When electric vehicles became available in a variety of choices about three years ago one of the positive aspects of ownership promised was that they would be maintenance-free. This was, of course, an exaggeration, but it had some elements of truth. Historically, maintaining a car was mainly focused on the internal combustion engine (ICE). This meant that the owner’s cost to maintain the car was closely linked to the engine. Since the EV has no engine of this sort, maintenance would be much less expensive. Let’s look closely at the two top-selling EVs to see is this is true.
Tesla Maintenance Costs
We are big fans of the Tesla Model S here, and we like Elon Musk. Both are a breath of fresh air, dynamic, modern, and forward-leaning. The Tesla Model S retails for between $75,000 and about $120,000. All vehicles sold in this price range come with some level of included maintenance, the Tesla does not. The first Tesla service is at one year and the cost, according to both the Tesla Website and also owners who have posted their invoice information on Tesla clubs we belong to, is $600. This makes Tesla the most expensive car in its price range to maintain. Drive a Lexus, Cadillac, BMW, Volvo, you name the brand, and this costs you nothing.
Tesla offers double-speak about its maintenance. Elon Musk likes to point out how useless dealers are saying “…auto dealers is that they make most of their profit from service, but electric cars require much less service than gasoline cars. There are no oil, spark plug or fuel filter changes, no tune-ups and no smog checks needed for an electric car.” Let’s look closely at this. There are no fuel filter changes on any modern car this author is aware of. That went away long ago. What the heck is a “Tune-up.” Again, long-gone with modern ignition systems. Plugs? Plugs in even the cheapest cars now last over 100,000 miles, and in some cars even longer. Smog check? There are no smog checks required by automakers. In fact, the emissions components on a modern car are warrantied for eight years or 80,000 miles by federal law. If Mr. Musk is referring to the annual inspection sticker most states require, he should know those are more about safety and revenue generation than emissions.
Mr. Musk is also guilty of double-speak when it comes to charging for maintenance. His website and stores offer service plans but point out that the vehicle warranty is not affected by maintenance. Then why charge for it? A four year, 50,000 mile service plan for a Model S costs $1,900. All internal combustion BMW automobiles have this exact amount of miles and years of service at no charge.
The Leaf is the people’s EV. Affordable, economical, mainstream, and the best-selling fully electric vehicle in America. However, the maintenance cost is higher than its rival green car, the Toyota Prius. We visited the Leaf page on Nissan’s website, and there is no mention of included maintenance. It does say “Say goodbye to pricey oil changes and tune-ups. With fewer moving parts than any car you’ve ever owned, the Nissan LEAF® is ultra-low maintenance.” There is also a note that says “Got the 15k mile checkup on my Nissan LEAF—it was just $20 for tire rotation, car wash, battery testing.” What Nissan does not tell you is there is more to it than that, and it will cost you. We looked at the Nissan Leaf’s two-year service schedule and we noted that the brake fluid will have been changed twice, 33 inspections would have been performed, the cabin air filter replaced twice, and the tires rotated 4 times. The Prius, like all Toyota/Lexus/Scion vehicles comes with two years, or 24,000 miles of scheduled service free. That includes everything, and there is no charge.
Consumer Reports asked a Nissan dealer what the charge for just the brake fluid change was, and their quote was $291.95. So for the first two years the Leaf costs at least $ 600.00. Cars.com says the Leaf’s 5-year maintenance costs are $3,405, and the Prius’ cost of ownership is $3,399. Where is the electric vehicle savings?
Don’t believe the marketing hype or owners that write into blog sites saying they just ignore all the required maintenance. Internal combustion engine maintenance costs have dropped dramatically over the past decade. Tire rotation, inspections of drive components, brake fluid changes, HVAC filter changes, and tire replacements even up the EV to ICE car cost ownership costs over the long run. The two market leaders in electric vehicles do not offer maintenance costs saving in the real world.
In addition to covering green vehicle topics, John Goreham covers safety, technology, and new vehicle news at Torque News. You can follow John on Twitter at @johngoreham.