Piston Slap: Will EVs Bankrupt Mechanics, Dealerships?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap will evs bankrupt mechanics dealerships

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.

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2 of 117 comments
  • 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.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?