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EVs are cheaper to maintain but may cost more to repair, research says

Analytical firm We Predict found the cost of servicing electric vehicles could eclipse gas-powered cars on average, but cheaper maintenance can close that gap.

The Mustang Mach-E was the cheapest EV to service and maintain for a year.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The hypothesis goes like this: Owning an electric car should be cheaper because it has fewer moving parts and doesn't require the ubiquitous oil change, a staple maintenance item for the internal-combustion engine. However, in-depth research from analytical firm We Predict shows that today's EVs muddy the picture.

According to We Predict's research, an EV can actually cost more to own compared to a gasoline-powered car. We Predict looked at two time frames to paint its picture. This essentially boils down to service costs (when you take a vehicle in for repairs) and maintenance costs (wear and tear, fluid replacements). The firm found that in a three-month time frame, EV service costs were 2.3 times higher than a gasoline-powered car. At 12 months, EV service costs were still 1.6 times higher. We Predict found service-related costs averaged $306 per electric vehicle, while a gas-powered car averaged $189.

But why? Well, EVs are still new to the automotive landscape, and We Predict found that service centers and mechanics logged longer hours when working with EVs. That's because it takes longer to diagnose a problem, let alone fix it, compared to traditional engines because the technology is so new. Specifically, EVs require 1.5x the labor hours and labor rates are, on average, 1.3 times higher. The additional certifications required to service and work on electric vehicles may contribute to these higher rates.

The bottom line, according to We Predict, is that the "industry in launch" is still working out the finer details, which is at least temporarily driving up costs. However, maintenance costs are helping to close that gap: While servicing an EV costs more today, the actual cost of maintaining a battery-powered car is more than half what it costs to maintain a vehicle with an internal-combustion engine. On average, EV owners spend $7 to maintain their cars within the first year of ownership, while the average gas-powered car owner spends $30.

This situation looks at a pretty short-term picture, though, and we won't have better long-term data until EVs are on the road for longer. But this seems clear enough: EVs will require some more out-of-pocket cash for repairs, but the long-term maintenance benefits could outweigh these expenses.