How many miles can an electric car go lifetime?
How Many Miles Before An Electric Car Is Greener Than A Gas Car
Electric vehicles have often been hailed as the future. Major motoring companies are aiming to produce nothing but electric vehicles in the future, and some aspire to hit that target by the end of the decade. Cars that are traditionally seen as so-called gas guzzlers — like pickup trucks, muscle cars, and hummers — all have electric equivalents. Governments, including the one running the United States, are improving infrastructure, offering tax incentives, and enacting policies aimed at getting more electric vehicles on the road. And modern-day industrial icons like Elon Musk, who obviously has a vested interest in the electric car’s success, constantly promote the concept. Musk recently published a tweet that likened internal combustion engines to the steam engine — an archaic method of producing mechanical power.
Although some alternatives are available, electric cars are by far the most practical carbon-neutral methods of personal transport as things stand. Over its lifetime, an electric car will have significantly less impact on the environment than its gasoline equivalent. But EVs aren’t exactly green from the get-go. At the moment they roll off the production line, that carbon-neutral electric car has actually contributed more to climate change than a gas-powered vehicle that could be produced in the same factory. Depending on where you live, this deficit can also take a while to overturn.
The batteries don’t just appear from thin air
An electric vehicle’s battery doesn’t grow on trees and is far more complex than the lead-acid battery spinning a gas car’s starter motor. The newer type of vehicle uses lithium-ion batteries, as noted by the U.S. Department of Energy, which as the name suggests, contain an element called lithium, among other things. Lithium is a metal that is present on several continents, with the biggest producers including Australia, Chile, and China. The element makes up around 11% of a lithium battery, and those batteries are found in EVs as well as many modern gadgets like phones, tablets, and laptops. In terms of direct environmental impact, lithium mining has been linked to droughts, though scientists are still investigating if it is to blame for water shortages in places like Chile (via Volkswagen). Another material involved in battery production is cobalt, most of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Alongside the emissions and local pollution produced by the mining process, there is also a problem with transportation. All of these materials have to be shipped to China, which produces the vast majority of EV batteries, before those very heavy batteries are shipped to car manufacturing plants around the world. All in all, battery production accounts for up to three-quarters of the energy used and up to 70% of emissions produced in an electric vehicle’s production (via AAA).
Vehicle production is energy intensive anyway
Manufacturing a car is a very energy-intensive process. The raw materials involved — mainly steel and aluminum — require a lot of energy to produce and like the finished batteries, they have to be shipped to the factories where the cars are actually made. From there, the raw materials are stamped, forged, and cut into parts before being welded and bolted together. Rare earth materials, similar to some of those used in batteries, can also be found in a car’s many electrical parts. In short, manufacturing a vehicle is a highly energy-intensive process. National Geographic estimates as much as 20% of a car’s total emissions will be produced while it is being manufactured.
Things look a bit better in raw energy terms. If you want to put things in motoring terms, MotorBiscuit estimates that at best the energy used to produce an average car is roughly 56,880 Megajoules — which translates to around 474 gallons of gas. This is enough to fill the average fuel tank around 31 times. So, in theory, if you buy a used car instead of a new Tesla, you can burn through your next 31 tanks of gas guilt-free and still be ahead due to the energy used to make the EV’s batteries. Beyond that, things will depend on the electric vehicle’s actual fuel source.
Where does the power come from?
Despite their surging popularity, electric vehicles still have many detractors. One statement those detractors like to make involves the actual source of the energy electric vehicles use to get around. The outlet you’re plugging your EV into isn’t producing any power, it’s just supplying it. Where the electricity charging your batteries comes from is different, depending on where you live. If you live in Iceland, you have the right to be a bit smug from an environmental perspective. The Icelandic government claims that almost all of the power the country uses comes from renewable sources. Geothermal power, which is quite easy to tap into on the highly volcanic island, makes up the majority of that.
Across the Atlantic, things are a bit different. Fossil fuels are used to generate over 60% of the United States’ energy, with natural gas being used to generate over 38%. The U.S. Energy Information Administration also says coal is used to meet over one-fifth of American energy needs. Nuclear power, which generates no greenhouse gases, also accounts for nearly 20% of the power generated in the United States. Nuclear energy has a mixed reputation amongst environmental groups, with some seeing it as the most practical clean energy solution, while others are adamant that the nuclear waste produced is not worth the supposed green benefits. Renewable energy makes up around 20% of energy production overall, with around half of that being generated from wind. These are totals for the U.S. as a whole, and energy sources vary by state — with Vermont being the cleanest and Delaware being considered the dirtiest, at least in the energy sense of the word (via Big Think).
How long until an electric vehicle becomes truly green?
According to research from the Fuel Institute, you may need to drive your electric vehicle for a couple of years before you can claim you’re doing less harm to the planet than someone with a gas-powered car. In the best-case scenario, when the electric vehicle is being driven in a state where most of the energy comes from low-carbon sources, it will take 19,000 miles before the EV becomes more climate-friendly than an internal combustion engine.
However, once the carbon deficit the EV built up during its manufacturing is overcome, it becomes far more efficient than its fossil fuel-powered equivalent. Again, in a best-case scenario, a battery-powered electric vehicle will have produced 41% fewer emissions after 200,000 miles when compared to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
What about hybrids?
Hybrids also start with a deficit but do better than traditional automobiles in the long run. A hybrid will have to be driven far more than 19,000 miles before its owner can accurately claim it has had less of an impact on the environment than its traditional equivalent. After 200,000 miles, which is a reasonable lifespan for most cars, it will have been responsible for 28% less CO2 than a similarly specced gas-powered car.
Although they have been around for a while and have recently surged in popularity, there is a fair argument that we’re still in the early days of an electric vehicle golden age. The vehicles themselves are likely to get more efficient over the years, and the infrastructure that supports them will also improve. The time it takes for your EV to be more climate-friendly than an ICE, and its overall lifetime emissions will plummet as renewable energy projects develop.
Battery production may become greener, too
Outside of the batteries, electric vehicles are manufactured in essentially the same way as standard vehicles, so most of the emissions deficit is caused by the energy it takes to make the batteries that EVs rely on. Manufacturers and governments are aware of this and are doing what they can to make the process a bit greener. Although it was poorly implemented, it’s obvious to see what the U.S. government was trying to do with the EV tax credit scheme that was bundled in with the inflation reduction act. The credits are now tied to where the vehicle’s batteries are produced and the origins of the materials used in the production process.
For a vehicle to qualify for the new tax credit, its batteries must be manufactured in the United States, and 40% of the materials used in the batteries have to be sourced from North America or from a country with which the United States has a free trade agreement. Meeting both conditions makes an electric sedan retailing for up to $55,000 — or any other electric vehicle priced up to $80,000 — eligible for a tax credit of up to $7,500. Meeting one of the conditions will only net the buyer half that amount.
However, it is safe to say that qualifying sources will adapt to meet new orders. Certain companies like Tesla and GM are already well placed to manufacture batteries in the U.S., too. While mining the rare-earth metals batteries need may still be an issue, not shipping materials across the pacific and heavy batteries back will save a lot of CO2. Advances in battery technology, supply chain efforts, and battery recycling programs could lead to electric vehicle production becoming a lot greener in the near future.
Most countries are looking at alternative energy sources
Globally, renewable energy accounts for just under 40% of all electricity produced, depending on whose numbers you look at – and this number is only going to grow. In an attempt to fight climate change, the U.N. has set out some ambitious targets that should keep global warming to a minimum if they are met. Things will still get warmer and the weather may get more extreme, but humanity may be spared the worst consequences of a rabidly heating planet. Those consequences could include coastal cities becoming non-mythical replicas of Atlantis, long droughts leading to widespread crop failures, wildfires, and large portions of the planet becoming uninhabitable. Governments have pledged to meet emissions targets through international agreements like the Paris Climate Accord, and most major companies are setting their own green energy goals.
Those targets are unlikely to be met without a shift toward renewable energy sources, with wind and solar both being popular choices. Some of the projects are highly ambitious and could see the equivalent of 10,000 homes powered by wind energy alone by 2030. Advances in energy storage will also lead to an increase in the viability of renewable energy. We can make predictions related to the amount of time the sun will be visible or the amount of wind an area will get, but we can’t control those things. The ability to store excess energy during summer, or when the wind is blowing, then use that energy to balance out seasons with less daylight or days where you barely get a breeze, could take renewable energy to the next level. Whatever happens, it’s clear that as the global energy supply becomes cleaner, EVs will be cleaner, too.
Electric Car FAQs: How Long Do Electric Cars Last?
Electric cars are just like gas cars — until they’re not. In this FAQ series, we’ll explore that 1% of the time that EVs are just different enough to require some explanations.
November 5, 2021
Supporters of EVs will tell you that electric cars are just like regular cars. For the most part, they’re right. You step on the pedal on the right and the car goes, you turn the wheel and the car turns, and the only real difference is what kind of fuel goes in it. If we’re being completely honest, though, that’s only mostly true. Most of the time, the only difference is what kind of fuel goes into the car, but the other differences probably need explaining in order for mainstream buyers to buy electric cars.
To provide that explanation, we’ve launched a new segment called “Electric Car FAQs” that hopes to answer those oddball questions that come up one percent of the time. Today’s question: how long do electric cars last?
EV FAQs: How Long Do Electric Cars Last?
We get lots of questions about electric cars around here. Some of them are interesting, some of them are baffling, but this one that came up recently had us typing up a storm in our Slack channel. Someone mentioned that the highest mileage ever Tesla had “only” 276,000 miles on it — which, of course, was way off. At least one Tesla driver in Canada has put more than 700,000 miles on their Model S …
There’s a lot to unpack here, and some of the people who have been lapping up the anti-EV propaganda at Fox News seem to still think of electric cars in the same terms as an i-device, so let’s dig into the question of EV longevity a bit more and see where we end up.
Will I need to buy a new EV every year?
Image courtesy Apple.
When we talk about EVs and i-devices, we’re obviously comparing the cars to a certain “fruity” phone and tablet manufacturer that likes to bring out new and improved versions of its most successful products every year. That means — if you want to be seen as a cutting-edge, early-adopter type of person — you’re buying a new one every year or so. Cars have traditionally had a longer product cycle, with mild “refresh” updates coming every two to four years and major redesigns coming along every 6-8 years from the most aggressive car brands. That’s partly because cars are much more expensive to get ready for market than phones or tablets or laptops — mainly because you don’t have to go to the trouble and expense of crash testing a cell phone!
So, short answer: no. You won’t have to buy a new “i-device” electric car every year — at least not until the i-people officially launch their i-coupe. And that “no” seems to be true even in the most extreme electric vehicle use cases.
How extreme? In 2019, a shuttle service in Southern California called Tesloop maintained a fleet of Teslas that racked up over 300,000 miles each, with no signs of slowing down. “The company’s fleet of seven vehicles — a mix of Model Xs, Model 3s and a Model S — are now among the highest-mileage Teslas in the world,” writes Michael Coren, in Quartz Magazine. “They zip almost daily between Los Angeles, San Diego, and destinations in between. Each of Tesloop’s cars are regularly racking up about 17,000 miles per month (roughly eight times the average for corporate fleet mileage). Many need to fully recharge at least twice each day.”
What are the maintenance needs on an electric car?
In the “lab” with the Tesla fleet, courtesy of Tesla.
We covered this question in depth in another EV FAQ post, but it’s worth a quick recap here, as it speaks directly to the question, “How long do electric cars last?”
Modern gas- or diesel-fueled, ICE-powered cars usually get an oil change every 5,000–10,000 miles, and a more comprehensive service or tire rotation every other time they visit the shop. Even though an electric car doesn’t use engine oil, several of the same maintenance and wear items traditional car-buyers are used to spending money on are still there. You’ll want to check and rotate your tires, for example—you’ll also want to check those brake pads from time to time, replace windshield wipers, and ensure that any of the other fluids used in your electric car, like coolants and transmission fluids (where applicable), are in good shape at least once a year.
One other maintenance item you should look at with an electric car isn’t quite as traditional, however: software updates. Updating the software in your car might be a new experience for many buyers, but — like that i-device! — you’ll want to make sure your electric car is running the latest version of the company’s software to ensure that all the latest active safety features and battery-saving coding tricks are being put to their best use, keeping you safe and saving you money at the plug!
Can I replace my EV’s battery when it gets too old?
Image courtesy Toyota.
When was the last time you changed the battery on your smartphone? I think, for me, it was sometime back in 2011. On your car, which you’ll probably keep for several years and will cost many, many times more money than a phone or table, however — well, it’s a much more important question to consider, right?
As we’ve already learned with hybrids over the last 25+ years that batteries like this have been in mass production (that’s not a typo, the Toyota Prius first went on sale in 1997), these batteries have a longer shelf life than many people anticipated. Many Tesla Model S cars (one of the first “pure” EVs bought in large numbers) have already crossed the 300,000-mile mark while maintaining serviceable battery life. Other early EVs, like this Nissan LEAF, have also been able to cross that 150,000 mile threshold without needing a new battery.
That said, a number of shops are now fully capable of changing out the batteries on your hybrid or “pure” battery electric vehicle. What’s more, the cost of those replacements has come down over time, and are now comparable to swapping out a conventional automatic transmission. As more and more shops become familiar with electric cars, they’ll be able to innovate a bit when it comes to repairs, driving down electric vehicle repair costs even further.
So, when would you have to replace an electric car battery? As batteries age, they degrade, which costs them performance and range – but exactly how much range they lose is a matter of debate, because individual circumstances weigh so heavily on the final results.
Going back to Tesloop as an “extreme use case” example, we find that, “Tesloop has seen some decreases in range as battery packs have aged,” according to Quartz. “The range of one Tesla Model X dropped from 260 miles to 200 miles after 330,000 miles in service,” and the battery was replaced at no cost to Tesloop, as it was covered under Tesla’s standard 8 year battery warranty.
What if I want a new EV every year?
Image courtesy Volvo Cars.
Technology is always changing, and those changes have more value to some people than others. If you are truly set on having the latest and greatest self-driving, active-safety, go-fast insane purple paisley mode technology money can buy, however, a number of companies are offering a subscription model similar to what you can get from – you guessed it! – your cellular provider.
Companies like Rivian, Volkswagen, and Volvo are offering a single-payment, all-inclusive subscription model that allows you to trade out of your car and into a new one once a year. Insurance, mileage fees, and even some basic wear and tear coverage is all rolled into the payment. For a lot of people who have rapidly changing needs, this seems to work — and a lot of industry insiders believe it’s an ownership model that’s here to stay.
Conclusions about EV longevity
We hope we were able to answer your questions about EV ownership and how it might differ not just from the experiences you might be used to with your gasmobile, but also how the question of, “How long do electric cars last?” may have different answers for different people. If we were going to sum it up, it would have to be by saying that electric cars last about as long as ICE-powered cars. They’ll go those same hundreds of thousands of miles — only, they’ll do so in a way that is definitely cleaner, a little bit easier, a whole lot cheaper, and very probably better — in every way that matters.
And, if you’re a real fanatic for maintenance and restoration, check out this scene from MyClassicCarTV in Jay Leno’s garage showing off an EV that runs and drives despite being more than 100 years old — enjoy!
Jay Leno Drives a Nearly 100-Year-Old Baker Electric Car
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Solar PV & Farming — Trends In Agrivoltaics
I don’t like paywalls. You don’t like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don’t like paywalls, and so we’ve decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It’s a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So .
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you! Advertisement