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Lorraine Explains: The costly realities of EV repair

We haven't figured this out, and it's going to cost a lot to catch up

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Do you consider what repairs might cost when buying a new vehicle? Your insurer does, and it and charges your premium accordingly. You might ask what standard wear-and-tear items like tires or a brake job might run you — large commitments require understanding the cost of maintaining those commitments — but how are we going to contend with the unknown costs of electric-vehicle repair?

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If you follow auto news, you doubtless grabbed a eyeful of the recent Rivian R1T fender-bender headline: an insurance-adjustor’s estimated $1,600 repair turned into a US$42,000 nightmare when it was determined that huge parts of the truck had to be disassembled to correct the seemingly slight damage that had occurred. See the photos and judge for yourself. 

There’s a bit of building-it-as-we-fly-it happening in the land of electric vehicles. While roads have been speckled with them for the past decade, those numbers are growing rapidly as ever more buyers go electric. We’re seeing the first end-of-life for those original batteries, but also a growing trend where owners, insurers, and repair shops are seeing vehicle issues for the first time. New tech has always presented new challenges, but this might be a sea change that snuck up slowly, then all at once.

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Most EV batteries come with a warranty of eight years or 160,000 km. The two major concerns at this time are making sure owners can reasonably replace those batteries, and that old batteries are recycled properly. Stories over the past couple of years have sent some shudders down the spines of current owners, such as horror stories of surprise $25,000 battery replacements outside of warranty. These make the news, but most batteries survive past their warranty timeframe, and the aftermarket sector is rapidly gaining speed. Just like you can buy a new battery for your combustion-powered car from the dealer for $600 or from Canadian Tire for $325, there will eventually be options for electric owners.

What’s more concerning is the repair or maintenance of those batteries. The early goings look a little grim, as reported in March. “For many electric vehicles, there is no way to repair or assess even slightly damaged battery packs after accidents, forcing insurance companies to write off cars with few miles…” In an era of endless litigation, insurers are avoiding lawsuits by ditching cars entirely instead of risking a repair on technology too new to guarantee its success. “Battery packs can cost tens of thousands of dollars and represent up to 50 per cent of an EV’s price tag, often making it uneconomical to replace them.” This is the opposite of good for the environment, and an example of the not-ready-for-primetime creativity we’ve been seeing from auto manufacturers since they decided we wanted touchscreens instead of knobs. We want knobs.

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Most people take care of the new vehicles they buy; it’s not uncommon to purchase paint protection, and it’s even more common to freak over the first scratch. For EV owners, it’s about protecting their batteries. Tesla owners in the U.S. are suing that company, stating that over-the-air updates compromised their battery ranges by up to 20 per cent, and in some cases resulted in the need for an entire new US$15,000 battery. Or, in an industry first that might bring an end-run around those kinds of problems, VinFast leases the batteries in its vehicles.

We have to get around the mindset that a car becomes disposable if the battery is shot, which means that manufacturers have to protect their customers, customers need to learn good battery care, and the aftermarket sector needs time to develop best practices for maintenance and repair. 

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George Iny, the president of the APA, tackled this issue in a recent Money Sense column. A Quebec owner of a 2013 Tesla Model S with 213,000 km found corrosion issues that had damaged the battery casing. They were quoted $25,500 plus tax by Tesla for the replacement; their warranty had expired. Iny called this an emerging issue, complicated in this case by the salt on our roads and the “location of the air conditioner drain [which] allows condensation to drip onto the battery case.” The resulting underbody corrosion sent Iny on a deeper dive of information that Model S and Model X owners will want to peruse

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla Cybertruck Photo by

The APA points out that few aftermarket entities are equipped to deal with issues like these, and they’re mounting. “The Automobile Protection Association (APA) has received complaints on the Nissan Leaf as recently as the 2018 model year, and the Ford Focus EV, among others. And Toyota is currently the subject of a class-action lawsuit over corrosion of the wiring connection to the rear motor on several of its hybrid models.” 

Insurers will be quick to pass the rapidly rising costs on to consumers. Cost- and environmentally conscious owners will be demanding better answers than “throw the thing away”, and aftermarket services will need high numbers of properly trained technicians right as the industry will see many retiring in the face of monumental change. 

In the meantime, we’re feeling our way through the dark. That $42,000 repair for the Rivian? The Drive notes that a similar bump resulted in a repair of just(!) $14,000 on another Rivian. That’s a pretty big gap — and proof the learning curve will be steep. 

Lorraine Sommerfeld picture

Lorraine Sommerfeld

Sommerfeld has been polishing her skills as an advocate for over 16 years, helping decipher a complicated industry for consumers who just need good information. A two-time AJAC Journalist of the Year, ask her anything - except to do a car review.


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