Old EVs are cheap, and slightly used examples are getting more affordable. But after we saw a battery replacement horror story for a Chevrolet Volt owner last week, we looked into the cost of replacing six different contemporary EV batteries. The news isn’t pretty.
The long-term costs of owning EVs are often misunderstood. Even if they’re powered by batteries, electric cars still need brakes, tires, and suspension. And because of the complex chemistry of lithium-ion batteries, these cars have a specific shelf life and degradation compared to internal combustion. Trouble is, engines get cheaper on a long enough timeline and generally can sit around indefinitely. Batteries are in constant decline.
A caveat of this list is the omission of Tesla. The reason is simply because there is no information on true parts cost from Tesla, with only used packs on eBay as a marker. We also looked into labor costs for replacing the batteries, on top of the astronomical battery costs. These change from state to state, but the quotes range from $1200 to $3000 depending on the car. The majority of the cost is parts. Let’s start with the humble (and good) Chevy Bolt.
The Bolt is one of the most affordable and usable EVs anyone can buy. For around $20,000, a used pre-facelift bolt with over 200 miles of range makes for a great medium-distance car and has enough range to cover most daily commutes in the United States. It also happens to drive well, much better than most commuter cars.
The first Bolts were delivered in 2016, so they’re six years old at their oldest. Batteries have a generally agreed-upon lifespan of 10 years, depending on usage and charging habits, meaning that older Bolts are getting close to needing new battery packs.
Chevrolet decided to split the Bolt battery pack into 10 individual battery stacks in a common housing, meaning bad packs can be swapped for less money than an entire pack. However, this won’t be a great solution for worn out batteries. If one pack goes bad, the rest aren’t far behind it. Each pack costs $990.81, making a total parts cost for a totally fresh battery $9,908 before tax and labor.
Hyundai Ioniq Electric
Hot on the heels of the Bolt in terms of age and price, the original Hyundai Ioniq EV is a more compromised choice. With half the range of the Bolt, this is a city EV. It also is no great bargain at the same $20,000 of the Bolt. Still, it’s an older used option for anyone seeking an EV.
The first model of Ioniq Electric was delivered in 2017, so they are five years old at their oldest. These batteries are at least at their half lives, and with their relatively small capacity, range will drop substantially.
Hyundai deployed a single integrated pack strategy for the Ioniq EV, meaning the whole pack has to be replaced if there is a fault. The cost is $17,845, almost as much as the car itself.
The BMW i3 is actually the second-oldest on the list, as production started in 2013 when BMW was getting its groundbreaking i Series off the ground. The range and price is similar to the Ioniq EV but is more luxury- and tech-focused than the Hyundai. Its construction with a carbon fiber tub makes it unique for any car, not just an EV, and it has one of the nicest cabins a consumer can find.
With these cars being almost 10 years old, batteries on older models might be very degraded. BMW split the pack into eight battery modules, each retailing for $3,054 for a total of $24,432 in battery cost. This far outstrips the value of the car if a new battery pack is used to fix an old i3.
The Nissan Leaf, one of the oldest mass-market EVs, started production in 2010 for the 2011 model year. There were other older EVs that were more niche, but the Leaf even beat Tesla to market. Though it might not have the cultural impact of the Tesla Model S, it’s the cheapest EV on the list, available for less than $10,000 for early examples. Unfortunately, it suffers from severe battery degradation in its age.
Finding a new Leaf battery is difficult, but the part number 295B0-3NF0B comes back to a list price of $10,000. According to Antelope Valley Nissan, the labor cost is $1,320 and the battery cost is often below list price.
The e-Golf occupies a similar space to the Ioniq EV and Bolt as a compact city car, though it is down on range compared to the Bolt. It’s also reasonably old, introduced in 2015 and facelifted in 2018 with more range. The earliest e-Golfs go for $15,000 to $20,000, which feels steep for the EPA-estimated 83 miles of range.
This car has the most expensive battery on our list at $27,000 as listed by VW. Though, that price might be dubious, as the much newer and ground-up Volkswagen ID.4’s battery is listed at the exact same $27,000. It’s possible that dealers get discounts on the price or that Volkswagen has no availability, thereby setting a placeholder price. Either way, it isn’t cheap to replace a battery in either EV Volkswagen.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
For the last entry, a newer EV is an interesting study in the future cost of owning a car with a large battery capacity. The Mustang Mach-E is an interesting mass-market car with very usable range, great interior space, and some performance.
Ford lists the most expensive Mach-E battery at $25,319 and the cheapest, low-range battery at $17,588. The labor cost to replace the complete pack is $1,200, and it can only be replaced as one piece.
The Mach-E has only just hit the market, so it will be a long time before any Mach-Es need battery replacements due to degradation. Thus far, it doesn’t look cheap.
Though these numbers look bleak, the chance of batteries continually getting cheaper as new technologies emerge is fairly high. The real risk is old batteries becoming obsolete, going out of production, and leaving cars without replacement parts. This happened with the early nickel-metal hydride EVs and could happen to lithium-ion EVs as solid-state batteries approach viability.
But, there should be a healthy supply of used batteries for years to come. Also, the EV aftermarket hasn’t quite happened yet but as demand for EVs grows, reconditioned or aftermarket battery packs could be available in a few short years.
There is no getting around the high cost of batteries. At least for now. 10 years from now, there will be a reckoning on EV longevity. It will be interesting to see where used EVs land compared to ICE cars.