Only 3% of Technicians Know How to Work on Electric Vehicles
By Ted Ings, Executive Director
Electric vehicles are here – but there’s no one to fix them
Consumers are desperate for electric vehicle repair but can’t find it. A recent study found only 3% of automotive technicians know how to work on EVs [Borras]. Where does that leave owners of cars such as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3? Up a creek without a paddle, that’s where.
Many shops let fear and ignorance prevent them from working on battery-powered vehicles. If your service department is one them, now’s the time to face your fears. Dealerships that don’t have enough (if any) technicians to service EVs aren’t just letting their customers down – they’re hurting themselves, too.
Why you’ll continue to see more EVs
Bloomberg anticipates sales of zero-emissions vehicles will increase ten-fold between 2017 and 2025; the worldwide count is expected to reach around 11 million [Bloomberg].
China has announced it plans to transition to all electric. Meanwhile, in North America, California and nine other states have committed to a zero-emissions vehicle phase-in program [Weissler]. Repair facilities that don’t know how to work on high-voltage machines will lose both customers and revenue.
The following are some the main reasons EVs are steadily gaining popularity:
Better batteries, increased range
Limited range was a big problem with early EVs. Battery technology wasn’t strong enough to provide the distance needed by many drivers. But that is quickly changing.
For example, the first generation Nissan Leaf, which debuted in 2011, had an advertised range of just 84 miles. The 2018 model, on the other hand, can travel up to 151 miles on a single charge. In other words, the car’s driving range nearly doubled in just seven years.
Autonomous technologies require electrification
Computers have an easier time driving electric vehicles, which means most – if not all – self-driving cars will be EVs [Douris]. Plus, the high-voltage batteries used in electric vehicles support the advanced electronics needed for autonomy [NetworkNewsWire].
EVs need very little maintenance compared to internal combustion-powered vehicles. Take, for example, the Chevy Bolt; it requires virtually zero upkeep for the first 150,000 miles. There’s a tire rotation every 7,500 miles and a cabin filter replacement at 22,500 miles. Otherwise, the only real service is a coolant flush at 150,000 miles [Stevens]. There’s no oil changes, no spark plug replacement – none of that.
Low cost of ownership
Although upfront, the price of an EV may be more than that of a traditional vehicle, the choice makes up for itself over time. Once the cost of ownership is figured in (fuel, maintenance, etc.) electric vehicles tend to be cheaper [Douris].
What’s holding shops back?
As was mentioned earlier, fear and ignorance prevent many shops from working on EVs. Several factors contribute to this trepidation; these are the main two:
EV service is considered exceptionally dangerous
The engine compartment of an EV is a collection of high-voltage cables and warning labels. Naturally, this sight elicits a fear of electrocution; not just in customers, but technicians as well.
But, just like any repair job, EV service is only as dangerous as you make it. Vehicles contain service plugs that can be removed to discharge the high-voltage system. Special tools and safety equipment are also available (and required) to work on the technology.
Working on EVs doesn’t have to be dangerous; just follow the recommended safety procedures, as well as the manufacturer’s repair information.
EV technology is overly complex
Seasoned technicians will remember the introduction of fuel injection and computer controls in the 1980s. Mechanics adapted and developed the skills needed to repair the new features.
The same can happen with EVs. Although they may seem intimidating, these cars are a natural progression of automotive technology that can be learned.
What can your service department do?
Because EVs don’t need as much service as traditional vehicles, many shops believe mastering the technology is a waste.
But that’s simply not true. Although the work may be different, it’s there. An EV doesn’t need a points adjustment and carburetor tweak like, say, a ’65 Plymouth. But it does need work on the high-voltage electronics, along with traditional systems like the steering and suspension.
EVs are cars that still need repair – driven by customers who count on you to do it. These are some of the measures your service department can take to get prepared:
Invest in training
According to ASE, there are only 1,607 technicians nationwide with L3 Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Certification [ASE]. Invest in the training needed to add your team to that exclusive list, or the OEM equivalent.
Unsurprisingly, since a limited number of technicians work on EVs, there’s little training material on the subject other than what’s put out by OEMs. College and tech schools, however, are slowly starting to come onboard. In addition to these resources, there is online training, such as that from Auto Career Development Center (http://www.fixhybrid.com/).
Build an EV-friendly culture
A lot of old-school gearheads laugh at the sight of a Nissan Leaf. Convert these individuals (or at least try) by promoting an EV-friendly-culture. Emphasize how impressive the technology is and remind them – electric motors make a lot of torque.
Get the right equipment
The right tools are a must, but even more importantly, you need the proper safety equipment. Order what you need so you can start working on EVs.