Zero Maintenance!

One of the bigger selling points of the electric car for me was the lack of maintenance on the vehicle. You might recall that we had two gasoline cars, a Chevy Cavalier and a Saturn SL2, before we got the Ford Focus Electric. These cars were both about 20 years old with the Cavalier having over 200,000 miles and the Saturn having over 100,000. As you would expect they had quite a bit wrong with them. The Saturn would kill a wheel bearing at least once a year and would leak a quart of oil over 500 miles of driving! It currently has a busted brake line and is undriveable. The exhausts kept falling off them and as typical with a gas car we had to occasionally change the oil. I would try my best to do all the maintenance that I could, but with leaking fuel lines, busted brake lines, leaking radiator hoses, and everything else wrong with the cars I became burned out.

What if there was a car that didn’t have any maintenance? Why didn’t those exist yet? Well, they do. Those are electric cars!

I like to use an analogy between a lawnmower and a ceiling fan. The ceiling fan is obviously an electric motor and a lawnmower is a gasoline motor. Obviously the lawnmower has quite a bit more wear and tear to undergo as it has a more stressful job, but I think the analogy is still applicable. The lawnmower needs fuel, spark plugs, and the occasional oil change. The ceiling fan needs electricity. The lawnmower is noisy and the fan is quiet. Ceiling fans can run non-stop for decades without anything going wrong because there simply isn’t a lot to go wrong in the first place. With an electric motor you have wires and magnets and that’s about it. Think about how long you’ve had your lawnmower though: I doubt most last more than a decade and this is with weekly use at most. Lawnmowers, by being a combustion engine have a lot more that can fail. They’re simply more complicated.

The same is true for cars. An internal combustion engine has hundreds if not thousands of moving parts that all have to work in sync for the engine to operate properly. They’re complicated. A gas engine takes fuel, mixes it with air, pumps this mixture into a combustion chamber where the mixture is compressed, ignited, and vented through the exhaust. Through this expansion a piston is moved which turns a crankshaft which powers the transmission which finally provides power to the wheels. The crankshaft also spins a bunch of pulleys via a drive belt to power the power steering, cooling systems, air conditioning, and alternator. The alternator recharges the battery which is used to start the engine as well as provide power to the spark plugs. A gasoline engine also needs a cooling system as the engine will overheat from all of the tiny explosions occurring in the cylinders. Gasoline engines are really complicated pieces of machinery and necessarily so; making exploding gasoline power an engine is complicated.

In an electric motor some electrons from a battery make a magnetic field which drives the wheels. That’s about it although I simplified it quite a bit. How much maintenance do you think is required to upkeep that? Yeah, hardly any! After years of repairing aging gas cars I simply became sick of doing it. By getting an electric car I would have little to no upkeep on the thing.

The electric car is wonderfully simple. Here’s a picture of the engine:

This doesn’t show it well, but there’s also a ton of spare room under the hood. There’s just less stuff to fit compared to a gasoline car.

While it looks complicated, it’s pretty simple. The orange wires are where the electric flows to and from the engine, and any hoses are cooling hoses. My car still has a cooling system to cool the engine and the battery, but other than that it is lacking any other systems. Power steering, the heater, and the air conditioner are all electrically driven: they could fail on their own but lack a single drive belt to power everything. The main battery naturally keeps the little 12 volt battery charged (which is mostly there so components can be reused from a gas car). Maintenance seems to be draining and flushing the cooling system after however many miles (gas cars usually require a change ever 50,000 or 100,000 miles which I’m nowhere near) and getting the tires rotated. That’s it. There’s no oil that needs to be changed multiple times a year and no transmission fluid that needs to be taken care of. I don’t have to do anything to keep the car running really.

And a word about brakes! In a gas car the brakes are all that exist to stop the car: anytime you stop you are using your brakes. In an electric car the engine can do most of the braking by using regeneration to slow you down. This puts electricity back into your battery and doesn’t waste the car’s kinetic energy by converting it to brake rotor heat. In short, an electric car’s brakes are almost never used! I can touch the brake rotors after driving and they won’t even be warm whereas a gas car’s rotors would give you a severe burn! Brakes, while you might expect them to be a recurring maintenance feature, aren’t. They should last a long, long time before needing any work.

Despite the obvious savings on gas there’s yet another major reason to own an electric car: maintenance costs are almost non-existent! By being a much simpler system there is less complexity and less upkeep and failure points to worry about. They’re cars for lazy people or people who are sick of repairing gas cars. In the long run they should be much cheaper to keep running as there are simply fewer parts to worry about repairing or servicing.

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