Think You'll Work On Your Electric Car Yourself? Think Twice, Please

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We find out what happens when our 2011 Nissan Leaf undergoes an essential software update.

We find out what happens when our 2011 Nissan Leaf undergoes an essential software update.

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Electric cars, as you might have gathered, are quite different from their gasoline or diesel-fueled counterparts.

Sure, they might look similar on the outside--for the most part--but under the skin that alternative source of propulsion brings with it a host of new challenges.

That continues to apply with servicing. If you're the type who has always done their own vehicle servicing, an electric car might be the vehicle to make you go back to professional dealership maintenance.

Danger! High Voltage

On a regular car, many jobs require you to isolate the battery before undergoing maintenance, particularly anything associated with the electrical system.

It's not so easy with an electric car. While essentially a simple vehicle, the network of high voltage cables running between battery packs, chargers, electric motors and inverters aren't to be messed with by the inexperienced.

Luckily, they're denoted by bright orange cable covers, seen under the hood of most electric cars and many hybrids. That should at least provide a visual warning to the components you probably shouldn't try and work on.

Less to maintain

There is another side to it of course--electric cars simply don't require as much maintenance as their combustion cousins.

A recent study suggests that servicing an electric car over 8 years will cost only two-thirds that of a regular vehicle. Brakes see less wear, there are few fluids to replace, and filter changes are redundant.

Basic servicing is still within the grasp of the home mechanic. Tire rotation, topping up washer fluid and replacing wiper blades are likely to be the most frequent tasks, and none requires any special technique compared to a combustion vehicle.

Servicing at the dealer

Most electric car servicing should really be carried out at your dealer. Technicians will already have received suitable training to deal with your new electric car, and they'll have the right tools for any unique components.

Nissan has already said its dealers will be prepared for large jobs like battery removal and inspection, which would be near-impossible for the home mechanic and probably beyond most independant shops, too.

Software updates are also the preserve of dealers. Nissan Leaf owners have benefitted from several updates in the last few years, and Tesla recently announced an update to improve the functionality of the car. The latter can actually be downloaded wirelessly--which is about the extent of owner involvement when it comes to maintenance in such a car.


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Comments (11)
  1. My Nissan dealer is unable to do the an annual and required battery check. First his machine was not printing and now he wants to keep the car for 24 hours to "give it a good charge." Who cares the timer is stuck at 80% - the fools don't even know how to override it :-) Awesome job training those dummies, Nissan...

  2. I changed my EV battery without help from anybody twice today ;-) no big deal.

  3. I dont agree, replacing fluids, filters or brake components are not more complicated on an electric car. I can upgrade the firmware of my computer, firewall or GPS, why not on my car?
    Look like the dealers are affraid of loosing their monopoly.

  4. I think you've misread, Serge.

    I didn't say any of those things are "more complicated", I said that in many cases, you don't even need to do them - there's no oil to top up or change in an EV, no radiator coolant, no air or oil filters to change, and brakes last much longer.

  5. My Renault Fluence ZE has a full radiator and cooling system from the petrol version. It has the radiator coolant tanks yet nothing ever gets even remotely hot enough. I think it spins up the fan from time to time just to stop spiders living there. The bonnet of the car is cool to the touch after more than 1 hour driving at motorway speeds in the summer in Israel.

    There are air filters for the ventilation system I believe.

  6. Ford dealers in NY and California certified to sell the Focus Electric (FFE) EVs (a process that also allows them to sell the PHEVs like the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi lines, I'm told) are still a bit rough. I had to take PRINTOUTS of e-mail threads with Ford engineers in Detroit about "repairs" that need to be made to my FFE. (Make me wonder how FFE-specific software upgrades will be handled!)
    We've still got a long way to go when it come to car-makers doing "the right thing" when it come to servicing EVs and relations with EV owners. But we're getting there! :-)

  7. Having successfully converted my own electric car from scratch, I have some experience that might bear on this question. This has all been done before by people better at it than I am. Solving the problems associated with wiring an electric car and it's 12V auxiliary circuits requires time and expense that would be best left to factory and dealer technicians.

  8. Hi,
    There are definitely many that have converted their own electric cars and have been driving them for a while. Electric Auto Association has been promoting electric cars since 1967. I finished converting my electric MR2 ( two years ago and have been maintaining it myself during this time. There are definitely high voltages that you need to worry about, but definitely think it through and be safe!

  9. I am not sure the scary title is appropriate (though the main text is less scary which is nice).

    I have been doing basic maintenance on my Prius for years now which has all the same high voltage issues as a BEV.

    I think an important thing to know is, if the car is turned off, the high voltage is turned off. So none of those orange wires are live anyway. They are mechanically disconnected with a relay switch.

  10. "Technicians will already have received suitable training to deal with your new electric car, and they'll have the right tools for any unique components."

    That is a "HIGHLY" unlikely event for the thousands of "independent" dealer network across the country.

    I think Tesla should have used this reason alone to "poke" holes at the dealer monoply.

    In my experience, the local Chevy Dealer service technician (certified Chevy Volt dealer) didn't even know the proper tire pressue of the Volt.

  11. I also highly doubt that most people can afford the diagnostic equipment required for those repairs.

    A simple multimeter aren't enough for most of the major repairs associated with the electric driventrain, especially the controller.

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