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Part of the appeal of an electric car is not having to worry about maintenance. They don't require oil changes or visits to the gas pump, and fewer moving parts means less can break. But we've all seen how our smartphones' batteries degrade in just a few months. So should we expect the same from our EVs?
Most drivers are used to gauging a car's condition by mileage, though the odometer doesn't give you the complete picture. How a car has been driven and maintained, for example, is far more important than total mileage. The same is true of EVs, and there's a way to predict when their batteries may need replacement.
Batteries lose capacity over time due to internal degradation that happens during regular use, through charge and discharge cycles. Unfortunately, this can be accelerated by using your EV's full charge or running the battery up to high temperatures. That can happen during hard driving, using DC fast-chargers, or running them in hot environments in the case of air-cooled EVs like the Nissan Leaf.
Degraded batteries have less energy capacity, meaning they lose range and performance.
Guessing when it'll be time for replacement can be done based on the car's original range and the specific type of battery it uses. Earlier EVs had more variety in battery chemistry, but the most common type today is lithium-ion—just like the battery in your phone.
While lithium-ion batteries tend to last only 300 to 500 full charge-discharge cycles in consumer electronics according to Battery University, their service lives in EVs tend to be much longer. How much longer is disputed by various sources, but estimates range from 1,000 cycles on the lower end according to Chargemap to 2,000 in ideal conditions per Midtronics.
That means you can guess how many miles a battery will last by multiplying the advertised range of an EV by those numbers. For an EV with 300 miles of range, that'd mean the battery could last from 300,000 to 600,000 miles depending on how it's used, though high-mileage EV owners have reported replacing theirs sooner. There are anecdotes of Tesla Model S drivers needing new batteries from 180,000 to 250,000 miles, though this may be explainable by lots of fast charging and deep cycling. These drivers are far from your typical EV owner and have kept their cars long past the point where many consider replacing their vehicles.
Up-and-coming battery technologies such as LFP and solid-state may improve on EV batteries' already lengthy lifespans, but today's tech will do you just fine too. One day, the next generation of batteries may even be possible to retrofit to the EVs of today, breathing new life into what will be remembered as the first classic EVs.