Do EVs Cost More to Repair?

202312 cost to repair evs scaled jpg EV repairs | illustration by Paul Dolan

We know electric vehicles cost less to maintain than comparable cars with internal combustion engines, as they have fewer mechanical parts and require no oil changes. But what about repairing the inevitable collision damage some will suffer?

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Well, that’s more complicated. Despite some horror stories, there are no data so far that EVs overall are a lot more expensive to fix than ICE vehicles that are comparable in age and price. There is evidence, however, that the average cost for EV crash repairs is a bit higher, and data also show that individual EV models and brands vary a lot, just as with ICE vehicles.

“Every vehicle is different, and we have this burning desire to paint electric vehicles with a single brush,” says Matt Moore, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a research group for the vehicle insurance industry. “The reality is they are all different, and some of them are much different than others.” As an example of the pitfalls of a single brush, Moore cites the haughty Lucid Air and the humble Nissan Leaf. “Are they both electric vehicles? Well, yeah, but the similarities stop there.”

Driving Repair Cost Debate

The debate over EV crash repairs has been driven most recently by a study with mixed results. An analysis of third-quarter 2023 data from Mitchell, a company that provides a software platform for collision repair shops and insurers, found that average crash repair costs for all EVs were $950 higher than for gasoline vehicles. A big chunk of that figure, though, was driven by higher repair costs for Teslas, the biggest share of EVs on the road in the U.S.; the average for all EVs excluding Teslas was just $269 higher.

A particular, much-cited horror story doesn’t help the debate, either. A fender bender that went viral showed a $42,000 bill to fix a Rivian R1T that was clipped in the rear by a Lexus. The Ohio owner’s account of the minor incident and major bill was an isolated anecdote, but it lit an online fire among EV skeptics.

Apples to Apples

Despite such reports, Moore says that HLDI research into EV collision repair costs — “dollars spent to close or resolve insurance claims” — does not find EVs to be excessively more expensive to repair than gas vehicles. The group analyzed years of insurance and repair data for the most directly comparable gas and electric vehicles; it included 11 models offered in both gasoline and battery-electric versions, such as the Volkswagen Golf, Mini Hardtop and Volvo XC40. HLDI also gathered as much additional information as possible to make them comparable, including controlling for home location, driver demographics and vehicle mileage.

What the research found was that repair claims were higher for the EV versions, but only by about 2% more than their gasoline counterparts. “Some of that could certainly be differences in the composition of the vehicle. But it could also be due to the fact that the [electric versions] are heavier,” says Moore. Additionally, property damage claims were about 4% higher for the EVs. “When they crash into other vehicles, the damage to the other vehicles is also slightly higher.” The higher weight of EVs and their batteries means there’s more energy to be absorbed, and possibly more damage, in a crash.

In contrast, Moore says EVs in the study also showed much lower “claims frequency” — the number of reported collisions. EV crash claims were 19% lower than the gas-powered versions.

What Drives Higher EV Repair Costs

There are several factors specific to EVs that increase cost, some of which might come down over time with more EVs on the road, more experience with repairs and more focus by makes on repair costs. The number of EVs on the road in the U.S. in mid-2023 was about 2.7 million, a number that’s growing but is still a small slice of the nearly 288 million total light-duty vehicles in operation, according to data firm Experian. Factors that are driving costs include:

  • Advanced technology is making all cars safer, more efficient and more convenient, but also more expensive to repair — and EVs generally have more of it on more models. Tech hardware often cannot be repaired, but instead must be replaced and recalibrated.
  • Because EVs are generally newer and smaller-volume models, their repairs require more manufacturer-sourced parts, with fewer less expensive parts available from aftermarket or third-party suppliers. The Mitchell report found EV repairs require nearly 90% original automaker parts versus about two-thirds for gasoline models.
  • Most EVs are newer luxury cars, which have generally higher repair costs regardless of their propulsion systems. About 77% of EV registrations in the previous 12 months through the second quarter of 2023 were luxury vehicles, according to Experian.
  • So far, fewer repair shops have the trained staff and equipment needed for EV repairs, making it harder to shop for price.
  • There are extra labor costs due to the need for safe handling of the battery pack even if the battery has no damage. The report by Mitchell found more hours of labor are needed for EV repairs — equating to nearly half the total bill compared with 41% for gasoline vehicles. The report says a significant factor was the battery system, which might need to be de-energized for safety for some operations; some automakers even require removal of the pack for certain procedures.

What About the $42,000 Rivian Repair?

“I think the big question with that $42,000 Rivian repair, the one everyone’s talking about, is, is it because it’s an electric vehicle?” asks Moore, who says the answer for this Rivian pickup truck actually is a combination of factors you can’t separate. “They’re all tied together. It’s electric. It has these unique design characteristics. They are a startup. They’re a low-volume manufacturer.”

Moore adds, “If you look at any startup — gas-powered or electric — startup manufacturers always have higher [costs] than others because there’s not a repair network in place. There are no aftermarket parts. No one has experience fixing those vehicles.”

What About Tesla Costs?

While the Mitchell report shows Teslas have higher average repair costs overall, HLDI research looking at model-years 2020-22 shows that individual Tesla models vary significantly. Moore says the overall insurance claim size and frequency for the big Model S sedan with all-wheel drive is 2.4 times the average for all vehicles and is notably higher than its class of large luxury cars, which runs about two times the average for all vehicles.

The smaller Model 3 sedan with AWD scores only about 1.6 times more expensive than the all-vehicle average, while the mid-size luxury car class overall averages about 1.5 times higher. “The Tesla Model 3s are only slightly higher than other mid-size luxury cars,” says Moore.

What About Battery Vulnerability?

Concerns have been raised about EV battery pack repairability and vulnerability, with the potential for even minor collision damage to lead to the EV being written off as a total loss. The  report from Mitchell notes that damage to the battery, which is the most expensive component in an EV, does increase the risk of the vehicle being totaled. However, it also says its most recent analysis of insurance claims for model-year 2020 and newer EVs found the total loss rate was 7.25% of claims, less than the rates for both luxury gasoline vehicles of similar value (7.47%) and all ICE models (8.49%).

Does It Cost More to Insure an EV?

It might, to the extent your rate is based on the vehicle and not your personal record as the driver. But according to personal finance site Bankrate’s tracking of insurance rates, EVs typically still are more expensive to insure. It cites the higher sticker price for an EV versus a comparable gasoline vehicle, as well as the technology features on most EVs and a need for more shops to be qualified to repair them.

However, Bankrate also notes that EV tech has come down in cost — battery costs dropped almost 90% from 2008 to 2022, says the federal Energy Department — and predicts average EV rates will be comparable to ICE vehicles as EVs become more popular. It also varies by individual model: Bankrate cited a list of popular examples that showed full coverage insurance for a Chevrolet Bolt EV or Bolt EUV actually cost slightly less than the overall national average, while some others were not a lot above; a Tesla Model X, on the other hand, cost more than double the national average. Again, the specific vehicle trumps average trends.

There Is One Lower Cost for EVs: They Aren’t Theft Bait

In this time of rising car thefts, the HLDI study of comparable vehicles found car thieves tend to pass by EVs.

“If we look at that same basket of vehicles, the ones with EV and ICE direct comparison vehicles, the theft losses are much lower for those [electric] vehicles,” says Moore. “It is not surprising, but to the best of my knowledge, we’re the only folks talking about that issue.”

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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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