Currently reading: The independent garage shaping Britain's EV repair network
Maintaining EVs requires specialist training and a lot of detective work, for which Hevra was formed. John Evans meets some of its members at Good Guys Garage
John Evans
News
5 mins read
18 September 2021

The memory of my sales colleagues striking the showroom window the instant I tremulously removed the cables from the battery in a used car on the forecourt plays out in my mind as I watch Luke Daisley, owner of Good Guys Garage in Essex, remove the main fuse from a Nissan Leaf. Will there be a flash and a smell of burning flesh? Fortunately not.

“People have this idea that electric cars are always live and dangerous,” says Daisley. “The truth is that you would have to do something stupid to get an electric shock.”

That’s not strictly true, of course, as guidance from organisations including the Health and Safety Executive makes clear. Still, as a former soldier (he served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), Daisley is determined not to play up the risks. He opened Good Guys as a general garage specialising in servicing and repairing EVs and hybrids earlier this year, since when he and his colleague Emre Taner have worked on a handful of EVs. He’s confident that there will be more.

Daisley’s optimism isn’t without foundation. The number of EVs on UK roads is forecast to grow to 12.7 million during the next 10 years. As they fall out of warranty, garages like Daisley’s should benefit.

He’s fortunate, since both he and Taner are qualified to work on EVs and have years of experience doing so. Less fortunate are the thousands of technicians across the UK yet to receive EV training. The Institute of the Motor Industry says that of a total workforce of 238,000 technicians, only 15,500 are registered on its Techsafe register and so qualified to work on EVs. It claims this isn’t only a threat to safety but, unless addressed, is also likely to increase the cost of EV repairs, therefore discouraging drivers from making the switch. The organisation is appealing to the government to help fund the training of a further 75,000 EV technicians.

Four years ago, Peter Melville, an experienced automotive diagnostics engineer, also realised that the UK’s vehicle technicians were lacking not only EV training but, once qualified, technical support, too. A technician working on petrol and diesel vehicles enjoys no end of support from manufacturers, third-party suppliers and their own colleagues. Not so those working with EVs, who struggle to get meaningful help from anyone.

Melville also realised that drivers whose EVs are out of warranty might wish to have them serviced not by main dealers but by less expensive independent workshops – but who can they trust to do the work properly?

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This situation inspired him to form the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance (Hevra) in 2017. “Run by EV drivers for EV drivers,” proclaims its website. It sounds like just a marketing slogan, except Hevra really is a band of EV enthusiasts who pool their knowledge for the benefit of members and customers.

If Hevra doesn’t have the answer to an EV problem, it will dispatch one of its engineers to the troubled garage to help find it.

“I relish being called to a fresh problem,” says Gary Clayton, a Hevra support specialist and former IT professional. I’ve met him – one of 160 Hevra members – at Good Guys to learn more about how the organisation operates. “We harvest fault intelligence from member garages and, by combining it with our skills in diagnostics, help them get to the root of EV problems quickly,” he neatly summarises.

Fault codes and interpreting them correctly is a major issue. He recalls a Renault Zoe that wouldn’t start or charge, which he recovered from a main dealer. “The car was displaying a fault code that appeared to show the motor controller was at fault,” he says. “The main dealer workshop had quoted the customer £3500 to fix it. We discovered that the problem was simply a cracked main fuse.”

Another fault code that Hevra members encounter is “high voltage loss of isolation”. This suggests there’s a power leakage between the battery pack and the chassis, but even so, it stumps many technicians. “The only solution is to put on insulated gloves, grab an insulation resistance tester and hunt for the leakage,” says Clayton. “In fact, the air-conditioning compressor is often to blame.” Hevra’s members pride themselves not only on diagnosing faults quickly but also on fixing rather than replacing failed parts. To this end, and because individual parts for EVs are so hard to come by (for example, no manufacturer yet supplies individual battery cells, meaning the whole battery pack must be purchased at considerable cost), many keep one or two EVs to break for spares. In fact, Good Guys is one of the UK’s biggest sources of used parts for the Nissan Leaf.

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When I visit, Daisley and Taner are replacing a faulty battery cell on a 2011 car whose range has fallen from around 80 miles to only 45. Using a cell reader that displays the performance of each cell, Taner identifies the faulty one, removes it and replaces it with a good used one. This job typically takes one day but means this Nissan can go on its way, rather than be limited to local use.

“Ours is a fault-finding business requiring a forensic and logical approach to problems,” says Clayton. In other words, grease monkeys need not apply.

What goes wrong on older EVs?

Older used electric cars are now around in strong numbers, so what common problems should you be aware of on the most popular?

Renault Zoes, for example, can suffer charging problems, often traced to the rectifier that turns AC current to DC. Many garages will replace the whole battery charger at a cost of around £3000, but those with the skills will replace the individual parts for closer to £1000. Nissan Leafs can suffer a failed heating element in the passenger compartment heater.

With less to go wrong but higher parts costs when they do, correct diagnosis of EV faults is essential.

READ MORE

How to maintain and service your electric car

Call for UK to address EV skills shortage before 2030

What is the battery life of an electric car?

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Comments
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jensen_healey 20 September 2021

"Grease monkeys need not apply" - Nice of you to maintain the stereotypical image of those who work in the automotive repair industry Mr Evans...

streaky 18 September 2021

This is just confirmation that the majority of the garage trade never changes as it continues to replace large chunks of a car at vast cost without even trying to think of a cheaper solution.  I don't know whether it's a lack of training or willful incompetence.  It's been the norm with conventional cars where, for example, a whole automatic transmission is replaced when a quick reprogramming of the management system would have effected a cure.  Now, hapless EV owners are going to fork out for a whole battery when only an individual cell requires replacement.  Of course manuafcturers are not going to make individual cells available when they can shift a whole battery.  They regard the spares business as a cash cow.

Peter Cavellini 18 September 2021

I am gob smacked!, only a third of the price?!, a £1000.00 pounds only?!, you call that cheap?!, won't many owners of Ev's just trade it away and get into a new one?!, who is going to buy a second hand one that's been fixed or not?, at the moment, there's not that much money around due to the ongoing Pandemic and Brexit, I've probably done less than 2,000 miles in the last 17 months in my ICE powered car, so it's not cost me much, however, it's nice to know that there'll be plenty of good independent Garages around to sort Ev's .