7 Problems with Electric Cars That You Wouldn’t Expect


What-are-problems-with-electric-cars

Modern electric cars continue to evolve with innovative tech and better materials. Decades old, these vehicles are quickly becoming viable alternatives to gas-powered vehicles. Despite the many improvements, electric cars still have problems manufacturers must overcome before they can become the main means of transport for everyone. 

I am a big proponent of electric cars but here are some facts on the problems with electric cars. We can’t sugar coat the issues as people should buy them with eyes wide open. The problems with electric cars can and will be overcome. I feel, in my experience as an electric car owner, that these issues pale in comparison to owning and driving an internal combustion engine car.

Electric car makers need to deal with these problems before the technology can become mainstream. Until then, car owners need workarounds or to understand the limits of the technology. 

Electric Cars: Great Vehicles with Many Problems 

Electric cars are here to stay. Many people see the vehicles as the way of the future that will overtake gas-powered vehicles by 2030. There are many reasons for this bullish view. Consumers want low pollution vehicles that will save them money at the pump and during the lifespan of the car. Carmakers and governments offer incredible incentives that make the costs of owning an electric car price competitive as well. 

The cars are great investments as well. The technology advanced so much that the engines are now smaller, more compact, and more efficient than at any time before. Many electric models are even better than their gas and diesel competition, 

The vehicles are not without their drawbacks though. While the industry has made numerous strides, there are a few problems that still hold back the technology. We can combine most of them into the following seven categories.

  1. Manufacturing bottlenecks
  2. Cost of lithium and other materials
  3. Lack of battery recycling infrastructure
  4. Lack of skilled repair technicians
  5. Road trips require planning
  6. Slow charging times
  7. Safety and health hazards 

These problems cause price increases and delays in delivery. They also restrict what we can do with the vehicles and running out of power when far from home. Many of these problems are just the normal impatience of people as they expect minimal disruption to their lifestyle, which is fair.

Car buyers want electric vehicles to match or exceed the performance of conventional vehicles. Other issues are systematic to the industry itself. 

1. Complicated Manufacturing Structure Leads to Delays

Every issue and flaw begins in manufacturing. Carmakers build conventional cars with local materials and labor. They may have factories overseas, but it is their local factories that handle the day to day operations and services for a region. This structure keeps conventional car prices manageable. 

Electric cars are rarely made locally, and this is because of how they must be made. Conventional cars have no preferred construction sequence. You can make the parts separately and, in any order, knowing that they will always fit in the end. 

Electric Cars are Built Around Their Batteries

The problem exists because electric car batteries must come before everything else. As the batteries require specialized materials with specialized shipping requirements, manufacturers must split their operations globally. Only the final assembly is done at their main factories.

This extra shipping creates delays and pricing bottlenecks. Each component must pass through multiple customs checkpoints. Once completed, each vehicle must do the same. Thus, your new ride may take months to reach you despite any advanced reservation payment you made already. 

Electric car makers made numerous strides to reduce shipping costs and duration. 

  • Most of them brought their battery operations in-house
  • The rest made improvements to their logistics to reduce shipping delays

However, all makers still rely on overseas factories to make some of their components. They also must buy and ship the expensive metals they need over long distances regardless of their other efforts. 

2. High Cost and Scarcity of Lithium and Other Metals for Batteries

Electric cars rely on complex electrical components to produce their performance numbers. These components must use rare metals that can withstand the high currents and voltages. Anything else would catch fire or simply break at the slightest touch. These metals are the heart of the manufacturing bottlenecks mentioned earlier. 

Despite being the second most abundant element in the universe, lithium is very scarce and limited on Earth. Most lithium is found in the following countries, with Chile having the largest reserves:

  • Australia
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Zimbabwe
  • China

Fortunately, most of the world’s lithium is mined in Australia, but the nation does not have enough to meet the world’s demand of lithium. Therefore, most electric car makers must get their metals from less than ideal sources.

Lithium also serves as the base battery material for every electronic device we use including computers and smartphones. Our high demand for electric devices has driven the price of lithium through the roof. 

Related article: Are Electric Cars Really Green? A Scientific Look

Heavy Metal Magnetic Motors

Lithium does not work alone. An electric car needs enough neodymium, praseodymium, cobalt, and other rare earth minerals. These materials go into the various electrical components such as the motor. 

All motors use magnets to work. The powertrain attaches to a freely rotating arm that sits between an electromagnetic shell. As the current flows through the electromagnet, it turns the rotator that is attached to the wheels.

Electric cars have a motor with powerful magnets to get the revolutions they need to move. Carmakers need ample amounts of magnetic alloys to build these magnets, or they would be too weak to use. 

These alloys include:

  • Neodymium
  • Dysprosium
  • Praseodymium

Car makers use these alloys in various concentrations to achieve the required magnetic properties for their vehicles. 

Electric Car Batteries Are More than Just Lithium

Electric car batteries use more than just lithium. They use combinations of lanthanum and cobalt as well. These metals help improve the efficiency of the lithium-ion batteries while decreasing their size. Without them, electric cars would never break the 100-mile barrier. 

However, these metals come at a steep cost. You can only find them in:

  • Very remote regions of the planet
  • Located in poor, third world countries 
  • Mined under less than optimal working conditions
  • Mined using environmentally unfriendly methods
  • Often mined and processed with child labor

Metal Scarcity Effects on Electric Cars

The high risks and high demand for these rare metals drive high prices for them. Electric car makers have no choice but to use them as well, increasing the cost of making cars. In the end, we pay higher prices for our electric cars than we would for any other vehicle. 

To keep the price of electric cars manageable, carmakers must either improve the technology enough to use smaller and smaller forms or find new sources of portable energy. 

3. Electric Car Battery Recycling Isn’t an Industry Yet

One solution to the scarcity of EV manufacturing materials is recycling. Car electronics recycling can do wonders for the entire automobile industry and not just electric cars. We just need the infrastructure to pull it off, but it is not here yet.

As the market share of electric cars continues to expand, more and more car owners will find themselves needing new batteries for their electronics. Lithium-ion batteries are not forever. They do have a finite lifespan. When they fail, the discarded batteries must go somewhere. 

Sure, there are some electric car battery recycling facilities, but none of them have the scale to handle the existing number of EVs on the road. But in all fairness, EV batteries are lasting well beyond their expected lifespan so the demand for recycling isn’t there. I expect the market to respond to demand.

As of now, most electric car dealers will not recycle your used car for you. As a customer, you must find the nearest recycling center willing to take your make and model, and then pay the shipping costs yourself. 

The second and third hand markets for EVs are hot. When these cars reach their end of life, how will the final owner safely and economically recycle the vehicle?

4. Electric Car Skilled Technicians are Scarce

If your electric car breaks down, you may have a hard time finding someone who can fix it. Most auto shops do not have the expertise or equipment to service an electric vehicle. Therefore, if your electric car breaks down, you must take it to your dealer and pay dealer prices. 

Due to the complexity of electric cars, fixing the car yourself may be a challenge. I couldn’t fix a traditional car if there are major issues but many DIY’ers would prefer the option to fix it themselves for economics or the fun of it. 

Sure, the lack of viable serving options does mean electric cars are more reliable than traditional vehicles. But the industry must address the problem before it becomes unsustainable to the average car owner.

5. Lack of a Robust Recharging Infrastructure

Cars were made for road trips. Well, maybe they were made to reduce the time to get from A to B but a road trip is so American. Taking your electric car on a road trip can be stress inducing. 

Outside of metropolitan areas and off of major highways, there are not a lot of charging stations. On a road trip, one would need a DC Fast Charging Station (Level III charger). These enable a car to be charged from 20% to 80% in less than 20-minutes. Grab a coffee and you are back on the road.

Without a wholehearted effort by manufacturers, governments, and businesses to install charging stations across the land, going on a road trip requires some serious planning. 

Related article: 8 Tips for Taking an Electric Car on a Road Trip

Electric cars do not have the capacity for long-duration travel. Only one of the top ten long-range models can go over 400 miles on a single charge as seen below. 

ModelMake Maximum Range
Model S Long RangeTesla402 miles
Model X Long RangeTesla351 miles
Model 3 Long RangeTesla322 miles
Model Y Long RangeTesla316 miles
Bolt EVChevrolet259 miles
Kona ElectricHyundai258 miles
Niro ElectricKia239 miles
I-PaceJaguar234 miles
LeafNissan226 miles
E-TronAudi204 miles
Taycan 4SPorsche203 miles
Source: Cars.com

Because of this restriction, you must keep all your long-distance excursions to locations along a charging network. While Tesla and other carmakers make strides every year to ensure you always have a charging station, there are still gaps in their coverage. Some popular locations still do not have charging stations. 

No Off-Road Trips with Electric Cars Either

This scenario is especially true for remote areas. Taking your EV off-road or to a remote area, like some National Parks, can be challenging to plan or not possible.

Fortunately, electric car makers put most of their innovation and development into increasing the driving range of their vehicles. Most electric vehicles on the road today can reach around 300 miles before needing a recharge. Some models can go further than that with many of the newer ones reaching over 600 miles on a single charge. 

However, the process will take time and may not happen for years. Even if your electric car could take you where you want to go, you still must make sure you travel under ideal road and weather conditions. Most of the most long-distance electric cars may still become forest decorations if you push them over rough terrain or through inclement weather. 

6. Slow Electric Car Charging Time and Standards

The short electric car driving ranges would not be a problem if there were enough places to charge them quickly. However, electric car battery charging remains slow compared to fueling a gas or diesel vehicle when using a Level I (120-volt charging) or Level II (240-volt charging) stations.

Most electric cars take 12 to 24-hours to fully charge their batteries from a normal, 120-volt power outlet

For most people, the long charging time would not be an issue if there were enough charging stations. Sure, you can charge your car while you sleep or at work, but you need a good power outlet nearby to do that. This situation is especially problematic for owners who live in apartment complexes with no garage or dedicated parking space. 

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Some Change is Coming

Fortunately, electric car makers seem committed to improving their charging rates and station availability. They all invested a lot of time and money into developing new battery and charging technologies which should make electric cars viable alternatives to other types of vehicles.  

Unfortunately, there is currently no working standard for electric cars, their batteries, or how to charge them. While most manufacturers adopted a common charging plug, it is still a wild west of proprietary equipment, currents, and voltages. To make matters worse, some newer technologies are incompatible with older electric cars. 

7. Electric Cars are Hazardous to Maintain

While most owners will only face flat tires, dead batteries, and blown bulbs, electric cars are ticking time bombs. When they break down, they can cause some serious stress. If you are caught in the crossfire, you risk serious injury, poison, and other health hazards

Friendly reminder, internal combustion engines carry gallons of explosive gasoline so let’s take this with a grain of salt.

Electrolyte Spillage

The most immediate danger occurs when the battery electrolytes spill out. Electric car batteries use highly corrosive electrolytes to run correctly. These chemicals help produce the high currents required by the motor, but only if they are safely inside the cells. 

However, all batteries leak as they age, and electric car batteries are also under high stress. As the chemicals spill all over the road and your vehicle, they can splash and inflame your skin and eyes. These risks are more reasons to only let professionals trained to fix electric cars should service them.

Electric Cars are Flammable

Finally, all-electric cars pose electric fire risks, and these fires can ignite without warning. Anything can cause an electric car to burn. All you need is a spark. Owners found their cars ablaze while charging or after crashes. Electric cars are so flammable that they can catch fire just sitting in your garage. 

Should These Electric Car Problems Stop You from Purchasing

Electric cars are not the perfect replacement for gas and diesel vehicles we think they are. Falling under several distinct categories, electric cars suffer from issues that derive from the resources required to make the vehicles and the limitations of the technology. 

Some are benign that only wastes our time and money. Other issues offer serious health risks to drivers, passengers, and nearby pedestrians. Either way, the electric car industry must overcome them before the cars can reach mainstream acceptance. 

Jordan Fromholz

I'm an electric car owner, enthusiast, and founder of the Plugin Report. As a Chemical Engineer with over 14-years in the energy industry, I've made my passions be renewable energy, batteries, and electric cars. My family lives on Maui where we drive our 2017 Nissan Leaf and share everything there is to know about electric cars.

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