Maintaining EVs requires a mindset shift and an investment in training and technology. - IMAGE: Pexels

Maintaining EVs requires a mindset shift and an investment in training and technology.

IMAGE: Pexels

Dealership service operations and after-market maintenance and repair shops can expect electric-vehicle repairs to give them a revenue jolt, found a recent survey by J.D. Power. 

According to the findings, tire repair and replacement needs for EVs trend higher than those of internal combustion engine vehicles. Consider the following comparisons between EVs and ICE vehicle repair needs:

  • 49% vs. 28% for tire maintenance
  • 41% vs. 12 % for tire repair
  • 34% vs. 21% for tire replacement

Kevin Fitzpatrick owned a repair shop for about 20 years before becoming senior vice president with Opus IVS, His brother still owns a couple of shops on Long Island, N.Y. He says he believes EVs’ repair needs present an opportunity for service shops that get ready for the repairs. 

“Electric vehicles are not magic in any shape or form. They use a lot of the same electronics as ICE vehicles,” he says. “But they weigh about 1,500 pounds on average, which is much heavier than an ICE vehicle, so they eat up suspension components, tires and more. There is plenty of service work to do on EVs, but you need to be trained and fully understand what you’re working on.” 

Customer Dissatisfaction

Before moving toward EV technology, service operations must first address customer dissatisfaction. According to the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Aftermarket Service Index Study, overall satisfaction declined year-over-year in three segments: 

  • Quick oil changes
  • Full-service maintenance and repair
  • Tire replacement

Service advisers also received poor marks, customers noting increased wait times and a lack of helpful advice and courtesy.

Fitzpatrick said he believes there are three reasons for increasing dissatisfaction among customers over the last 12 to 18 months. First, today’s customers have extremely high expectations. Then there are supply chain issues, causing customers to wait months for parts. Third is the complexity of today’s vehicles.

“A lot of technicians and shops are not getting involved in the late-model stuff,” he says. “This means customers are waiting longer for repair services. If you have a newer vehicle, you might be looking at a three-week backlog at a franchise dealership.”

Keeping up With Tech

The research identified keeping pace with vehicle technology as a way for service operations to improve customer service. Fitzpatrick said the ever-evolving technology of today’s vehicles makes that task challenging. 

“It is difficult to keep up with technology changes, and there is a cost in both money and time,” he says. “You have to give up your technicians to send them to training. When you’re behind already, that becomes very difficult.”

Training provided by after-market companies, such as PA Advanced Auto Parts or OPUS IVS, can get technicians up to speed. Dealer-level and OEM level training is also available. “But as more and more technology come out, training is an ongoing issue,” he says.

There are expenses associated with both education and required tooling. A franchise dealership may be able to take that on, but these costs can be difficult for independent shops to absorb. 

EVs further ratchet up training needs. The number of EV models is expected to double by 2024, giving EV shoppers over 130 models to choose from, according to Visual Capitalist.

“Training is going to be a job in and of itself,” he says. “The good technicians are fully aware of the commitment they are making to stay on top of the repair needs of EVs. A lot of these techs are working eight to 10 hours in the shop, then going home and training for another three hours on nights and weekends.” 

But it’s a commitment companies who want to stay in business will need to make. “You don’t ever want to lose a customer. It’s 10 times more expensive to onboard a new customer than it is to keep an existing one,” he says. “But that existing customer with an ICE vehicle today, may purchase a Tesla tomorrow. If you want to keep that customer, you need to be prepared to work on that vehicle.” 

Safety Concerns

The average EV operates on 400 volts, which can pose a safety risk, according to Fitzpatrick.

The voltage is high enough to kill a human being. Besides training to work with that kind of voltage, technicians need thick specialty gloves and Personal Protective Equipment. And the entire staff needs to be trained on what to do should a technician get electrocuted. 

“EVs can be quite dangerous to work on,” he says. “No one should attempt to work on these vehicles until they have taken a certified training course and fully understand the risks of working on them and the correct use of all safety equipment required.”

Every service operation requires written safety procedures built that all are trained on and expected to follow. “All employees need to know what to do if someone gets in trouble,” he says. “Where to touch, how to pull them off the vehicle. That’s not just an individual technician commitment, that’s a shop commitment.” 

Repair Needs

Most EV repairs are similar to ICE vehicles. Both types of vehicles need air conditioning repairs, dry fluid changes, cabin air filter replacement, tire rotations and more.

EVs are much heavier than ICE vehicles. For instance, a Tesla Model 3 weighs about 1,500 pounds more than a Honda Accord. This alone can increase repair needs, according to Fitzpatrick.

“They are very quick cars and super torque-ey,” he explains. “When you have that much weight and that much torque, the tires get really torn up. The suspension components also take a beating. It’s something to keep in mind. There is money to be made repairing these vehicles.” 

There are also diagnostic considerations when working with EVs. OPUS provides technicians with a tool and special cable set that lets them connect to their trained technicians when they have an EV diagnostic question. “They can get advice from a Tesla-certified customers which is of great value to our customers,” he says. 

Whose Ready?

“Few shops are ready for EV repairs,” Fitzpatrick admits. “Everyone is talking about getting involved with them, but not everyone is doing it.”

But in some areas of the country the need just isn’t there yet, he explains. On Long Island repair shops see a ton of EVs. “They are absolutely mainstream here,” he says. “They are also mainstream in California.”

Knowing that, Fitzpatrick recommends shops start small. “Get a charger installed in front of your shop to broadcast to customers that you’re embracing EV repair work,” he says. “Show customers that EVs are something you’re open to working on. It’s a really great calling card.” 

He also recommends patience. Switching to EV repairs is a lot like when vehicles changed from timing belts. “This is just another change that we need to learn about to move forward,” he says. “The guy making a living working on ICE vehicles today will keep working on them their entire career. But they are also going to want to learn how to work on EVs.” 

Fitzpatrick suggests that not every shop should pivot to EVs. “You really have to look at the makeup of the car park in your area,” he says. “If more and more of your customers are moving over to EVs, it’s definitely something you’re going to want to get on top of. EVs struggle in extreme temperatures, so consider the climate you’re in.” 

Tips for Success

“At the end of the day, a car is a car,” he says. “Most of the issues that have plagued ICE vehicles for years, will also be a problem with EVs. They are still going to get flat tires or need an alignment.””

With that in mind, Fitzpatrick offers a few tips for a successful pivot to EV repairs.

  1. Get Trained. “You need to be educated on what you are doing. If you take the time to build that familiarity, you’re going to be just fine,” Fitzpatrick says.
  2. Commit Funding. The investment to repair EVs isn’t super high if the shop has kept its scan tool arsenal up to date. “It might cost you a few thousand for a fantastic toolbox on subscription,” he says. “Then it might cost another $1,000 a month for a few months for training.”
  3. Ready Your Mind. A shift in mindset is also necessary. “Shops need to say, ‘I’m going to put politics aside and prepare to repair these vehicles,’ ” he says. “There are a lot of shops that have decided not to work on these vehicles. That is unfortunate. It is a vehicle, and it will require service. There’s money to be made here.”