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Electric Vehicle Batteries: Capacity, Charging, Cost and More

Learn the battery basics before buying an electric vehicle

Electric vehicles have been on the market for over over a decade, but most car shoppers aren't very familiar with them yet, much less their inner workings. As the prices of EVs drop and the United States' charging infrastructure improves, electric cars will become a viable option for most car shoppers. If you're considering buying an electric vehicle at some point, knowing the basics about their batteries will help you decide if an EV is right for you and will help you know what to expect if you decide to go the all-electric route.

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In this article, we'll cover what an electric car battery is, how much capacity it has, how long it takes to charge one, how much it costs to charge, and what kind of driving range a battery provides. You'll also learn how long electric car batteries last, how much they cost to replace, and what happens to them at the end of their life.

What is an electric car battery?

Electric cars are powered by a lithium-ion battery pack, the same type of battery that powers common electronic devices like laptops and cellphones. However, the units that power EVs are massive and usually span the area of the vehicle's floor between the front and rear wheels. EV batteries are referred to as packs because they typically consist of several battery modules that, in some cases, can contain hundreds of individual cylindrical battery cells, the same shape as common AA and AAA batteries. There are also prismatic (a rigid rectangular shape) and pouch (less rigid but also rectangular-shaped) types of EV battery cells. Lithium-ion batteries have a much higher energy density than the lead-acid batteries that most modern internal combustion engine vehicles use.


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What is the capacity of electric car battery packs?

An electric vehicle's battery capacity is measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWh, the same unit your home electric meter records to determine your monthly electric bill. In the EV world, kilowatt-hours are to batteries as gallons are to gas tanks. But a full battery can't be completely equated with a full fuel tank. All electric car batteries have a usable capacity that's slightly less than the gross capacity because this helps extend the life of the battery pack. That buffer prevents it from ever being completely charged. For example, the Audi Q8 e-tron's battery pack has a gross capacity of 114 kWh, but its usable capacity is 106 kWh. Most automakers advertise the gross capacity.

Like fuel tank sizes, electric car battery pack capacities vary depending on the vehicle. Small EVs like the Chevrolet Bolt EV usually have smaller capacities that range between 60 kWh and 75 kWh. However, there are some exceptions with short-range EVs that have lower capacities ranging between 30 kWh and 40 kWh. Large electric SUVs like the Tesla Model X and Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV have larger battery packs that range from 100 kWh to 120 kWh. But some battery packs are even larger. The Large battery pack in the Rivian R1T and R1S is 135 kWh, and the very large and very powerful GMC Hummer EV truck's battery pack is over 200 kWh.

How much driving range do electric car batteries provide?

Driving range is one of the most important questions facing EV drivers. That's because it varies much more for an EV than it does for a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle, and unlike a conventional car, you can't fill the tank at one of many gas stations in just a few minutes.

The majority of modern EVs have a driving range of over 200 miles on a full charge, but some, like the Lucid Air Grand Touring, can drive over 500 miles. The Nissan Leaf S, which has the smaller standard battery pack, has one of the lowest driving ranges of any EV sold today: 149 miles. The Chevy Bolt EV, which is currently the most affordable EV, has a driving range of 259 miles. But many EVs have surpassed the 300-mile mark including certain models of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Tesla Model Y Long Range, and certain versions of the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6. Many luxury models like the Mercedes-Benz EQS and trucks like the Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning have certain models that can drive over 300 miles as well. Edmunds has conducted real-world range tests on over 70 EVs. Some went farther than their EPA-estimated range; see which ones went the farthest here.

How long does it take to charge an electric car battery?

How long an electric car battery takes to charge depends on its size, the speed of the charger that's being used, and the battery's state of charge when the vehicle is plugged in. Most owners charge their EVs at home because it's the most convenient and the most affordable way to charge. The majority of electric cars come with a charging cord, but if they don't, owners can buy one from the manufacturer. Aftermarket cords are available, too.

Charging cords can plug into a standard 120-volt household outlet, the same type that powers and charges everyday electronics. This is referred to as Level 1 charging. It's the easiest way to charge but it's also the slowest. The Chevy Bolt EV only gains 4 miles of range in an hour using a 120-volt outlet. Owners can get away with that speed if they don't drive much on a daily basis and always have their EV plugged in while parked. But if the battery is almost drained after a long trip, it can take over two days to fully charge it.

Most EV owners install a 240-volt home charger — called Level 2 — which charges EVs significantly quicker. But a home charger costs more and you may have to install a 240-volt outlet. The Bolt EV's battery, for example, takes seven hours to fully charge with a 240-volt charger, adding 39 miles of range per hour. But because most owners charge daily to keep their EV topped off, it will only take about an hour to charge the battery to the wanted percentage after a typical day of driving. Level 2 chargers are also available at public charging stations.

The fastest way to charge is by using a DC fast-charging station, or Level 3 charger. But Level 3 chargers are only available at public stations and represent the most expensive way to charge. Using the Bolt EV as an example again, a fast charger can add 100 miles in 30 minutes. But the Bolt EV's max charging speed is low compared to most EVs.

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 is one of the quickest-charging electric cars. When hooked up to a powerful enough fast-charging station, it can charge the battery from 10% to 80% capacity in just 18 minutes. However, fast-charging stations vary in speed. For a full rundown on how long it takes to charge an electric car using different types of chargers, check out this article. If you want to know what EVs Edmunds has tested charge the fastest, click here.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car battery?

The cost of charging an electric car depends on where you charge it. As mentioned before, charging at home is the ideal way to charge because it's more convenient and more affordable than using a public station. But if you're traveling or can't charge at home, then you must rely on public charging stations. If your employer offers it, you might be able to charge at work, and in some cases, for free.

To keep costs as low as possible, most EV owners charge their vehicles at home when the cost of electricity is the lowest, or during off-peak hours, like nighttime. Calculating how much it costs to charge at home is easy if you know how much your local utility company charges you per kWh and the size of the battery pack you're charging. For example, if you're charged 20 cents per kWh, it would cost about $13 to charge the Bolt EV's 65-kWh battery pack from empty to full.

If you want to know how much it costs to charge an EV over a period of time, let's say in a year, you need to know the efficiency of the EV, how much you drive, and how much you're charged per kWh. Read this story to figure out how much electricity an EV uses and how to calculate how much it costs to charge an EV per year at home. If you want to know how much it costs to install a Level 2 charging station at home, this article explains it all.

Figuring out how much it costs to charge an EV using a Level 2 or Level 3 public charging station isn't as straightforward because public charging stations vary in price and charge by the kWh or per minute. We'll use the Hyundai Ioniq 5 as an example. Let's say the charging station charges 48 cents per kWh, so it will cost about $37 to fully charge its 77.4-kWh battery pack (although EVs usually aren't fully charged at fast-charging stations). If the Ioniq 5 uses a charging station that charges 37 cents per minute, it will cost $22.20 if you charge for a full hour. Tesla Supercharger stations have their own per-kWh or per-minute pricing that owners can look up in the vehicle's navigation system. This thorough article explains how much it costs to charge an EV at home and at Level 2 and Level 3 public charging stations.

How long does an electric car battery last?

With each charge and discharge, the battery's capacity will be reduced over time. Climate, driving habits and the frequency of Level 3 fast charging also affect the lifespan of a battery. But unlike the small lithium-ion batteries found in electronic devices, electric car batteries last significantly longer. While manufacturer projections vary, the U.S. Department of Energy says modern electric car batteries last 12 to 15 years in moderate climates and eight to 12 years in extreme climates. But many experts say electric car batteries can last up to 20 years or as long as 200,000 miles. Fortunately, electric car battery warranties are long. The federal government requires at least an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on electric car batteries. California requires manufacturers to provide a longer 10-year/150,000-mile battery warranty. For more information on how long electric car batteries last, make sure to read this article.

How much does it cost to replace an electric car battery?

If an electric car battery fails or falls below a certain capacity (usually about 70%), then the replacement cost is free if it's still under warranty. But if the battery is not under warranty, the replacement cost varies depending on the EV. According to Consumer Reports, the replacement cost for an electric car battery ranges from $5,000 to $15,000, which is similar to the replacement cost of an engine. However, in some cases, only certain modules in the battery pack will have to be replaced instead of the whole battery pack. The cost of an individual module ranges anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on the size of the module. Make sure to read our detailed article on electric car battery replacement costs for additional information.

What happens to electric car batteries?

Instead of ending up in a scrapyard like most internal combustion engines do, electric car batteries can be repurposed, refurbished or recycled when they fail or when their capacity degrades enough. When battery packs lose about 30% of their capacity, they aren't viable for EVs anymore, but they have plenty of life left for second-life applications or can be refurbished. Stationary power storage for home or commercial use is one of the most common ways to reuse a battery pack. There are various companies around the world that find different ways to repurpose used electric car battery packs. If the battery pack can't be reused or refurbished, or has served its second-life application, then it can be recycled to make new battery packs. Several battery recycling companies have partnered with manufacturers in an effort to recycle spent electric car battery packs. This article provides an in-depth look into battery recycling benefits, methods and challenges. For more on electric car battery repurposing, check out this story.

Edmunds says

Electric car battery technology is still in its infancy, but as it improves, expect longer driving ranges, faster charging, lengthier lifespans, and lower replacement costs. As with any new technology, it takes time to wrap your head around it, but before you know it, EVs will become just as familiar to you as the cars you grew up with.




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