Reader Qs (August 1, 2017)

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Here are the latest Reader Qs – along with my answers! 

John asks: 

How do they warranty electric cars? I know with my lead acid battery I have to change it every 3 or 4 years and it is not covered by warranty. Will we have to buy $8,000 worth of batteries every 3 years for our electric cars? And if the batteries aren’t covered, what stops them from raising the price of these batteries through the roof? I buy a car and they say “battery change is $500” – then raise it to eight or nine thousand, and say “oh, the new model has $500 batteries – you need to trade in” – etc.. etc…

My answer: 

In a normal car (i.e., non-hybrid/non-electric) the 12V battery that starts the engine is considered a wear item, like tires. There is a warranty – but it’s different from the warranty on the car itself and (as with tires) issued by the company that made it, not the company that built the car itself.

If the battery fails before “x” time, you will usually get a pro rata (partial) credit for the balance of the warranty toward the new/replacement battery.

Hybrids and electrics have a different warranty on the battery that powers the car. It is usually longer and issued by the company that made the car itself. For example, the Toyota Prius has an eight year/100,000 mile warranty on its battery pack (the basic, or “whole car” warranty is only good for three years/36,000 miles). This is not a pro rata warranty; if the battery fails within the warranty period, you get a new replacement battery.

But the catch is this:

When a non-hybrid/non-electric car’s 12V start battery dies out of warranty, you’re looking at maybe $100 or so for a replacement. When a hybrid/electric car’s battery pack needs to be replaced out of warranty, you are potentially looking at several thousand dollars.

Effectively, this “totals” the car, even if the rest of it is in good working order. Because it does not make sense, financially, to spend say $3,000 on a car that – by the time battery pack needs to be replaced – may only be worth $5,000 or so.

So far, hybrid battery packs have proved to be very durable and long-lived as a general thing. But I suspect this is due to the fact that a hybrid relies on its batteries only part-time, so the battery isn’t worked as hard. It will be interesting to see how pure electric car batteries hold up over time.

I would not want to be a guinea pig myself.

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