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Should you be worried about the battery life of an electric car? Not if you pay close attention to our guide

For many car owners, the electric car represents an entirely new way of driving and brings with it many queries and worries. One of the largest concerns is how long the battery life is on an electric car.

Generally, electric car batteries last for as long as the rest of the car. But like with your phone or laptop battery, they degrade over time. Ultimately the cells should still be providing at least 70 percent of their capacity even after 200,000 miles, which is the sort of mileage that few cars ever reach, whether they’re ICE or EV. 

As an example, a number of Tesla Model S taxis operating from Gatwick airport racked up over 300,000 miles each over three years, with all retaining at least 82 percent of their batteries’ health.

You may well have seen stories suggesting the opposite, leaving the owner either facing a hefty bill for a replacement or contemplating cutting their losses on a car that’s otherwise worthless because it literally doesn’t work.

And it’s not hard to see where these rumours and anecdotes come from, because our extensive experience of mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers has shown many that, even over a relatively short period of time, the batteries powering them can quickly lose efficiency, resulting in the need for more frequent charging. In extreme cases the degradation is so severe the device won’t even fire-up unless it’s permanently on charge, which is obviously no use for an EV.

So, how bad is the problem really? Well the good news is that the more electric cars that are out there and the longer they are run for, the more evidence is produced to show that the power pack will often last the lifetime of the car.

Better still, there are plenty of tips and strategies you can follow to make sure your car’s batteries will survive better than most.

Battery life of an electric car


The truth is that batteries degrade over time and with use, meaning they become less efficient as they age and, ultimately, in the case of EVs the range of your car will reduce.

There’s also no denying that battery technology doesn’t come cheap, and should the cells ever need replacement then it’s quite likely that they’ll cost more to swap than the car is now worth - which is why we tend to replace mobile phones in their entirety rather than replace the battery pack. 

Battery swapping stations - where electric car batteries can be changed in minutes - are beginning to crop up in Europe and may offer an answer to battery life queries.

Why does an electric car battery lose charge or degrade?

Continual advances in battery technology mean that issues surrounding degradation of performance are being reduced all the time. However, even the latest lithium-ion cells aren’t completely immune to losing performance over time, with a number of factors playing a role. 

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Perhaps the biggest single contributor to the decline in efficiency is the cycle of use and charging. Frequent draining of the cells followed by a full charge can, over time, damage the battery’s ability to maintain its optimum energy storage - it’s why manufacturer’s typically recommend charging only to 80 percent and never letting the range drop to zero miles. Rapid charging also plays a part, because channelling so much electrical energy and so quickly generates much higher temperatures in the battery pack.

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Liquid cooling of the cells helps mitigate this, but use a rapid charger frequently and over time these extreme heat cycles will cause damage to the lithium ion packs. In a similar but less extreme way, cars that are used in hotter climates tend to suffer a subtly greater reduction in performance than those in cooler conditions.

How can I care for my electric car battery?

Happily, there are ways you can help preserve the power and efficiency of your battery over time. One of the major ways of protecting the cells is by carefully managing the charging and discharging of the cells, which in an ideal world means trying to avoid capacity dropping below 20 percent and not adding more than 80 percent when charging - above the latter figure is when batteries tend to get hottest, which takes a toll on the cells’ delicate chemistry.

Happily, most EVs now give you the option to programme your car’s charging schedule, allowing you to decide when the electricity flows and, crucially, letting you set a cap on exactly how much pours into the cells. By the same token, it’s best not to completely drain the battery. Most EVs will always make sure there’s a bare minimum of energy left even if it won’t allow the car to move, but storing your car for long periods and allowing electricity to leech away is to be avoided.

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Speaking of charging, it’s best to only use DC (Direct Current) rapid chargers sparingly. Although fine for topping up on longer journeys, or in emergencies when you need a quick burst of energy, a by-product of rapid chargers’ speed is the increased, lithium-ion damaging temperatures in the battery as it copes with the electrical onslaught.

If the car is to be used in extremes of hot or cold weather, then always make sure the car is plugged in to charge (with the maximum limit set to 80 percent, of course) regardless of range. This trickle charging technique allows the battery’s thermal management system to continue working and keep the cells at the optimum temperature for longevity.

Rapid charging

Finally, the way you drive your EV can affect its battery life. Much like rapid charging, quick depletion of the cells can cause damage that over time will lead to reduced efficiency and range. Ultimately, the faster you drive and the more you make use of an EV’s trademark instant torque for lightning getaways, the more you cause damaging heat build-up in the battery. So it’s best to take it steady if you want longevity.

Electric car battery warranties

Manufacturers are acutely aware that potential EV buyers could be put off by the possibility of premature and expensive battery failure. The truth is that when treated correctly most modern lithium-ion units are likely to last the lifetime of the car. Even so, most firms cover the battery with a separate, extended warranty.

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Most car warranties are around three years and 60,000 miles, but this is increased for the battery element in EVs. For instance, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Nissan and Renault cover the cells for 8 years and 100,000 miles, while Hyundai ups the mileage limit to 125,000.

Tesla has the same 8 year timeframe but a mileage limit of 150,000 on the Model S and Model X, 120,000 on the Model 3 Long Range and 100,000 on all other versions. And apart from Audi and Tesla, most include a maximum allowable capacity (between 70 and 75 percent) for the battery, which will trigger a replacement if it dips below this figure during the warranty period.

James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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harf 14 December 2023

Unfortunately when something does go wrong it can cost, big time. Not anecdotally or rumour either, it's a fact. I'm sure these instances are rare but I can't help thinking it would make sense for all manufacturers to contribute to a fund that unlucky members of the public can apply to when having to pay exorbitant replacement costs.

My neighbour last saw her MB C350e in May and is waiting for the high voltage system to be replaced. They took her £9k (yes, I've seen the invoice) back in May only to then say they weren't able to source a replacement unit. She's been driving their cosy car since, wonder if she'll see her car again.

A replacement cost of £9k on a 7yo car with 35k miles, that's worth about £13.5k, is not acceptable - hence me suggesting the fund for such instances.

405line 14 December 2023

That's a very good point and a likely scenario; mosfets, inverters and especially capacitors etc running at KW power for hours on end are going to go faulty and the nature of the beast in an E.V is heavy duty engineering and if that charging circuitry goes faulty and is out of can cancel any upcoming holidays. People have to be aware of the technical liabilities they are taking on when buying an E.V

Peter Cavellini 14 December 2023

Who is keeping a car more than three four years these days?, also, 80%, most will see that as 20% more range you can't shouldn't really use?, and, I don't drive very often maybe 3,000 miles a year, is it really worth my while buying an EV?

Tigermoto 20 December 2023
40%... Let's not forget that you have to charge at 20%.
So your 300mile car battery has less than 240 miles range between charges.
And let's not forget if you can't charge at home, like a lot of the UK population who live on main roads, or have to park elsewhere, or who can't charge while working, they're limited there too.
I'd love an electric car, but it's useless to me.
405line 3 February 2023

A good read, especially the bit about constantly hammering the batteries when charging them, TBH that goes for most battery types. I would have thought EV cars can go on for decades as electric motors are very reliable. I suspect the Germans will eventually come up with a DIN standard that will be adopted to ease the madness of batteries and connectors that will be inevitable and to ease insurance costs etc.