Used cars cost more than ever, but there is an exception to this. Used electric vehicles (EVs) may appear to be a bargain in today’s used car market.
A woman in Florida purchased a used 2014 Ford Focus Electric for $11,000. It had 60,000 miles on it. After driving it a few months, lights started flashing on the dashboard—this indicated a problem with the battery. Her battery needed to be replaced. But the replacement was $14,000. The battery was worth more than the car.
Electric vehicles have lithium batteries. These batteries have a finite lifespan. How long will a lithium battery last, and what is a replacement’s cost? Further, what happens to that battery when it’s depleted? All these factors will influence whether you—and the environment—are really getting a deal on that electric vehicle.
How Long Do EV Batteries Last?
Lithium batteries don’t last decades. There’s much debate about exactly how long an EV battery will last. Some manufacturers claim 200,000 plus miles. But the actual number isn’t known or at least confirmed. It’s mostly speculation based on empirical knowledge.
Electric vehicle batteries have improved. The early EVs were notorious for short-lived batteries. For instance, batteries for the first-generation Nissan Leaf, a competitively priced EV, lasted 100,000 to 150,000 miles. So, if you’re eyeing that used Leaf, you might want to check the mileage. Indeed, if you’re in the market for any used EV—buyer beware. That battery may be at the end of its life.
The bottom line is that once the car is turned on for the first time, the clock starts ticking. It’s called battery degradation, and it happens to every electric vehicle—some sooner than others.
Factors that speed up degradation are extreme heat, cold and DC fast charging.
EV Battery Warranties
How long are EV manufacturers willing to warranty their batteries? With few exceptions, EV batteries have manufacturer warranties that last eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. The warranty is responsible for correcting defects in the materials or workmanship under normal use.
Tesla’s vehicle batteries are warrantied for eight years or 100–150,000 miles, depending on the model.
EV Lithium Battery Replacement Cost
Just as there’s a wide range of how long an electric vehicle battery lasts, the cost of replacement also varies. Depending on the warranty, it can cost zero dollars to $24,000 depending on the vehicle’s make and whether it’s under warranty.
For instance, with battery and labor, a Tesla battery can cost over $15,000 to replace.
So watch that mileage if you’re in the market for a used EV.
Disposing of EV Batteries
The debate is on as to what to do with an EV battery once it’s degraded below use. It is estimated that by 2025, battery packs will exceed 3.5 million worldwide, according to Bloomberg. So who’s going to be responsible for disposing of these batteries?
In the United States there was a push to make the manufacturers liable for disposal but that failed. But, if the battery still has a percentage of life, it can be used for other purposes.
For instance, batteries are currently being recycled in Europe for storing energy for home grids. Likewise, California is using depleted batteries to power car charging stations. But this is basically kicking the can down the road. The batteries will still become useless over time and need to be disposed of.
Throwing used EV batteries in a landfill is problematic, as lithium batteries aren’t stable. They can cause fires that sometimes smolder for years. Toxic fumes are released, which not only are dangerous to breathe but can contribute to global warming. This defeats the original purpose of the EV.
Ultimately, cleaning up the mess will be tremendously expensive, if even possible.
The Manufacturing Process and Pollution
Electric vehicles contribute to the greenhouse effect. This starts with the mining process. The process of mining the raw materials for the batteries releases CO2 emissions. Then these raw materials must be refined before they can be used in batteries; this causes more emissions. And in the manufacturing process, the more miles a battery can go, the more CO2 emissions are released.
For instance, according to a factsheet from the Young People’s Trust for the Environment, about 150kg of CO2 emissions are released for every one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of battery capacity. For an electric vehicle to go at least 300 miles between charges, it needs a battery with a minimum capacity of 60 kWh. That equates to around nine tons of CO2 being emitted during the manufacturing process. Keep in mind that this is on top of the CO2 that was emitted during the mining process.
Running an Electric Vehicle with Pollution
Chris Plante, a Westward One audio network host, often refers to electric vehicles as “coal powered vehicles”. That’s because electricity must be produced before it can charge an EV. The United States relies on coal to produce electricity. In 2021, it was our second largest energy source for electricity generation. There are currently 240 coal plants in the United States. Higher gas prices have increased coal fired electric plants.
Therefore, even if you disregard the manufacturing process, the EV is still, indirectly, contributing to CO2 emissions.
True Cost of Electric Vehicle
The cost of an electric vehicle goes beyond the vehicle itself. This is especially true if you purchase a used EV. Batteries can cost more than the vehicle is worth. At that point, the EV becomes a throwaway vehicle. And once it is thrown away, that battery can create an environmental hazard.
When considering whether EVs are “green,” it must be remembered that because of the manufacturing process, landfill emissions and coal fired electric plants, electric vehicles still contribute to the greenhouse effect.
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