fixed cost of ownership. The same is true of any BMW gasoline or diesel-powered car. After the four years is up, which will be less expensive to maintain? Presumably, the i3 would be. One difficulty is that there aren’t many four-year old BMW i3s yet. Time will tell.

Affordable EVs

The spoiler for affordable EVs like the Leaf has been the Toyota Prius. Offering similar performance, and in many markets, a lower cost per mile for energy, the Prius drives EV fans nuts. The Prius eliminated three of the main maintenance items older gasoline-powered cars required. It has no power steering fluid to change, there is no timing belt to service, and there is no “tune up” required.

Making the cost comparison more difficult is that Toyota includes maintenance for two years. That puts the Prius ahead of the affordable EVs in general, particularly for those that lease or plan to trade after four or five years. Oil changes are once per year (10K miles) for the Prius too, so the owner’s four-year cost of oil is about $160, rounding up. Early in the Nissan Leaf’s run, Consumer Reports asked the local Nissan dealer they visited to perform the 1-year/15K service required in the Leaf’s Service and Maintenance Guide. The $291.91 fee caused quite a stir. To its credit, Nissan includes the inspections required (not the brake fluid and cabin air filter changes) for the first two years. These include gear oil, steering linkages, ball joints, and similar.

The very high costs Tesla charges for maintenance and the surprisingly high costs of the Leaf Consumer Reports discovered offer a lesson for EV shoppers: Don’t assume automakers will actually charge you less to maintain an EV, regardless of what the theoretical cost should be. Ask the dealer you buy your EV from what they charge to maintain the vehicle before you commit. If they offer you the line that “Skipping the maintenance will not void your warranty” that may sound attractive. Setting aside why it is necessary if that is the case, remember that when you go to trade your EV at some future point yours will be the one for sale with “No maintenance records available.”

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