Electric vehicles are without a doubt one of the coolest advancements in technology we’ve seen in the last 20 years. But fairly soon people will begin to see one of the biggest issues with EVs. This problem is a tough one to crack, and it has the potential to hold back the EV industry for years.

The biggest problem with EVs is keeping them on the road for years and out of the junkyard. Today’s batteries can last far longer than the average lifespan of a gas car, going well in excess of 300,000 miles. But once the battery is kaput, well, what then?

CBC spoke with a man who had experienced excess battery degradation on his used 2013 Nissan Leaf. He can’t drive further than 80km of the car’s 120km of range when it was new. This is well in excess of Nissan’s estimated 20% average battery capacity loss over 10 years.

I love Nissan’s EVs, but unfortunately their 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty isn’t as good as their competitors like Tesla with an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty. Because of this shorter warranty, the owner of this 2013 Nissan leaf is being quoted at $15,000 for a battery replacement. He says that’s more than he paid for the car itself.

But even with Tesla’s longer warranty, in a few years, many drivers will be facing this same issue. The age of the average vehicle on the road is nearly 12 years old today. In a decade many people will be driving around in an out-of-warranty EV. And when those batteries stop providing the juice drivers need, they will have to pay a hefty price for a new battery.

It’s not like replacing a few valves on an engine, EV’s need entire battery modules replaced. For a Tesla the cost of this would be around $5,000 per module, not even the whole battery pack.

And here lies the major unsolvable problem with EVs. The majority of the cost of producing the car is in the massive batteries they cram in there. That $15,000 quote for a new battery isn’t extortion, batteries are just expensive.

My issue isn’t that EVs aren’t capable of lasting forever. Manufacturers have gotten better at minimizing battery degradation over the years. You’ll struggle to find a gas-powered car today that will last as long as a brand new Tesla. It’s unfortunate that early adopters of the tech are facing unreasonably high battery degradation.

But even if today’s electric cars can last a long time, when they’re dead, they’re dead. EVs at their core are just batteries, wheels, and electric motors. One of those components is certain to fail eventually, and when that battery is gone many drivers would prefer to just buy a new car.

So it seems like EVs are all destined to eventually become e-waste. Those spent batteries can be repurposed for other uses. But without a battery, the rest of the car is useless, and junkyards will be filled with EVs without batteries. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Tesla battery packs are made of individual modules that can be replaced. But I wish they were even more modular so drivers could replace smaller modules for less cost.

I just hope some people take good care of their EVs and replace the batteries so I can see a Model 3 at a classic car show in 50 years.

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