Most Used Electric Car Buyers Have No Way To Confirm Vehicle Battery Health

from the this-could-be-a-problem dept

As we make the shift from gas to electric vehicles, there are a few issues we still haven't really paved the way for. One is the fact that, with gas taxes being the primary way we fund highway infrastructure, we need to develop alternative infrastructure funding (not a topic that tends to get priority in a hype and flash-obsessed culture, as John Oliver has been quick to remind everyone). The 18.4 cents a gallon federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993, and the Congressional Budget Office says that if the funding system doesn’t evolve by 2030, federal transportation funding will exceed its budget by a cool $188 billion.

The other problem, highlighted by Aaron Gordon at Wired, is that used car buyers and sellers currently have no way to confirm the battery health of a used electric car. Given the used car market is twice as big as the new car market, you can probably see how this could become a notable problem. Especially given that the battery health meter on most of these vehicles can be reset, allowing the seller of the car to effectively lie to buyers about how much life the battery has left:

"Churchill noticed something was wrong on his drive back home. When he left, the car estimated it had 80 miles of range. By the time he finished his 25-mile commute, it said it had 30 miles of range left. And in the next few days, Churchill said the battery health meter lost two bars. When he called the dealer to complain, he was shuffled between departments and ultimately ignored.

After doing some research, Churchill learned the battery health meter can be reset using a car diagnostic tool. After resetting, the meter will display all 12 bars for a short period before recalibrating after some use, just as Churchill's did. During this time, the car is essentially lying about its battery health."

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are 17 million new cars sold in the US every year, compared to 40 million used vehicles. Currently only the Nissan Leaf even has a battery health meter customers can view. Every other electric vehicle currently on the market restricts that information to proprietary devices that typically only the sellers or dealers have access to, which will likely in time tether this whole discussion to the right to repair debate, and the obnoxious ways car makers restrict your ability to repair (or even have transparency into) things you own.

While the California Air Resources Board is cooking up a set of rules (pdf) aimed at protecting consumers from fraud on this front, the vast majority of states are... not doing that. What could possibly go wrong?

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Filed Under: car batteries, electric cars, used cards


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  1. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 14 Jun 2021 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: Electromobility isn't that easy after all.

    "What? It seems preposterous that in July 2024 they'll have double the current capacity, or will have "needed to" (what happens if they don't?). Do you have a citation?"

    There's a german professor - Harald Lesch - who made a few science documentariers regarding the switch from fossil fuels to alternatives. I don't have the exact link but you should be able to just google "harald lesch elektromobilität youtube". It's in german, alas.

    The logic is pretty simple however; Charging an electric car takes a lot of power. Try around 7200 watts. The average household consumes between 25-35 kWh, so it's around 30% of that. Since you always want to build the grid with a very large proportional margin to avoid burnouts, that's where we get a conservative estimate of having to double the capacity.
    But the strain alone isn't the whole issue. Currently all the power lines terminate at power stations which are mainly...gas plants, coal plants, nuclear plants, etc. You need to build extensive cabling, transformer stations etc to accommodate the power generation locations suddenly shifting as well.

    "What do you mean by "civilian part" of the grid? Is another part equipped to handle this load?"

    I'm not sure of the exact word in english...the part of the power grid which isn't a main trunk. The network extending the last few miles to households. Powerhungry factories often need to lay extra cable just to accommodate power requirements. Intercity cabling is also prepared to bear higher loads.

    Normally when you run power through a network there are limits to how much power you can run without the network overheating or overloading. If demand exceeds possible supply you get brownouts and occasionally a whole lot of very large blown fuses unless there's a catastrophic malfunction in which case some transformer station somewhere catches fire.

    " Could cars feeding power into the grid help with any of this?"

    If we were thinking about hydrogen fuel cell cars then yes. Otherwise...well, you couldn't get power out of nothing but to some extent you can mitigate the strain. If you could get every person to charge their cars in shifts so the constant burden didn't come all at once maybe...still not ideal though.

    "people generally seem to think battery-powered cars have significantly lower maintenance costs than fuel-burning cars (and much higher purchase costs)."

    Sort of correct; Electrovehicles have far fewer moving parts suffering high mechanical stress than a combustion car. Less wear and tear and the parts you need to replace are rarely going to cost you the same way a transmission will, for instance. No difference in chassi maintenance of course.

    However, all batteries degrade in performance, so an EV will degrade in performance quite predictably. And replacing the battery is an operation as significant and expensive as replacing a high-cost engine. You may be better off buying a new car in the end, with better specs.

    And of course it's still an open question whether the environment can even bear the current frenzied lithium extraction taking place. It honestly makes strip-mining look ecologically defensible in comparison.


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