Electric Car Maintenance: 5 Tips

2011 Nissan Leaf

Here's the amazing thing about electric cars: They really don't need much maintenance at all.

In fact, electric-car owners tend to say that "all you ever need to replace is tires and wiper blades."

Because battery-electric cars have no engines, transmissions, exhaust systems, catalytic converters, or fuel tanks, there are many, many fewer parts to go wrong or require periodic servicing.

Sure, they still have steering racks, and suspensions, but those items tend to have very long maintenance intervals these days--on the order of five years or 50,000 miles in many vehicles.

The part of an electric car that's most similar to its gasoline predecessor will be the cooling system for the battery pack, electric motor, and power electronics. These are very similar to those for conventional cars, with a radiator that dissipates heat from a liquid coolant and pumps to circulate it through whatever's being cooled.

Electric cars use what's called "thermal conditioning" to keep their lithium-ion battery packs in the ideal operating range. That means that if it's hot out, they need to extract heat. but if it's cold, the car will draw on wall current while it's plugged in to keep the battery pack at a minimum temperature.

The easiest way to think of it is that electric-car batteries--just like humans--tend to like temperatures around 70 degrees F.

So while most electric cars require a once-a-year service visit during the warranty period, it's a pretty simple inspection. The technician will check the tires and wiper blades, make sure the coolant is topped up and there are no leaks in the cooling system, and perhaps check wheels and headlights for alignment. Aside from that, there's not much to do.

So here are the five tips for maintenance if you own an electric car:

1. Make sure your tires are properly aligned, and have enough tread.

2. Check your wiper blades and replace them as necessary.

3. If you ever see coolant or other liquid dripping from the car, have it inspected immediately.

4. In the rare event that the car gives you a warning message about battery condition, power delivery, or any other condition, have it taken to your dealer.

5. Drive silently and smoothly on battery power, and enjoy!

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