Piston Slap: Will EVs Bankrupt Mechanics, Dealerships?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Marc writes:

Hi. Long-time reader, and have had a past question answered. With all the hype surrounding electrification, there is one aspect I see little discussion about — the impact on the service and parts business. If the majority of profits at a dealership comes from service and parts, what is the impact of no oil changes, etc, and the myriad of ICE parts that electric vehicles don’t have? Jiffy Lube, Aamco, Midas, all done.

The economic implications are huge. Your thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

This is where I give the standard speech that my full time corporate gig is in the auto retailing side of things, so you outta take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Anyway, let’s be realistic about maintenance and repairs on EVs. While the likes of specialty places like Jiffy Lube shall see a contraction (or an unlikely death), Auto Dealerships/Repair shops don’t make a living on oil changes. Considering the number of $29.99/$19.99/$9.99 oil change coupons I see floating around online and in direct mail pieces, the game here is to get cars in the service bays to look for problems (via free multi-point inspection) while the oil drains out/tires get rotated.

Taking a scope to the brake calipers (measuring pad thickness), checking for play in suspension bits, looking for leaks, etc, is where you make the profits that keep the lights on. This will not change if/when EVs dominate the market, because most EVs possess cooling systems that are complicated works of art and require periodic attention. From the Tesla forums, the Model S recommends annual servicing to the tune of $600, though commentator Rocky_H notes, “the (required) 2 year service is $700 and the 4 year service is $900, and then the cycle repeats.” That post has another gem from dd.micsol:

“This is very high maint costs if you think about it. If you get a new ICE you won’t do anything but oil changes for the first 3 yrs. So about 5 oil changes or about 150 bucks.”

He’s got a point, irrelevant if people actually embraced the low maintenance, air-cooled Nissan Leaf. But nobody(ish) in North America wants a practical EV, so forget it! On to the next point: suspension wear.

Electric cars are oh-so-heavy, often run on big wheels with low profile tires, and our infrastructure is generally crummy and motorists rarely avoid every bump in the road. Peep these curb weights:

  • 2020 Nissan Leaf: 3,538 – 3,946 lbs
  • 2020 Chevy Bolt: 3,563 lbs
  • 2020 Nissan Sentra: 3,045 – 3,084 lbs
  • 2020 Audi E-Tron: 5,754 lbs
  • 2020 Porsche Taycan: 4,777 to 5,132 lbs
  • 2020 Tesla Model S: 4,883 to 4,941 lbs
  • 2020 Mercedes S-class: 4,553 to 5,296 lbs
  • 2011 Lincoln Town Car: 4,352 to 4,467 lbs

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Town Car’s high center of gravity (among other things) make it feel much heavier than a Model S. It’s a safe bet that inertia-laden Teslas have more R&D money invested in a (relatively) featherweight suspension with low amounts of unsprung weight. Both the Model S and 3 handle so amazingly well for their sizes, they must have a light suspension relative to their gross vehicle weight rating (which is nearly 6,000 lbs)!

Because you can’t have a tough suspension that handles like a race car…you gotta pick one!

Since Tesla is leading the charge (sorry) on North American electrification, odds are they know the truth about suspension design for an electrified chassis. We will never know their truth, but it’s fair to note Tesla’s history of denying suspension problems when customers drive their luxury barges on bad roads, break stuff, and sometimes make owners sign confidentiality agreements. If it allegedly happened to a Hollywood star, it can theoretically happen to anyone, right?

What’s the point? Once more automakers/people get on the EV bandwagon, more data will likely show that EVs need mechanical attention in the aforementioned ways, and many shall be pricey. So mechanics and dealerships shall still win, because the multi-point inspection shall save some bacon.

[Image: Lucid Motors]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Mmreeses Mmreeses on Feb 14, 2020

    Assuming no government bans on ICE---the future will be a mix of ICE, hybrids, electric, diesel, natural gas and possible fuel cell/hydrogen. Crazy thought: for some people ICE is better, for others plug-in electric. Now if the US goes full "soda ban" on new ICE cars---OEMs will seal those powertrains, guaranteed third/4th-hand electric cars will not be affordable to lower incomes (end-of-life battery failures); many chains with inconsistent quality will go out of business, the whole industry will get squeezed, dealers will thin out until only the strong balance sheets survive; many people will just throw their hands up and choose or be forced to use Uber-Lyft-whatever else whether or not there's a robot behind the wheel

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Feb 14, 2020

    Go broke ? Hardly. You underestimate the ability of car makers to design in planned obsolence. There is no reason your car today can't run 250k reliably, save wear parts like tires shocks and brakes...and shocks and brakes could be designed to last a lot longer than they do. The current leading edge cars are expensive, mostly and aimed at a buyer who can afford an experiment. They aren't yet mass market. When they do, you will be sure the batteries will last X time. The motors won't be forever, no matter what you have today...stuff will wear. A car is a financial instrument. The cost to buy, the cost to keep running, the cost after warranty, are all well planned and calculated. Some car makers go longer, like Honda or Toyota, some go shorter (first owner only) like GM or Chrysler, but they all have an average lifespan for part like alternators or fuel pumps. Some cheap wheel bearings or alternators can easily be hidden in the car, as bombs for the second owner-saves pennies, produces huge knock on effects- Electrics will eventually be mass, and the costs will also be per marketing, not engineering. No one changes points any more, but the OBD-2 sends more people in than points ever did. Once the ultimate battery is designed, someone will shave pennies from it, and at 200k, you may expect to re-power the car....or buy new.

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  • Haze3 EV median weight is in the range of 4500-5500lbs, similar to the low end of full size pickup trucks and SUV's or typical mid-size PU's and SUV's. Obviously, EV Hummers and PU's are heavier but, on average, EV=PU or mid/full SUV is about right. EV's currently account for ~1% of the cars on the road. PU's account for 17% and SUV's count for over 40%. If we take out light SUV's, then call it 30% SUV or so. So, large-ish PU's and SUV's, together, account for ~50% of the US fleet vs 1% for EV's. As such, the fleet is ALREADY heavy. The problem is that EV's will be making the currently lighter 50% heavier, not that PU/SUV haven't already done most of the damage on avg mass.Sure, the issue is real but EV responsibility is not. If you want to get after heavies, that means getting after PU/SUV's (the current problem by 40-50x) first and foremost.
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  • Theflyersfan My dad had a 1998 C280 that was rock solid reliable until around 80,000 miles and then it wasn't. Corey might develop a slight right eyelid twitch right about now, but it started with a sunroof that leaked. And the water likely damaged some electric components because soon after the leaks developed, the sunroof stopped working. And then the electrical gremlins took hold. Displays that flickered at times, lights that sometimes decided illumination was for wimps so stayed home, and then the single wiper issue. That thing decided to eat motors. He loved that car but knew when to fold the hand. So he bought a lightly used, off lease E-class. Had that for less than two years before he was ready to leave it in South Philly, keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, and a "Take it please" sign on the windshield. He won't touch another Benz now.
  • Detlump A lot of people buy SUVs because they're easier to get in and out of. After decades of longer, lower, wider it was refreshing to have easier ingress/egress offered by an SUV.Ironically, the ease of getting in and out of my Highlander is very similar to my 56 Cadillac.
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