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How Long Do Electric Car Batteries Last?

2202303 how long do batterys last scaled jpg How long do EV batteries last | illustration by Paul Dolan

An obvious concern for shoppers looking at electric vehicles is how long the battery will last. The battery pack, after all, is the EV’s key component and the most expensive to replace if it fails.

Related: What’s New With Electric Vehicles for 2023?

The short answer seems to be that the battery likely will last longer than you’ll want to keep the vehicle. “From everything we’re seeing and for the average vehicle, you can expect the battery to last the life of the vehicle with some degree of degradation in capacity and power,” says Liz Najman, a researcher and climate scientist at Recurrent, a battery and range analytics company.

How Does an EV Battery Decline?

Battery degradation is a more important concern than failure. “Complete battery failure is possible, but it’s generally due to manufacturing defects or a problem with the battery itself,” says Najman. Such a manufacturing defect showed up with Chevrolet’s Bolt EV, for example, resulting in a recall to replace the batteries. Those issues are likely to happen while the battery still is under warranty (at least eight years or 100,000 miles under federal rules), and some — but not all — EV battery warranties not only offer protection against failure, but also against loss of capacity, generally guaranteeing a percentage of original capability of 70% or 75% over the term of the warranty. “We definitely recommend warranties that guarantee against a percentage of battery capacity degradation,” says Najman.

Questions about the loss of battery capacity and power are harder to answer and come with a caveat that Najman emphasizes, “Most EVs have been on the road well under six years, with almost 30% sold in 2022. So, we still have very little sense of how they degrade over their lifetime — which car makers say should be as long as 20 years. We can look at the oldest Nissan Leafs and Tesla Model S’s to get some sense, but the technology has also been changing very quickly since these came out.”

Battery packs store and generate energy via a process that moves lithium ions and electrons around in individual cells. While battery capacity retention is affected by how the battery is used, charged and stored, a loss of capacity and power is inevitable, largely because all batteries lose some capacity over time regardless of use. “This is called calendar aging, and it’s the baseline degradation a battery experiences,” says Najman. The rate of any decline will not be linear, either. “Most EVs see an initial degradation in the first 20,000-ish miles as the battery settles, and then the degradation slows down and levels off,” says Najman. Based on analysis of Tesla Model S data, Recurrent estimates just about a 5% decrease in range from 50,000 to 200,000 miles.

What Can You Do to Extend Battery Capacity?

There are some things that EV owners can do to help slow battery degradation, but they shouldn’t obsess over them and should instead use the car the way they need to. Najman recommends the following charging and storage habits to ​​reduce the stress and speed of the degradation process, therefore helping to extend the EV’s battery capacity:

  • Limit fast charging. The higher the charging voltage you use, the more battery stress and heat are generated. Very high-voltage charging, such as DC fast charging, should be reserved for when it’s really needed. “DC fast charging is the double bacon cheeseburger of charging: great on a road trip but best to avoid every day,” says Najman.
  • Keep the battery charge between 20% and 80%. That’s not exact, but batteries are most stable when kept at around 50% charge. Charging to 100% is fine to do for a trip, but Najman recommends not storing a car with a full battery.
  • Use less of the battery capacity before recharging to extend life. For instance, rather than going from 80% to 20% once, you can go from 70% to 40% two times, Najman says, which has less of an effect on the battery.
  • Try to park in the shade or in a garage during hot weather. Heat is not your friend — it’s a known factor in battery degradation over the life of the vehicle. On the other hand, “cold weather can have big short-term effects in terms of an EV’s range but will not cause any long-term damage. Any range loss you see in the winter is totally temporary.”

What About a Used EV?

nissan leaf 2011 batterypack 1 jpg 2011 Nissan Leaf battery pack | Manufacturer image

A general rule about used EVs is that battery health is more important than the mileage reading typically used to value a used vehicle. A lower-mileage EV might have a battery with less of its original capacity than a vehicle with a higher odometer reading.

Najman says that there is already a “robust and growing” market in used EVs. If you are considering purchasing one, she recommends getting a report on the vehicle’s battery health, such as those offered by Recurrent, but also says you can check it yourself during a test drive. “Ask the owner or dealer to charge the car up to 100% prior to a test drive and see how the dashboard range looks as you’re taking it for a spin.” She says a test drive is “not foolproof, because there are ways to ‘game’ on-board range, but it’s still a good idea.”

Najman also points out that it’s important to consider whether the used EV’s remaining battery capacity fits the intended use. “A lot of questions about degraded batteries come down to the driver’s needs. A car that only offers 50 miles per charge might not meet the needs of the original owner, but it might be a great and very affordable car for a teenager who needs to get to and from high school, or a retiree who needs to get to and from the grocery.”

What About Battery Replacement?

It’s possible down the road that replacing a degraded battery will be a viable and more affordable option for older EVs. “Battery replacements are already happening, with specialty shops offering EV drivers a new life. The limitation right now seems to be the availability of replacement batteries,” says Najman. “Since most EV batteries are still in their original car, replacements have to be sourced from wrecked or totaled vehicles. Lots of people are willing to pay for these batteries, so there can be a long wait to get them.”

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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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