Electric Car Battery Life Explained

charging of an electric car
Electric Car Battery Life Explainedboonchai wedmakawand - Getty Images

Electric cars offer several benefits over tried-and-true gas vehicles, from quiet and emissions-free operation to instant torque on demand. That said, EVs aren't perfect, and there are challenges to be aware of before you head out and buy your first model.

Electric vehicles use large batteries to store electricity needed to power the motor(s). When those batteries' power is depleted, EV owners must stop to recharge before hitting the road again. Over time, all that charging and use can wear down a battery's ability to maintain capacity and capability. Different batteries wear at different rates, and driving habits have a big impact on longevity as well. Let's take a closer look at battery degradation and its causes.

Photo credit: Prapass Pulsub - Getty Images
Photo credit: Prapass Pulsub - Getty Images

Battery Degradation

Electric car batteries are just like the battery pack in cell phones or notebook computers in that they start to degrade over time and with use. Repeat discharge and charge, as well as thermal wear, can eventually reduce energy capacity and efficiency to a point that the battery is no longer able to provide decent range and charging performance. Most new EV models have special car battery technology and programming to prevent the battery from being completely discharged, which can help extend battery life and help the batteries maintain charging performance.

Depending on the car, operating in extreme temperatures can mimic true battery degradation. Hot and cold temperatures have similar effects on EV battery capacities by reducing range and slowing charging speeds. Beyond the obvious impact that temperatures have on the batteries themselves, the use of climate control systems and other electrical components can rapidly deplete battery power.

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

Preserve Your Electric Car Battery Pack

What can you do to keep your EV battery chugging along as expected? Several things, as it turns out:

  • Park away from extreme weather and temperatures, if possible. Some EVs operate temperature control systems even when parked, and we know that extreme temps can reduce battery performance. If you have the chance, park your EV somewhere out of the elements.

  • Try not to leave the car plugged in to fully charge every time. Batteries are happiest in their "middle charge" state, and repeatedly operating at the top or bottom end of the charging spectrum can cause damage. This is especially true at the bottom end, where completely emptying the battery can cause problems with other vehicle systems.

  • Watch your charging and discharge speeds. Using the fastest charger your car can handle isn't always the best idea, despite the convenience. Ramming as much power into your battery as fast as possible causes wear and tear, and can lead to premature failure. The same goes for discharge speeds. Repeatedly using launch controls or similar features drains the battery quickly and will eventually degrade performance and battery capacity.

Photo credit: GMC - Hearst Owned
Photo credit: GMC - Hearst Owned

How Long Do EV Car Batteries Last?

Every electric car sold in the United States leaves the dealer's lot with a battery warranty that extends to at least eight years or 100,000 miles. Some go above and beyond those numbers, but you can rest easy for at least eight years if you purchase a new EV. That's not to say that your battery will last that long, however, so it's not a guarantee that you'll have eight years of trouble-free operation. Some manufacturers' warranties carry stipulations on battery condition or operation before coverage is provided, so it's important to understand your car's warranty.

None of that tells us battery lifespan, however. In most cases, battery degradation happens slowly, with as little as a few percentage points of capacity every several years. Cars that operate primarily in extremely hot or cold conditions may see that decline happen much more quickly, but few people live at the far ends of the temperature spectrum without at least short periods of intermediate temperatures for relief. In most cases, electric car battery life expectancy should hit at least 100,000 miles before showing noticeable signs of degradation, and should carry on to 200,000 or more if properly maintained. The bottom line is that lithium-ion batteries are becoming more advanced and durable as time goes on, so battery longevity should not be a concern for the average EV user.

What are the pros of owning an electric vehicle?

REDUCED MAINTENANCE

It's true that gas vehicles are usually less expensive and easier to refuel, but there are several benefits to owning an EV that have nothing to do with costs. One of the biggest pros of owning an electric car is the reduced need for regular maintenance. There are no oil changes, no mechanical components to break underhood, no exhaust system, and the life of other components such as brakes can be extended. Many people report that driving an electric car is more relaxing than a gas vehicle, because of the lack of engine noise.

MORE PERFORMANCE

Many electric models offer significant performance benefits over gas vehicles as well. This applies not only to intended high-performance cars from Porsche, Tesla, and others, but even to everyday commuter vehicles. The immediate torque and acceleration can make electric cars exhilarating to drive, and make them quicker than most people expect, depending on driving habits. Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) offer some of these benefits over a traditional gasoline vehicle, but they also must rely on fuel to provide power when the electricity runs out.

TAX INCENTIVES

There may also be tax credits available, depending on the electric car you opt for. The United States government offers a one-time tax credit of up to $7,500 to buyers of eligible electric cars—and various states offer tax credits on select models, too—which lowers the effective cost of the purchase.

All of that, and we haven't even mentioned the complete reduction of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions in everyday driving and the fact that gas prices fluctuate wildly. Fuel costs are a big motivator for many buyers.

What are the cons of electric cars?

ACCESS TO CHARGING

There are a few downsides (battery basics) to owning an electric car that might not be immediately apparent when you are standing on the dealer's lot trying to make a car purchase. Depending on your location, you may or may not have ready access to charging stations. This is especially true for people who live in apartment buildings or those who rent, as it can be impossible to install a home charging system.

TIME TO CHARGE

You may also find that electric cars take too long to charge, even if there is a charging station nearby. Unlike filling up a gas tank, which can take a few minutes, most electric vehicles take much longer to recover a sizable portion of their range. This can make road trips impractical for many, as the requirement to stop and charge for half an hour or more can turn a simple trip into a long, painful one.

COST TO BUY

Last, there is the issue of purchase cost. Electric cars, no matter the type, size, or technology, are usually more expensive than comparable gas vehicles.