Prestige electric SUVs fared better than petrol for time off the road – but that didn’t apply to all segments
Fleet data analysis reveals cases where EVs fare both better and worse than ICE cars on maintenance time and costs
Electric vehicles may not be cheaper to repair and maintain than internal-combustion-engine equivalents in every case, according to real-world fleet data.
EVs are often claimed to trump ICE cars on servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR) costs, but analysis by e-commerce firm Epyx, which specialises in facilitating SMR transactions for fleets, has revealed circumstances in which they fare both better and worse in similar types of usage, along with variations by model.
The firm compared a series of equivalent EVs and ICE cars across three metrics: the number of visits to service outlets, the number of days off the road due to SMR issues and workshop costs (including tyres and repairs).
The first example was a common fleet hatchback on a three-year, 25,000-30,000-mile cycle. The EV averaged 5.7 visits to service outlets, 3.2 days off the road and workshop costs of £431. Across the same three metrics, the petrol version averaged 5.0 service visits, 4.5 days off the road and workshop costs of £412. Epyx said there were “no obvious EV benefits” in this case.
The second comparison was a large prestige SUV from a major manufacturer at two years old and 20,000-30,000 miles. The EV averaged 3.4 days off the road, 4.1 service visits and workshop costs of £645. The petrol averaged 4.9 days off the road, 4.0 service visiits and workshop costs of £996. The firm described the EV as “superior” in the former two areas and both models as “comparable” in the latter.
The final example was a van in electric and diesel guises over a three-year, 25,000-30,000-mile cycle. The EV averaged 5.7 service visits, 2.2 days off the road and workshop costs of £239. The diesel averaged 5.0 service visits, 2.9 days off the road and workshop costs of £522.
Epyx stipulated that the number of true equivalent EV and ICE vehicles is relatively small. Out of more than four million company cars, vans, and trucks on its 1link Service Network SMR platform, it said there were “only around 170” EVs of ages and mileages for a true comparison.
“To assume all your vehicles, when you’ve transitioned to EVs, are going to cost 35% less is, I think, very dangerous,” Epyx’s strategy director, Charlie Brooks, told Autocar Business.
“We have some dashboards that show the average repair value of vehicles, and for [certain EVs] it’s relatively low up to about 45,000 miles. Then suddenly after that, when it has a repair, it’s a very expensive repair. Whereas for ICE vehicles, you kind of see the average repair value increasing gradually over time.”
Brooks suggested that early technical issues plus the differing characteristics of individual vehicles could contribute to maintenance time and costs.
“I believe from a pure SMR perspective EVs will cost less, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case across the board.
“At the moment, we [also] have a number of teething problems, where vehicles are going in a little bit more frequently than you might expect.
“I’m loath to say that this is the future of EVs. This is more what we’ve found to date, because I still feel it’s going to vary significantly by make and model.”
Others argue that EVs are cheaper to maintain, including fellow SMR specialist Fleet Assist, which manages 850,000 cars and vans. EVs accounted for 9% of its jobs in 2022, and for those carried out between January and October, average labour times were 33% less than for ICE vehicles. Over the same period, the cost of EV parts, fluids and labour were reportedly 51%, 39% and 26% lower.
The company added that “average BEV mileages are still tracking lower than the equivalent ICE or hybrid vehicles,” with one, two and three-year-old EVs recording 19%, 21%, and 14% lower mileages respectively at the time of their services.
“The overriding position is that BEVs are shining through as cheaper on overall SMR costs,” said managing director Vincent St Claire, who added that both labour time and the types/cost of the most common replacement parts were weighted in favour of EVs. For ICE vehicles, they were pads, discs, bulbs, oil filters and pollen filters. For EVs, they were collectively cheaper items: pollen filters, bulbs, keyfob batteries, wipers and brake fluid.
The average age of EVs on Fleet Assist’s books is 1.6 years, compared with 4.6 years for ICE vehicles. St Claire conceded that this would make a difference but claimed that overall SMR costs would still be less for EVs – to a point.
He said: “The general mileage profile will make BEVs look better as an average comparison today, absolutely, but there still is an underlying trend that you can’t get away from: even if you were to take a one-year-old BEV and ICE vehicle, you’ll find that the labour times are less and the parts required are less.
“Where they [EVs] will potentially [be] costlier is where [an older] vehicle may have had two sets of brake pads during its life and a set of discs.”
Tyres balance it out
Higher tyre prices and wear rates can offset the allegedly lower cost of EV maintenance.
Steve Chambers, senior editor for SMR at Cap HPI, said: “[EV rubber is] generally bigger, therefore more expensive and wears more quickly, but it’s offset by the fact that we could, as a broad brush, say the service component is 50% [cheaper]. Then when we look at other items, like timing belts, water pumps ands alternators, they’re never going to be an issue for BEVs.
“There are all sorts of things at play, but fundamentally EVs do cost less to run. If you’re a retail customer, though, the question is whether or not you’d feel it that much if you’re doing very low mileage. If it’s a case of ‘I’ve got to replace two tyres this year’, do you look back in 24 months and say ‘I replaced them in the first 12 months and this is the second time I’ve had to do it’?”