Long-term, they’re cheaper: Electric cars can cost 40% less to maintain over their lifetime

In addition to the cost you can save on fuel, electric cars also have fewer parts and are cheaper to service and manage, a new report highlights.

Electric cars have something new going for them: low repair costs.

Cost is one of the main arguments against electric cars. As relatively new technology and with still expensive batteries, the upfront cost of an electric car is typically higher than that of a regular car (without subsidies). But in the long run, electric cars may actually be cheaper.

The price of a car is just a small part of what a car actually costs. In the vast majority of cases, you end up spending way more than the initial purchase price on operating and servicing the vehicle. Andrew Burnham of Argonne National Laboratory recently co-authored a report about the total cost of vehicle ownership. According to the report (which is focused on the US), electric cars could be a surprisingly sweet deal.

“Over the lifetime of a vehicle, the maintenance and repair for a gasoline car might be $25,000 or so – so a very significant amount,” he says.

In order to conduct this comparison, Burnham and colleagues conducted an analysis looking at the total cost of ownership that considered the vehicle cost and depreciation, financing options, fuel costs, insurance, maintenance and repairs, taxes, fees, and a number of other cost parameters — they looked at pretty much everything that’s involved in buying and owning a car. They also selected several representative cars for comparison.

The researchers found that an important difference is that electric cars have fewer parts to service (they don’t need things like a timing belt, motor oil, oxygen sensors, etc). All in all, Burnham and colleagues estimate that maintenance for fully electric vehicles costs around 40% less than for conventional cars. In addition, taxes (e.g. pollution taxes) are already lower for electric cars in many places. In addition, electric car drivers can also save a lot of money on fuel.

“There is a potential for a large amount of maintenance and repair savings over the lifetime of an electric vehicle versus a gasoline one,” Burnham says.

So even though the upfront cost is higher, Burnham advises buyers to look beyond the price tag and think in the longer term, though this still all depends on multiple factors (such as how long you drive, local taxes, etc).

However, one thing that could play a role (and was not analyzed in the report) is the so-called “right to repair“. What happens in practice is that owners are not allowed to take their car to just any service, and are forced to go to the car manufacturer. As a result, the manufacturer can sometimes heavily overcharge for even simple repairs — because the owner has no alternative.

If a fair repair market is ensured, then it could be good news for the electric vehicle market — and consequently, for our planet’s climate as well.

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