Published on March 8th, 2020 | by Steve Hanley
March 8th, 2020 by Steve Hanley
One of the common fears of people considering an electric vehicle is long-term reliability. New technology always makes people nervous. Nobody wants to shell out a bunch of cash for something that might turn out to be a useless pile of junk months or years hence.
Tesloop — a “regional EV mobility network” offering rides and rentals between Los Angeles, San Diego, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas 7 days a week, 24 hours a day — uses Tesla automobiles exclusively. It also scrupulously documents every repair by date, mileage, and cost. It recently sold a 2016 Model X 90D that was part of its Tesla fleet that had accumulated 409,000 miles.
Haydn Sonnad, a co-founder of Tesloop, shared the vehicle’s entire maintenance history with Jalopnik contributor David Tracy. Everything was accounted for, from wiper blades to a battery replacement at 317,000 miles. The total came to $29,000. Whoa, that’s a lot of cashola, right? Not really. It pencils out to just over 7 cents per mile, which is pretty cheap when you think about it. The entire maintenance log is reproduced in the Jalopnik article.
Keep in mind this car was in nearly constant service for more than 3 years with multiple drivers and hundreds of passengers climbing in and out on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired on every car. Go stand at the service window at your local Mercedes or Lexus dealer sometime and listen to service advisers telling customers how many thousands of dollars it is going to cost to keep their cars in tip top condition. A favorite sales technique at high-end dealerships is to offer customers a chance to put the projected service costs toward the purchase of a new car instead. Quite a few choose to drive home a new set of wheels rather than pay to fix their current ride.
There are some known issues with Tesla automobiles and some that are particular to the Model X. For instance, air conditioning compressors tend to fail after about 150,000 miles of service. Sonnad notes his cars operate 24 hours a day in a hot climate, so the air conditioning is almost always working.
Keep in mind that this story is about one car used in an unconventional way. No broad conclusions can be drawn about all Teslas based on this one example. But David Tracy does note replacing A/C compressors is a common occurrence among Tesla owners. Also remember that Tesla is constantly improving its cars, and things that went wrong on a 2016 model may not necessarily go wrong on a newer car.
Tires are a frequent replacement item. A recent article in TechCrunch reports tires on electric cars tend to last about 30% less than on conventional cars, due largely to the extra weight of the batteries. Brake pads are not replaced as often, though. The first pad and rotor replacement for the Tesloop Model X occurred at 166,000, and again at 389,000 miles.
The door switch for the falcon-wing doors failed at 144,000 miles and cost just over $100 to replace. “When the Model X first came out, they had a little switch … it was a pretty crappy part and then they redesigned it … towards late 2017 I believe,” Sonnad says. Since the redesign, the number of problems has decreased substantially.
Another switch mounted in the steering wheel also failed. Various interior and exterior trim pieces fell off and needed to be reattached or replaced.
The car’s central touchscreen failed at around 374,000 miles and cost $2,400 to fix. Both rear seats also needed to be replaced later in the car’s life — a $5,000 repair and a fairly common issue with early Model X vehicles.
Another recurring problem was a broken charging port door. Not all drivers and service technicians knew they are designed to close automatically, so they closed them manually — perhaps with a hip check or two. Such things are not cheap to fix, nor are malfunctioning glovebox doors, which can cost as much as $1,500 to repair.
The one thing you might expect to be a problem — the high-voltage battery — wasn’t an issue, but that requires some explanation. It was replaced at 317,000 miles because the car would run out of electricity even though the range meter in the car indicated there were 50 or more miles of range remaining. “This is a recurring issue with high mileage Model Xs and Model Ss, which is that they would die when they still display range,” Sonnad says. “This is between 0 miles and I think 60 was the highest we ever saw, where it would say ‘hey, you have 60 miles left,’ and it would just die.”
Tesla replaced the battery at no charge because Tesloop convinced the service facility the incorrect range reading was a failure that significantly affected the intended use of the car. “We’ve used that justification for warranty on all of the cars that we’ve had high voltage [batteries] replaced,” Sonnad adds. His understanding is the problem has been fixed with the batteries for the Model 3.
Since Tesloop purchased the 2016 Model X, Tesla has changed its battery warranty, as was widely discussed on Tesla forums but didn’t make many headlines. Originally, there was no mileage limitation. Today, coverage is limited to 150,000 miles. If Tesloop had to pay the cost of replacing the battery, that would change the financial picture considerably, potentially adding $15,000 or more to the total spent. One can rightly ask whether a normal customer would receive the same consideration. There is no way to answer that question since we don’t have a comparable example.
The Tesla Service Experience
This brings up an interesting point. Sonnad says relations with Tesla service centers can vary from facility to facility. Sometimes it depends on having built a relationship with the service manager. “Dealing with Tesla is really hit or miss,” he says. “It’s super dependent on the actual people at the service center, and how the manager is. We had to push them and push them and push them to do things. They weren’t super proactive about it,” he adds, and sometimes the amount of time needed to make repairs was longer than expected — a negative for a company that depends on its vehicles being in service 24 hours a day. Sonnad sums up his experience this way: “Overall, Tesla’s attitude was good.”
Few people have as much experience with high mileage Teslas as Haydn Sonnad, so his opinion about the cost of maintenance and cost of repair merits consideration. “The big takeaway is that on a per-mile [basis], maintenance is relatively cheap,” he says. “The first, like, 200,000 were super low cost.” The car got more expensive to maintain as the miles added up, though. Still, “there was way less maintenance needed than I think an ICE car would have had … the frequency is lower.”
Which puts the focus squarely on the conundrum all vehicle owners face — keep a car until the wheels fall off or trade it in for a new model before the really expensive stuff needs doing?
Also, don’t be misled about battery replacement costs. Yes, they can be high. But so is rebuilding an engine and/or transmission in a conventional car, especially if that car is a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus, or other premium make. Be prepared for what’s possible, but also be realistic about the costs of maintaining an older fossil-fuel car.
The bottom line is, there is no free lunch. It costs money to maintain any car, gas or electric. There is a non-economic benefit to you and to society in driving all those miles on electrons instead of molecules. The message is, don’t expect your electric car to never need maintenance or repairs. Drive happy, secure in the knowledge that you are doing your part to make the world a more sustainable place and maybe saving a little money at the same time.
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