In general, today’s cars are built better than ever. It’s tough to wind up being stuck with a bona fide lemon these days, with more owners complaining about quirky infotainment systems than major mechanical failures.
But what about electric cars that eschew internal combustion engines for motors and extra-large battery packs? Though many regard EVs as the high-tech vehicles of the future, the underlying technology dates back to the advent of the Industrial Age. In fact, many of the first automobiles built were electric cars. They were actually quite popular in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries until advancements in gasoline engines, and particularly the introduction of starter motors that supplanted the hand crank, led to their decline.
Which electric cars are the most reliable? Answering that question is like picking the winner of a horse race in that you have to consider their past performances. There’s no predicting the future, of course, but how well a given model has proved to hold up over time can give a reasonable indication of its inherent durability. Unfortunately, that tends to leave out newer models that have yet to establish a mechanical track record, as well as those that sell in minute numbers with few examples to consider.
Consumer Reports (subscription required) is the expert source to consult here. The publication rates vehicles according to their reliability, based on extensive surveys of its print and online subscribers. They're ranked according to 17 potential trouble spots on a five-point basis, with a three representing average performance. Scores are based on the percentage of respondents who reported problems for specific mechanical and physical areas, compared with the average of all vehicles for that model year. We’re including the overall reliability scores and expected trouble spots for the EVs rated highest by Consumer Reports in the above slideshow.
On the plus side, electric vehicles tend to be inherently less prone to suffer mechanical woes than gas-powered models. They utilize an electric motor and a simple single-speed transmission, and eliminate over two-dozen mechanical components that could fail or wear out and need replacing. These includes items like spark plugs, valves, muffler/tailpipe, distributor, starter, clutch, drive belts, hoses, and a catalytic converter. Of course there’s still a good number of moving parts remaining in any EV, including the steering, suspension and braking systems, and a host of electronics, both in the cabin and those used to control the vehicle.
Another positive is that federal regulations require manufacturers to cover an EV’s battery pack – its costliest component – under warranty for at least eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Hyundai extends this to lifetime coverage on the Kona Electric, while Kia bumps it up it to 10 years or 100,000 miles on the Niro and Soul EV models. If you’re considering a used EV, rest assured that any remaining part of the battery’s original coverage automatically transfers to a subsequent owner.
Though neither the Hyundai Kona Electric (pictured above) nor the Kia Niro EV – both mechanically related and new for the 2019 model year – have yet to prove their long-term reliability; Consumer Reports predicts each will score a four out of five. That judgment is based on the performance of previous Hyundai and Kia vehicles, and places them above average among all vehicles.
Based on eight model years’ worth of owner surveys, Consumer Reports gives the Nissan Leaf an a predicted reliability rating of three out of five, which makes it average among all vehicles. At that, it gets top scores in all of the important possible trouble spots, with older models being marked down here and there for isolated issues, including with the climate control system, paint/trim, and power equipment.
While Consumer Reports gives the Tesla Model 3 a predicted reliability score of two out of five, it actually gets top marks for all of the important issues, including its powertrain, steering, suspension, and brakes. It gets an above-average score of four for its paint/trim and in-car electronics and an average of three for body hardware. CR, by the way, gives the Tesla Model S and Model X below-average ratings for reliability.
Having been on the road for a few years now, the BMW i3’s reliability is well documented. The 2014 version is rated average, with subsequent model years receiving top scores for durability from Consumer Reports. Its only less than perfect area for the 2018 model year is the i3’s drive system, for which it received a four out of five. Owners of older versions reported issues with the in-car electronics.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV is Consumer Reports’ top-rated electric vehicle, overall. The 2018 version gets perfect marks in all of the publication’s 17 potential trouble spots except for body integrity, where it rates an average of three out of five points. The 2017 vintage likewise gets high marks in all mechanical areas, though it gets a score of four for its power equipment and only a one for its in-car electronics.
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