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  • Writer's pictureWade Ortel

Skip the Oil Change!

For more than a century, the internal combustion engine has reigned supreme in the automotive industry. Consumers and mechanics alike have become accustomed to the maintenance regime for this type of powertrain. While decades of engineering progress and refinement have resulted in a significant increase in the overall reliability and performance of internal combustion engines, the fact remains that these finely tuned mechanical marvels contain hundreds of moving parts. Furthermore, an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) contains many other complicated mechanical and electrical systems necessitated by the challenge of burning petrochemicals to generate motion. These design elements result in the need for frequent service and repair, especially as vehicles age. This intrinsic issue is further compounded by increasingly stringent emissions requirements which force automakers to consider ever more creative solutions in order to allow their vehicles to continue to comply with regulations.

In contrast, an electric vehicle (EV) contains comparatively few and relatively simple component parts. A typical EV drivetrain contains four main components: First, a battery pack is used to store the energy used to propel the vehicle. An inverter is then used to transform the direct current supplied by the battery pack into the alternating current needed to spin the motor, as well as to modulate the power sent to the motor in response to throttle input. An electric motor transforms electrical energy into the mechanical energy required to move the vehicle. Finally, this mechanical energy is sent through a transmission so that the rotational speed of the motor can be reduced to drive the wheels.

Due to the output characteristics of electric motors, the transmission found most EVs is a rudimentary single ratio unit. This is in direct contrast to a modern ICEV, whose transmission can have as many as ten forward gears, controlled by a complex electromechanical system. An internal combustion engine’s sloping power and torque curves require that they operate within a narrow power band. This necessitates the use of a transmission that can offer a wide range of gear ratios to be selected depending on the speed of the vehicle. In contrast, an electric motor produces usable power and torque throughout a remarkably wide range of angular velocities, thus requiring only a single ratio.

Due to its inherently elegant design, an EV requires comparatively little in terms of maintenance and repair. The major drivetrain components mentioned above are all designed to last the life of the vehicle with minimal intervention. Of those four components, the chemical cells contained within the battery pack are most likely to fail prematurely. However, while battery pack failure is certainly a possibility, real-world data suggests that EV batteries are fulfilling their promise to outlast the useful service life of the vehicle.

Replacement of consumables, such as tires, brakes and wiper blades are still applicable to EVs, but many of the standard service procedures we are used to performing on our vehicles, such as oil changes, air filter replacements, spark plugs, etc. do not apply to EVs. Further, EVs utilize regenerative braking, a contactless electromagnetic process, which reduces the maintenance required compared to traditional, purely friction-based braking systems. This results in far less wear on brake components, while simultaneously increasing a vehicle’s driving range.

Electric vehicles offer a significant reduction in complexity when compared to internal combustion engine vehicles. This quality is a boon to EV drivers, as there is a significant reduction in maintenance costs and frequency when compared to conventional fossil fuel powered vehicles.

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