Why Repairing Your EV Is So Expensive | Mint

Why Repairing Your EV Is So Expensive

An electric-vehicle repair course in England. When EVs get into a crash, repairs can be more complex. PHOTO: NICK CAREY/REUTERS
An electric-vehicle repair course in England. When EVs get into a crash, repairs can be more complex. PHOTO: NICK CAREY/REUTERS


Customers are finding there’s a downside to owning an electric vehicle: repair costs.

Electric-vehicle owners are finding a surprising downside to their new wheels: They tend to be expensive to repair after a crash.

When Scott MacFiggen’s neighbor backed into his Rivian R1T pickup truck last summer, the vehicle was left with a dent the size of a bowling ball under a rear taillamp.

MacFiggen was expecting a couple-thousand-dollar bill from the repair shop and to be without his truck for a couple of weeks. “I guess I was a little naive," said the 51-year-old San Francisco resident. The actual bill came to $22,000, and the vehicle took 2½ months to fix.

For EVs, repairs following a collision can cost thousands of dollars more than their gas-powered counterparts, because the fixes tend to require more replacement parts, the vehicles are more complicated and fewer people do such repairs. While those issues may ease over time, first-time electric owners may be startled by the higher costs and longer wait times.

Last year, repairing an EV after a crash cost an average $6,587 compared with $4,215 for all vehicles, according to CCC Intelligent Solutions, a company that processes insurance claims for auto repairs in the U.S.

The increased costs following collisions contrast with the maintenance savings that dealers and automakers promote when trying to get buyers to switch to electric cars and trucks. In addition to not needing gas, EVs tend to require less upkeep. Not needing to do regular chores like oil changes, engine tuneups or replacement of timing belts means that electric-vehicle owners spend half as much maintaining their vehicles as their gasoline-owning counterparts, according to Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer organization.

Still, when EVs need repair, it can be costly. Rental-car company Hertz Global Holdings, which operates a large electric fleet mostly composed of Tesla vehicles, said its third-quarter profit was pinched in part because of the cost of repairing electric models.

Higher repair costs are also helping to drive up insurance premiums for electric owners, who pay on average $357 a month for coverage compared with $248 for gas vehicle owners, according to insurance comparison website Insurify.

“People are used to hearing that EVs have fewer parts than a combustion vehicle, but that is not the case in collision repair," said Marc Fredman, chief strategy officer for CCC Intelligent Solutions.

Bringing down repair costs is another complication for automakers as they try to attract first-time buyers and reignite sales growth of electric models, which has slowed in recent months. Companies including Tesla and Ford Motor have slashed prices this year in hopes of attracting new customers.

Last year, on average, an EV repair required roughly double the replacement parts compared with a conventional vehicle, according to CCC Intelligent Solutions. The way many electric models’ parts are bolted or welded in the vehicles often means the components cannot be repaired and have to be replaced, Fredman said.

When these vehicles do get into a crash, repairs can be more complex for many reasons. The bodies can be more complicated to disassemble, and the repairs tend to require more steps and precautions, Fredman said.

Vehicles containing lithium-ion batteries also require special storage consideration because of the risk of fire when they are damaged, said Scott Benavidez, chairman of the trade group Automotive Service Association and owner of a collision repair business in New Mexico. Those precautions add both time and cost to the repair process, he added.

The vehicle bodies themselves can result in higher parts and labor costs because EVs tend to use more exotic materials than traditional steel, collision-repair specialists said. Some of these materials, like aluminum, require specialized tools and storage facilities, narrowing the number of shops that can perform the work, they said.

“Those shops will charge more because they’re taking on the risk of working on them and retrofitting their shop," Benavidez said.

Repairing an electric car tends to take longer, as well, in part because there are still a limited number of shops capable of doing this type of work. It takes 25% longer to get an EV into a body shop than a traditional vehicle, according to data from CCC Intelligent Solutions. Those repairs tend to take roughly 57 days compared with 45 days for non-EVs, the data showed.

In the case of MacFiggen’s Rivian truck, the cost of the repair reflected deeper, structural damage that wasn’t immediately visible, a Rivian spokesperson said. MacFiggen said his insurance covered the five-figure repair bill. The price of repairing body panels on any vehicle can vary widely, but it typically costs between $100 and $3,000, J.D. Power data found.

“Our top priority is building safe vehicles," the Rivian spokesperson said. “Repairing Rivian vehicles is in line with similar repair costs to other EV manufacturers."

There are signs that costs could come down as automakers build up a supply of spare parts and more independent repair shops become trained.

EV market leader Tesla has company-owned collision repair centers, as well as a network of privately owned body shops. Those additions helped half the cost of repairs on Teslas over the past decade as more shops became equipped to work on the vehicles, said Xander Walker, a former Tesla employee who worked on refurbishing leased vehicles and trade-ins.

Today, Tesla says the costs of operating a Model 3 sedan are similar to those of a Toyota Corolla over a five-year period, in part because of lower maintenance and repair costs.

Hertz Chief Executive Stephen Scherr also said he expects repair costs to come down as replacement parts become more readily available, and as Hertz purchases more vehicles from traditional carmakers with a broader network of suppliers.

Meanwhile, Scherr said the rental-car company is attempting to lower the price of spare parts and planning to perform more repair work in-house to bring down costs.

Ford Motor also expects that repair costs will eventually come down as technicians are trained and components become more readily available.

“With any technology, the more it scales, the more the cost comes down and customer wait times go down," said a Ford spokesperson.

Write to Sean McLain at sean.mclain@wsj.com

Catch all the Auto News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.


Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App