Understanding the reliability of electric cars 

Electric motors only have one moving part compared to an internal combustion engine, which has many.

You’ll often hear motoring journalists say that… even we say it! And, albeit true, does it actually mean anything?

EVs are still a relatively new technology but they’re improving all the time. Are electric cars more reliable than petrol or diesel ones? And if they aren’t, what should you be worried about?

We’ll dive into whether EVs are genuinely more reliable than their fossil fuel counterparts and find out which electric car is most reliable right now.

Blue MG ZS EV driving on countryside road
Blue MG ZS EV driving on countryside road

Are electric cars reliable?

Let’s start with the burning question then. The answer? Yes, they are. But, like any new car, they’re not without fault entirely.

EV drivers can have problems with their car just like a petrol or diesel one. The good news is, lots of those appear to be software related which can be resolved with a quick over-the-air update.

In most cases, you’ll still need to take the car to the manufacturer but it could be easily resolved and all under warranty.

At the end of the day, whichever car you decide to get, it’ll never be perfect. Things get old, things will break and need replacing; that’s quite normal in any car – but that doesn’t mean the fact a car is electric makes it less dependable. In fact, all modern cars are full of advanced electrical systems and software, so petrol/diesel cars are just as susceptible to faults as most electric powered ones in that respect.

The difficulty is arguably that finding these faults in EVs can sometimes take a little longer due to lack of understanding from smaller garages that may not have worked on electric cars much before. That said, things are definitely improving, and if you take your car to the manufacturer direct (should there ever be an issue) it’ll get sorted.

A mechanic works on the underside of a car

Of course, the overall reliability of a car is more than just software though. Here’s some other things to know:

Motors

It’s said EVs are said to require around 10-15% less maintenance than an ICE vehicle, with considerably fewer physical moving parts under the bonnet. This is compared to new cars as well; if you’re thinking of going electric and coming from a much older petrol or diesel car, you could live with a lot less worry around your car’s reliability.

Electric motors have been around for a while too, albeit still new in the mainstream automotive space. They’re a tried and tested, reliable piece of technology and can last for a very, very long time.

They can still have issues, though, and because not all garages may be familiar with the intricacies of an EV motor, it’s important to act on any error messages you may see on the instrument panel and take it to an EV approved garage for repairs.

Batteries

Of course, a huge question mark you may have over an EVs reliability is its power source: the battery.

You’ll be pleased to know then, that the battery packs in EVs are already proving themselves to be reliable and long-lasting, with this technology only getting better. Teslas in the UK are being reported to reach well in excess of 300,000 miles with no battery issues, despite thousands of charging cycles. For context, less than 5% of cars are driven over 15,000 miles per year

Battery degradation is something to consider though – that’s how fast a battery loses its ability to hold energy.

Over time, electric cars may not be able to achieve the same range as they did when new because of this degradation over time. Although older EVs can suffer  from this, newer models can maintain at least 80-90% of their original state-of-health even after 10+ years of driving. Plus, if you don’t rely too heavily on rapid chargers (which can increase the speed of degradation), you can be confident your EV will remain reliable for years and years to come.

The charging port on the front of a Renault ZOE, plugged in

Brakes

Electric cars use their motors to harness regenerative braking. That means there’s less pressure on the brake discs and pads in your EV when driving compared to a standard petrol engine car. In some ways, that means there’s less to go wrong! But what if the regenerative braking fails?

Electric motors have been used in this way for a very long time, harnessing the previously lost energy during braking by acting as a ‘generator’ while you slow down. It’s quite common technology, just not previously seen in road cars until recent years. Basically, it means it’s very rare for a motor to fail during regenerative braking and they’re built to be able to do this throughout the whole lifetime of the car.

Brake failures can happen in any car though of course, so it’s important to make sure you have your car serviced and properly maintained to ensure you always come to a stop when you press the pedal. All cars will warn you though, if there is a fault with the braking system (so get your car checked straight away if you spot that warning!).

Tyres

Tyres are an interesting one when it comes to reliability, as there’s a lot of factors to think about.

Your tyres will be affected by external factors (weather, road surface etc.) regardless of how your car is powered. But because EVs are heavier, it’s thought you could get through tyre tread slightly quicker as there’s more pressure on your rubber.

Plus, because EVs deliver their power instantly when you put your foot down, others say it’s easier to wear down tyres more quickly because of the higher force applied when accelerating from a standing start. They’d also have you believe that the heavier weight would mean you’re more likely to have a blowout.

But this isn’t something you should worry about so long as you look after your car. Heavy vehicles have been around for years! Electric car tyres are more than up to the job of keeping you safe and steady on the road, so as long as you have appropriate ones fitted (and don’t drive like Lando Norris all day). The reliability of tyres on an electric car shouldn’t put you off if you’re looking to make the switch.

Peugeot e-2008, tyre close up

Suspension and other components

Again, the weight argument would suggest that EVs will go through other standard car components like suspension arms, joints, bushes or shock absorbers faster than ICE cars. But, as above, they’re built to last and as long as you take care with your car, they’re no more likely to fail than in an ICE vehicle.

Like any other car, you still need to make sure that your electric car is routinely serviced (by an EV-qualified mechanic) to inspect all of the above. And, after it’s reached three years old, it’ll need to pass an MOT as normal – minus the emissions test, of course.

Peugeot e-2008, tyre close up

Are EVs more reliable than petrol or diesel cars?

As we’ve already covered, there are far fewer moving parts inside an EV – which means there’s less that can potentially go wrong.

Parts that can commonly experience faults in petrol/diesel cars include:

  • Oil filters
  • Gaskets
  • Alternators
  • Belts
  • Spark plugs
  • Catalytic converters
  • Pistons

But of course, we’d be lying if we didn’t say that sometimes things can go wrong with an EV. Even the most reliable electric car can potentially experience a fault now and then, including:

  • Drive selection (gear selection) issues
  • Motor faults
  • Battery faults

Don’t fret though, because dealerships are well equipped to resolve these issues for you.

What about hybrids?

WhatCar? found hybrid vehicles to be very reliable cars indeed, with cars like the Hyundai Tuscon said to be one of the most reliable cars on the road. 

The problem with hybrids though, is that (although still better for the planet than a fully ICE powered vehicle), they still have the same drawbacks as running a petrol or diesel car. So, it’s about weighing up what’s best for you.

A Toyota Prius hybrid plugged in and charging.
A Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid charging at an EV charge point.
Peugeot e-2008, tyre close up

How can you maximise the reliability of an EV?

As a responsible driver, there’s plenty you can do to improve the reliability of any car. But with EVs, it can be slightly different to what you might be used to thinking about.

Although it’s cheaper to service and maintain an EV than it is other cars, if you make sure your car is routinely looked at by an EV-qualified mechanic it’ll save you even more money and worry in the long run. 

There are several things you can do yourself to maintain your EV, including checking your washer fluid, wiper blades, tyres (pressure, treads, and for signs of damage), and the air filtration system. 

At the service intervals suggested by the manufacturer of your car, you should make sure the following is checked:

  • Battery
  • Brakes
  • Airbags
  • Coolant
  • Power inverter
  • Charger modules
  • Cabin heater
  • Accessory power
  • Suspension

All in all, you can be confident that if you get an EV, you’ll be just as able to get around as normal as owning any other petrol or diesel car but reap the benefits too.

Peugeot e-2008, tyre close up

What are some of the most reliable EVs?

Tesla Model 3 parked by river

So, what if you’re not bothered what the car is exactly, you just want it to work!? Based on data from WhatCar (and our knowledge of our own EVs!) here are some of the most reliable electric cars in the UK right now:

MG ZS EV

Despite being a relative newcomer in the UK market, the new MG brand are running away with the affordable, reliable electric car market at the moment.

An MG ZS EV turning into junction in a small village.

The ZS EV was their first fully-electric model brought into the UK and this version, the latest facelift, is a fantastic EV for growing families. Great range, plenty of tech and bundles of space for a small price tag compared to other manufacturers… but the best bit? It’s a reliable family companion, too.

Volkswagen e-Golf

If you’re in the market for a used EV that’ll cope well as an all-rounder, the e-Golf from Volkswagen could be a good shout.

White Volkswagen e-Golf driving on road

You get that familiar VW interior quality and, possibly more importantly, legendary dependency too. If you want a reliable car that just happens to be electric, give the e-Golf some thought.

Kia e-Niro

A tried and tested electric car, the Kia e-Niro has been with us for a little while now but it’s still holding its own as one of the best.

Kia e-Niro 2 parked

They’ve recently facelifted the car and given it a little revamp, but this earlier version has proved popular with owners as a trustworthy chariot. The Kia dealership network is said to be good too, so you’re in safe hands even if things do go wrong.

Tesla Model 3

It would be silly for us not to include at least one Tesla on this list, considering they’re one of the most popular manufacturers in the EV space at the moment!

Black tesla Model 3 parked outside a house

The Model 3 made headlines when it came out as a more affordable alternative to their flagship Model S EV. Despite being filled with extremely clever software and lots of electrically powered featured, they’re proving their worth in the UK as a great premium electric car.

Renault ZOE

ZOE has been around for quite a while now, with the current model the best it’s ever been.

A Renault ZOE parked on a residential street.

If you’re after a tried and tested small car that’s been honed and refined over the years, and has a seriously impressive range for its size, this little Renault is a great place to start. Plus, because they’re so common on our roads, there’s lots of support out there for you should you ever need it.

Audi e-tron

The Audi e-tron is a serious piece of kit; filled to the brim with tech and one of the most premium EVs you can get your hands on, it came out as Audi’s flagship EV.

An Audi e-tron parked behind a house on a driveway

It seems as though Audi really look after the drivers of their cars, with nearly all faults seen to and sorted under warranty at no expense (and really quickly too). If ultimate luxury is the goal, but you don’t want to take any chances, this large-and-in-charge barge could be the best option for you.

An Audi e-tron parked behind a house on a driveway

Worried about going electric?

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FAQs

How reliable are electric cars?

As technology advances, EV reliability is improving. A survey from Which? discovered that EV reliability had improved from 80% to 90% between 2014 and 2021.

Are EVs more reliable than petrol or diesel cars?

EVs are proven to be as reliable as petrol and diesel cars. However, a survey by Which? found that hybrids are the most reliable type of car.

How can you maximise the reliability of an EV?

While EVs do have fewer mechanical components than petrol and diesel cars, it’s important to routinely maintain and service your car to ensure faults don’t develop.

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