We all hear about how good it is to switch to electric cars for the environment’s sake, but what about our wallets and our time?
Maintenance on electric cars is often much easier than maintenance on combustion engine vehicles, especially when it comes to oil.
Do electric cars use oil?
No, they don’t need motor oil to run because there is absolutely no combustion engine. Even some hybrids don’t need motor oil.
That answers the immediate question, but what about other fluids in the vehicle? Just because something is low maintenance doesn’t mean it can be neglected or forgotten and still run at optimal levels. Let’s break down everything you need to know.
Transmission fluid is a form of lubricating fluid, and doesn’t work directly with combustion like motor oil.
However, you’ll be surprised to find that there isn’t a spout for you to just pour transmission fluid into your electric vehicle. Depending on what car you own, at least.
Some cars, including some Tesla models, will have a spot for you to top off the transmission fluid and perform maintenance on your own. Other vehicles will have transmission fluid (among other fluids) contained within small boxes or areas that cannot be accessed without mechanic tools, or at the very least, voiding your warranty on all associated parts.
So yes, your electric car will still use transmission fluid, it will just differ from the transmission fluid used in combustion engines. Part of the reason for this is that you’re lubricating different parts, and for that matter, your cooling techniques are a little different as well.
While transmission fluid is specifically for lubrication and not for cooling, all parts of your engine heat up from use. In some cases, electric engines can undergo massive heat spikes in specific areas, and the heat has to dissipate into fluids and other areas of the vehicle to prevent overheating.
Basically, you want to make sure you get your transmission fluid checked and topped off when you bring your electric car in for maintenance.
This is perhaps the most important part of your electric car. After all, you’re not just using a standard car battery here—it’s running off of electricity, so your battery is everything.
When batteries overheat, you can lose partial or full function in your vehicle. The battery in an electric car isn’t exactly cheap or simple to replace.
Battery coolant can be tricky, because while many vehicles will allow you to add it on your own, you will run into those specific engines that don’t allow you to input your own battery coolant.
This is something that needs to be monitored and checked on regularly, especially if you live on the West Coast of the United States where electric cars are the most popular. High temperatures can pose a problem if you aren’t careful.
Brakes work fairly universally, regardless of what type of vehicle you drive. With electric cars, braking is applied in the same fashion as combustion engine vehicles. There’s not really much of a need to change something that already works.
The only main difference here is that, to appeal to the smart car lover of the future, you’re going to see more electronic locking brakes than simple manual brakes with older combustion engine cars. These are improvements for sure, but even so, they still require brake fluid.
With EV cars running the road in many states in the US, more units on the way, and more companies outputting more electric vehicles, we’re just at the beginning of this massive transportation takeover.
There are more common lubricants that you’ll find in electric cars, and how you can expect them to differ from other lubricants on the market in the coming years.
Lithium Grease: This is common for door hinges and smaller components, such as ball bearings, to make sure everything is moving smoothly. There isn’t a difference between lithium grease for electric cars versus combustion engines as of right now, but in the future, we are expected to see specialized lithium grease take over the electric vehicle market for one reason: noise. WIth higher weights and loads, such as in Tesla’s brand of trucks, you’ll need higher quality lubricants for the specific e-motor components to prevent excessive noise and grinding.
Antifreeze: This counts as a lubricant, and is only used in combustion engine vehicles. You don’t have a traditional radiator in full electric (EV) vehicles, so there’s no need for antifreeze, or radiator fluid as some call it. You can forego this altogether.
Windshield Washer Fluid: This is universal; you’re still going to need windshield washer fluid in your electric vehicle. There’s no current solution to properly clean your windows without some kind of windshield fluid.
Do Hybrids Use Motor Oil?
If you’re not sold on a fully electric car, known as an EV or all-electric vehicle, you may be considering a hybrid vehicle.
This is a great choice, because it still puts you in the position to utilize electricity as your primary fuel source, but without the fear of getting stuck on the side of the highway as your battery runs out of juice.
Hybrid vehicles do need motor oil, because they’re still using a combustion engine. These types of vehicles will use up all the electricity in the battery before transitioning over to gasoline and a combustion engine with all the necessary lubricants and fluids, so you can utilize electricity first and foremost, and only swap to traditional fuel when absolutely necessary.
These cars can often be harder to maintain. You have an electric engine, which is fairly simple to maintain, but then you have the complexity of a combustion engine working in tandem with an electric engine. Hybrids are great, you just have to be careful when it comes to maintenance.
Your hybrid will require all the oils and lubricants that a normal car would, and if you’re not swapping over to using your combustion engine often, you still have to get maintenance performed on it.
Are EV Engines Harder to Maintain Than Combustion Engines?
Not at all. In fact, they’re often revered as far easier, but you have to understand the difference between EV and PHEV first. Simply put, EV is for an all-electric vehicle with no hybrid combustion engine, while a PHEV basically means a hybrid engine.
EV engines don’t use a lot of the same parts of combustion engines, so you’re not getting oil buildup, cracked radiators, and other maintenance issues that often befall traditional motor engines.
EV engines can also utilize regenerative braking, which may wear down slower than traditional brake systems. Few fluids, no carbon output, and less working parts make them easier to maintain overall.
However, you’re not going to run to your local hardware store to repair your EV engine—that will have to be the work of a more experienced EV engine technician. That’s the pitfall: you trade in a lot of the ability to maintain your car on your own, because most of us simply don’t have the necessary equipment on-hand to fix our own EV engines or test them properly.
One key component of maintenance is inspecting the working parts of your all-electric vehicle engine, and ensuring that they work properly. You’ll notice deficiencies in your vehicle while driving if anything is severe, but to simply check for maintenance issues, you’ll have to get familiar with the diagram of your engine and everything under the hood.
Check your engine often for any signs of damages, cracking, and general wear and tear, and immediately schedule an appointment with your technician to get the issues checked out professionally. Worst-case scenario: you get a full check-up on your EV engine to make sure everything’s up to snuff, and drive out the same day.
Knowing How it All Works
Electric cars with a fully electric engine endure less complications than combustion engines, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
You should get familiar with how your vehicle runs so you can better diagnose issues and fix them yourself (when available).
Due to the complexity of full EV engines, it’s always a good idea to have a solid technician in mind in the event that something breaks or goes wrong. EV engines can often require machinery and/or tools that your average Joe won’t have in their garage.
No motor oil, no radiator fluid—just a more simplified engine, the way it always should have been. For other information on maintaining your all-electric vehicle, be sure to check out our other guides and helpful bits of information to learn everything there is to know about your electric car.
Noel Joseph has been in the world of motor vehicles for a long period. Currently, he is enthusiastic about Electric & Hybrid Motors and is an independent researcher. He advocates for a clean and sustainable future and envisions utilizing his years of experience in mechanical engineering. His new venture here at CompactPower.com is to organize and simplify knowledge on Electric vehicles. He wants to build a space where people can talk about EVs and associated technologies with freedom.