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How long do electric batteries in cars last?

Electric batteries in cars may last a lot longer than the sort of batteries found in your phone or laptop. But how much longer?

Most car manufacturers will claim at least 100.000 miles or 10+ years.

While it is true that electric cars lose battery capacity over time, the continuing advances in technology mean the precise degradation is difficult to define as a whole.

The main factor is all down to the owner and how they treat the battery. The way energy is added, the way it is removed, and how many charging cycles the battery experiences look after the battery, and your battery will look after you.

It isn’t uncommon to see Tesla’s or other electric cars with one hundred thousand miles on the odometer and experiencing battery degradation of less than 10 percent.

Take Wizzy, for example, a Nissan Leaf taxi from England that clocked up more than 170.000 miles on its original battery before being sold to another happy owner.

Several factors help batteries stay healthy.

This may seem slightly counterintuitive, but lithium batteries don’t like to be fully charged. That’s because heat is the enemy of battery systems and lots of heat is generated by both rapid charging and keeping the battery at a high voltage.

While batteries like to be cycled in news, the general rule is not to be too reliant on rapid charges, and not to overcharge the battery. Let it go completely flat.

The risk here is that dendrite can form, which is kind of like weeds in the garden of battery chemistry and can cause failure. Instead, it’s advised the owners should always try to drive and charge their EVs in a happy middle ground between 20 and 80 percent.

Lots of heat is also produced, if you like, showing off to your friends how quickly your electric car can accelerate from a standstill.

When you select a ludicrous plus mode on a Tesla, it warns you that you’ll be impacting the battery life.

Fortunately, most electric cars are fitted with sophisticated battery management systems that can regulate power if you’re doing too many drag races, as well as create artificial buffers at the top and bottom of the battery’s capacity, to ensure cells in the battery pack don’t overcharge or over-discharge.

Battery management systems in performance EVs, like the Porsche taken, for example, can even work with satellite navigation so it knows to precondition the battery when approaching a charging station.

Ambient temperature is another factor that needs consideration because extremes of heat and cold can negatively impact the car’s battery life.

This is where battery packs that feature active thermal management degrade less than those that rely on air cooling because they’re better at maintaining a stable temperature range for the battery.

Carmakers are well aware that potential buyers are concerned about the longevity of electric car batteries, which is why these specific warranties often far exceed a typical vehicle warranty.

There is no better example than the new Lexus UX X 302, which is the first vehicle to feature a 10-year one million km warranty on the battery pack. And if that’s not confidence in the technology, we don’t know what is.

What does the future look like for the longevity of batteries in EVs?

The specs for lithium-ion batteries will surely continue to rise year after year. But it’ll surely reach a point where the material cannot withstand the heat generated from charging and discharging.

Right now the manufacturers keep pushing the limits to how much power they can put into the batteries to expand the range while also pushing the limits to how quickly they can do it for faster charging times. Meanwhile on the other hand they are trying to improve the longevity and safety of the batteries.

I think they’ve reached a point where they don’t need to have batteries last particularly long, but the charging time and range is a huge tipping point for many considering an electric car over a gasoline car.

So in the next couple of years, you’ll probably still see a huge decrease in charging time while still increasing the range, and probably even exponentially the next couple of years.

But soon they’ll reach a point where lithium just isn’t good enough, this is where newer technologies like solid-state batteries come into play. Already solid-state batteries have a much longer lifespan, nearly instant charge times, and a much higher ratio in kWh per battery.

The solid-state battery is still a very new technology and it might take a decade or so before it’s properly rolled out into every new electric vehicle. But there is no doubt it’s coming.

What Happens When An Electric Car Battery Dies?

When an electric car battery dies, it’s pretty much the same as when a regular car battery dies. This happens when the battery can no longer hold a charge.

Depending on the type of electric car battery, this can happen anywhere from a few years to a decade. In general, car batteries last around five to 10 years. The battery in an electric car lasts even less time since electric cars are more energy-intensive than gas-powered cars.

Nickel-based battery dying process

Some of the electrolytes in a nickel-based battery will be converted into sludge during the dying process. This sludge is made up of dissolved metals such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese. Once the battery dies, some of the electrolytes will evaporate.

This process leaves a crusty layer of electrolyte on the battery’s exterior. The battery’s casing will corrode and break, and the wires in the battery will turn black. If you look inside the battery, you’ll find a puddle of electrolytes at the bottom. The electrolyte may still be green, orange, or brown — but not red, which would indicate the battery is still charged with energy.

Lithium-ion battery dying process

When a lithium-ion battery dies, it may look like a nickel-based battery if it’s been fully charged. But once it’s drained, the lithium oxidizes and forms a crusty layer on the battery’s exterior. This crusty layer is hard to remove, even with a power washer.

If you open the battery, you’ll see that the electrolyte has turned into a hard, black crust. You may also find corrosion and a puddle of electrolyte at the bottom of the battery.

How Are These Batteries Recycled?

How your electric car battery is recycled depends on the type of battery. The nickel-based battery can be recycled via various chemical reactions that use the same process that generates energy. The lithium-ion battery can be disassembled and recycled, but it’s a more complicated process.

Bottom line

Batteries are a complicated but important part of any car. Different batteries have different lifespans, and they have different recycling options. If your electric car’s battery dies, there’ll be a new one ready to replace it. And hopefully, it’ll be a little easier to recycle than your current battery.

When you’re shopping for your next car, consider the electric models available. You might want to try a hybrid if you’re unsure about going fully electric. And if you’re buying petrol-powered, remember to keep it well-maintained and change the oil regularly.

Author: Morten Pradsgaard

Morten has been working with technology, IoT, and electronics for over a decade. His passion for technology is reflected in this blog to give you relevant and correct information.