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I’m the resident EV enthusiast in the household. I was asked the following question:
“What happens if you break down? Can the RAC (in WA) help you out or do you need a specialist?”
Many thanks for the question – and for bringing some nostalgic memories of spending my 20’s building and repairing cars at home … and occasionally beside the road.
By doing so, I was in fact following in a time-honoured motoring tradition that probably began with the very first (and very unreliable) ‘horseless carriage’.
That knowledge was then passed on to me by my father (who was a magician in his ability to fix any fault in any car) … but it also effectively ended with me as the days of back-yard car repair have all but ended due to the increased complexity (and reliability) of modern cars.
Yes, for good or ill cars today are so complex that they are often likened to ‘rolling IT centres’. If anything goes wrong, they generally need a computer ‘psychologist’ to talk to them via their onboard diagnostic socket to have any hope of finding the car’s possible ills.
As a result –roadside assist services now rarely involve the roadside assist service person performing a repair to get you back on your way. More often than not, a call-out now results in a flatbed tow truck arriving to take you back to a specialist workshop. (And for more and more vehicles without a spare wheel – even a shredded tyre will result in needing that flatbed tow).
Whether it is a complex modern ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicle or the much simpler EV (Electric Vehicle) the result will be the same. The technician either hasn’t the vehicle specific knowledge, or the tools, to diagnose and fix most faults beside the road.
So what happens if an EV breaks down? Well happily, they are a lot simpler than the last generation of ICE cars so there is less to go wrong – AND the days of getting a dud load of fuel from a remote fuel station (or worse, accidentally putting petrol in a diesel tank) have gone.
So, coming back to your question re EVs and roadside assist. All modern cars now need specialist attention, it is not an EV specific thing.
However, most new cars also come with manufacturer supported roadside assist packages – many of which can last for some time. My Kona electric for instance has the roadside assist package renewed each time I have it serviced, so provided I keep to the service schedule I have a manufacturer specific roadside assist plan for 10 years/150,000 km.
It therefore becomes an issue of how many EV vs ICE car technicians are available around the country. For the smaller EV marques, that can be a serious issue. (Perhaps yet another reason why Renault recently gave up on selling their Zoe EV here in Australia?)
For manufacturers like Hyundai, Nissan and Tesla who are rolling out larger numbers of EVs plus training for their workshop staff, EVs will soon be no more likely to be stranded for want of a qualified technician than any new model vehicle.
For older EVs that are out of warranty, or grey import EVs, you still have general roadside assist packages available – although I would perhaps select a higher level of cover that included a good towing allowance to get it economically back to a qualified workshop. (As I keep pointing out though: that applies to all modern cars – not just EVs!)
The days of the DIY repair are also not entirely over. First of all, if your EV does not come with a spare – get one! I can fit a space saver in my Kona under the boot floor, but even if it does not fit in the car – keep the spare at home so you can at least get your partner or a friend to bring it over should you get a shredded tyre.
Where in an old ICE car you carried a collection of water, oil and a spare fanbelt, for an EV – carry a couple of charging leads and adaptors so you can get an emergency charge from any available electrical outlet. (As I wrote about here)
Summing up – perhaps the need for membership to an automobile association is coming back. Be it ICE or EV, they all now need to be taken to specialist repairers to be properly attended to.
On the other hand, by taking a few basic precautions – including teaching our children how to change a tyre – can go a long way to avoiding the need for simple call-outs, plus make us all just that bit more self-reliant.
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.