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I am pondering getting an electric vehicle (a VW e-Golf, which is strongly rooted in the Golf "platform", just swapping the motor), and one issue amongst many is how to proceed with the maintenance. I do not have a good branded shop close by, and driving to the next brand shop to get routine (or even non-routine) maintenance would add considerable hassle. Let's ignore the issue of "voluntary warranty" (the kind that they use to force you to use their own shops) at the moment.

My naive understanding is that in an e-car, obviously the drive train is different; but I would assume that the e-motor is much simpler/self-contained than the whole gas-motor/transmission/light machine/oil/belt/...-shebang, and I would also assume that aside from the drive train, the rest of the car (in this specific example, which is based on a completely run-of-the-mill base model which should be well-known to most mechanics in my country) should be more or less the same.

Is that true? Do e-cars need "special" maintenance (regarding the "e" part) that makes it a specialist job? I assume that the battery and the motor are closed systems anyways, which may be checked through their control units, maybe, but never actually opened by any mechanic during routine maintenance. There should simply be nothing to do.

If this is correct, I could easily trust the car to my local non-branded repair mechanic; he would be able to detect errors in the motor by reading out some onboard unit (as it's done in old-fashioned cars anyways, these days), and if something bad happens, I would then, and only then, go to the branded shop.

Is that assumption correct? Or are these things more complicated than that?

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    E-cars are not that common yet, so one could expect that many unspecialized repair shops have no experience yet. Also there is not only the e-motor but also the batteries and the cabling. – Trilarion Dec 12 '17 at 8:26
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    If your local non-branded repair mechanic wants to stay in business, they will already be getting/have appropriate training and tools for electric vehicles. – Andrew Morton Dec 12 '17 at 16:43
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Electric cars do need special maintenance, but they need less maintenance. I don't know about the E-Golf specifically but other electric cars need scheduled maintenance at around 1 year or 18,000 miles. This is on par with many newer cars with extended maintenance schedules, but much less often than your traditional 3 months/3000 miles maintenance schedules (a ripoff, don't get me started). Given that, even if your dealer isn't a convenient distance you'll only have to take it to them once a year unless you drive stupid amounts in the thing.

E Cars are very different from internal combustion cars, even if they're built on the same chassis. Batteries will go in all sorts of odd places and all the things that have traditionally been run off of vacuum and mechanical power will all have electronic replacements, like AC units, brake servos, etc. A traditional mechanic isn't going to know how to service all that, at least not yet. High capacity batteries aren't to be toyed with, if you do the wrong thing you can cause all sorts of problems, like shorts and fires. So yes, you need a specialized mechanic for now.

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    @AnoE it is also worth considering the "yet" in this answer - electric cars are still relatively new, and a tiny minority of the cars on the road at least here in the USA. There certainly are mechanics that know how to service them, but there is very little demand for that skill... yet. Expect that to change in the next 10-15 years. This does not help you now, of course, but it is something worth keeping in mind as your car ages. – user4896 Dec 11 '17 at 19:48
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    "less maintenance" then what? With my diesel car, I only had regular maintenance every 2 years (and this only because the law [fortunately] mandates it). Likewise the super leaded car I had before that. Likewise my wife with her cars. This pretty much sounds like negative-FUD for e-cars. – phresnel Dec 12 '17 at 8:27
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    No FUD here @phresnel, just realism. Until there's more market penetration your local mechanic isn't likely to have the skills (or tools) to work with a specialized high voltage electrical system. As for the intervals you're right, I'll edit to make it more clear. – GdD Dec 12 '17 at 9:29
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    @GdD, where do these traditional 3 months/3000 miles maintenance schedules happen? My new car has one each 15k miles/year, which is already quite often in my experience. – r41n Dec 12 '17 at 14:00
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    @sirjonsnow: At first I was confused about "ICE" (we have the high speed trains called "ICE" in Germany :)). I fully agree there are more parts to maintain; however, they also had a century more time to mature. My current car had just 1 spark plug changed after about 60000 miles of ownership, and I don't know how old the plugs were already when I bought the car. While fresh oil filters and oil are a good thing, it's not mandatory to flip them so many times per year (but depends on several factors). My car's done well with 1 filter per year, at most. Likewise my previous one. – phresnel Dec 12 '17 at 15:53
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Most of the regular maintenance like replacing the cabin filter or brake pads can be done by an unspecialized shop. It is still a good idea to do your maintenance at VW, even if you don't care for the warranty:

  • they will do a much better job checking for defects
  • you are likely to receive software updates

Of course, battery-related maintenance will most probably be done by VW-certified shops only.

If you need a repair, you much more likely will not be served by a generic mechanic. You'll have to go to a workshop which accepts electric cars, or to VW.

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    Good point about the software updates - certainly something a generic mechanic won't have. – AnoE Dec 12 '17 at 11:52
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My naive understanding is that in an e-car, obviously the drive train is different; but I would assume that ... the rest of the car ... should be more or less the same.

Largely true, but some definitions of "drive train" are too strict. For instance in a conventional vehicle the engine runs the power assisted braking and steering, the AC, and provides vacuum for the ventilation system and other convenience features.

In an electric vehicle these are often very different, so would require specialist care - for now.

Is that true? Do e-cars need "special" maintenance (regarding the "e" part) that makes it a specialist job?

The vehicle manual provides all the details for regular maintenance, but there will be some maintenance in some vehicles that can only be carried out through a specialized service center, such as battery replacement. This should be rare, but it will depend on the vehicle.

If this is correct, I could easily trust the car to my local non-branded repair mechanic; he would be able to detect errors in the motor by reading out some onboard unit (as it's done in old-fashioned cars anyways, these days), and if something bad happens, I would then, and only then, go to the branded shop.

Generally speaking yes, and as electric vehicles become more common, particularly on the secondary market, in your area, you'll find that non-branded mechanics will be able to handle more and more of the specialty repairs.

Look at internet forums for repairs for your chosen vehicle, study the manual and maintenance schedule, ask questions about the repair history of the vehicle if it's used, and ask about specific maintenance procedures you're unfamiliar with.

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When I had my electric car, the maintenance of the "standard" suspension, brakes, lights etc was by a small garage.

However, the local Dealer asked, and got, the computer and interface to deal with the batteries and charging/power/ motor unit which was good service.

The car died when the computer control unit failed - which had a 9k price tag...

  • What make / model was the car? – Alex C Dec 12 '17 at 14:42
  • Peugeot 106 electric – Solar Mike Dec 12 '17 at 15:42
  • Yes, there's an unfortunate happenstance somewhere in the notion that French cars are renowned for electrical faults, and in going green, suddenly acquire a considerable number of extra electrical components – Caius Jard Dec 12 '17 at 18:22
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As you are already aware, the e-golf is full electric and there isn't a traditional engine and transmission. This will reduce the costs of normal maintenance by eliminating spark plug replacement, engine oil changes, and so on. However, by removing all of those traditional services and traditional drive-train components you have limited what a traditional mechanic can do for you. You need to find someone locally who is an expert in high voltage systems. Full electric and hybrid vehicles have many high voltage components that are extremely dangerous if mishandled by someone who isn't trained to work on them. If there isn't a Volkswagen dealership in your area call around and find someone who is trained in high voltage system repair and is also familiar with the e-golf. Do this before making your purchase.

  • I'll absolutely make sure I have a proper solution before buying. So, do I understand it correctly that some work on the high voltage parts is part of regular (planned) maintenance for these cars? (I know I could just ask the vendor, but would have to have a little bit of technical background first.) – AnoE Dec 11 '17 at 16:53
  • I don't believe that any high voltage components are part of regular maintenance. You just need to keep in mind that on an electric vehicle even simple things like your heater and A/C are no longer simple because they involve high voltage components. So what would normally be a simple repair on a standard vehicle is often not so simple with an electric vehicle. – L.hawes Dec 11 '17 at 19:35
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    @L.hawes I do not believe "simple" is the right word here. If anything, certain repairs could potentially be more simple than with an ICE car. There would certainly be no need to release tension on the drive belt to remove an AC compressor or power steering pump, for example. If anything, repairs are less familiar on electric cars because the knowledge of how to work on them is limited due to low demand for that skill. – user4896 Dec 11 '17 at 19:53
  • @Snowman ...I agree with you that not all repairs are more complicated on an electric vehicle. I was speaking on a consumer level and not a professional level since the person I am responding to is, as I assume, a consumer and not a professional mechanic. For the consumer, repairs will be more complex because your choices for knowledgeable mechanic are significantly reduced and more research will be required because of that fact. – L.hawes Dec 11 '17 at 20:22
  • Fair enough. That wasn't clear at first. – user4896 Dec 11 '17 at 20:33

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