You’re shopping for an electric car, but you’ve never owned one before. Maybe you’re familiar with gas cars and bought one new at some point, hoping to reap the benefits of a fresh manufacturer warranty.
TV commercials advertise what seem to be ever-increasing warranty coverage on gas vehicles, neglecting to disclose that a warranty booklet can be upwards of 100 pages of legalese.
Basic warranty coverage. Corrosion coverage. Powertrain coverage. Emission performance coverage. Seat belt coverage. The list goes on. The above are only a few items in an average warranty booklet.
Distilled into its basic purpose, a warranty protects you from paying for failures on your vehicle within a certain timeframe or mileage.
It’s safe to assume we care most about the transmission and the engine when considering the warranty on an internal combustion car. According to AutoGuide.com, the average powertrain warranty is 5 years or 60,000 miles. Some manufacturers tout better warranty coverage, like Hyundai with its 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty for powertrains.
When a warranty expires, we know we’ll be on the hook for the cost of major repairs. Does that mean that cars suddenly fall apart at 100,000 miles? Far from it. However, manufacturers want to set a reasonable limit to protect themselves from liability for claims on older vehicles down the line.
So, how does this all change for electric vehicles? What can a shopper expect from an EV warranty? What is the relationship between an EV warranty and an EV’s longevity?
The differences in EV warranties
When looking at an EV warranty, the biggest difference is the high voltage battery coverage. Nearly everything else parallels traditional vehicle warranties. The most expensive part of an electric vehicle, by far, is its battery. The capacity of that battery, new or used, is a driving factor (pardon the pun) in the value of a given car. The motor(s) can factor into value, but not nearly as much as its counterpart in an internal combustion vehicle. The reason is twofold: electric motors are cheaper and far less likely to fail than gas engines.
What can you expect from an EV warranty?
In order to incentivize purchase and increase confidence in EVs, federal regulations set a minimum EV high voltage battery warranty: eight years or 100,000 miles. In California, state regulators have set this minimum to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Manufacturers are free to expand on these minimums.
What does this warranty actually cover? This is where manufacturer warranty policy begins to differ from federal minimums. Some manufacturers warrant only against total failure, but those warranties are becoming increasingly uncommon. Thus, most manufacturers warrant against both total failure and against degradation past a certain point during the warranty period.
Many manufacturers warrant a battery against dipping below 70% of its original capacity. Others will only replace a battery after it dips below 65% of its original capacity, and some exceed the average at 75%. The higher the percentage, the less degradation required for the battery to qualify for warranty replacement.
Will my battery die after the warranty expires?
A prevailing sentiment among skeptics is that EV batteries die outright after 100,000 miles or some other arbitrary number just beyond the warranty period. This is not true for the vast majority of EV batteries, just as gasoline engines don’t blow up the moment the warranty expires. Simply put, catastrophic battery pack failure is uncommon; the most reliable indicator of a failing battery, while still quite uncommon, is significantly diminished capacity. Modern batteries can be expected to retain around 90% of original capacity after the first 150,000+ miles. In a car originally rated for 250 miles, that means you can still drive 225 miles on a charge after 150,000 miles on the odometer.
The chart below shows data directly from Recurrent's research fleet. It is a plot of predicted range for our Model S vehicles as a function of odometer. You can see that most high mileage Model S's in our fleet still get above 200 miles, if not more.
I was taking a ride share to the airport a few months ago in a 2016 Tesla Model S. The driver had amassed 280,000 miles on the original Tesla battery in just five years. The car was originally rated for 240 miles of range and the driver told me he was still getting 220 miles out of a full charge. This being an extreme example, mileage-wise, perfectly illustrates the capabilities of modern EV batteries.
Thanks to our fleet drivers, we at Recurrent are more likely than almost anyone to hear about battery replacements across a wide variety of EV manufacturers. By and large, battery replacements have stemmed from manufacturer recalls from Hyundai and Chevrolet, where battery modules or entire packs are being replaced voluntarily by the manufacturers. Aside from those, I can think of only one other case where I have heard about a warranty battery replacement. An Audi e-tron driver noticed their car was only showing half its originally-stated capacity with only 10,000 miles on the odometer. After speaking with the driver, we advised them to visit the dealership, where their battery was replaced, you guessed it, under Audi’s warranty.