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Hungry Rodents Are Only The Beginning Of Indian EV Users’ Repair Woes

The electric cars vehicle market in India is a nascent one and it brings with it a range of teething issues that frustrate owners.

By Jessica Jani
New Update
ev repair

In January this year, the electric car owned by Yogendra Singh, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh, refused to start. “It flashed a message saying ‘battery not found’,” the BYD E6 owner told The Core. A technician sent by the company found that Singh’s car had been struck by rats. The rodents had bit into several wires inside his car. This was the second time this happened to him since he bought his car in July 2022.  

“They had bitten the air bag wiring…the AC set up, my carpet…and many other wires,” Singh said. Last year, rats had bitten through an external wire, which the Chinese multinational repaired for him, but this time the damage was extensive and the wires needed to be replaced. Although the Rs 3.5 lakh repair cost was covered by insurance and released by the insurance company within 10 days, the wait time for the repairs was significantly longer. 

Singh’s car has been at BYD India’s Noida service centre since January 4 and is unlikely to get it back before March 4. “They said they don’t keep so many parts,” said a frustrated Singh. “But after buying such an expensive car, how can they not keep enough parts for at least two cars, in case something goes wrong?” Assuming Singh’s car is returned to him on the day of the deadline, his car would have taken around 60 days for repair. 

While rodent bites are not a new problem for car owners, Singh’s predicament highlights the fragility of the current ecosystem in India to service electric cars. 

A Bengaluru-based Tiago EV owner, who requested anonymity, had to visit the service centre thrice in July 2023 over a repeating “high voltage critical error” which caused his vehicle to shift from ‘drive’ to ‘neutral’ mode and stop working several times. The team couldn’t figure out the exact cause of the error, and finally a Tata engineer had to be sent to the service centre, that typically has only technicians, to diagnose the problem. Eventually, the company replaced his motor control unit (MCU), he said, adding that since then there has not been an issue. 

The electric vehicle (EV) market in India is a nascent one, given that EV penetration in the passenger vehicle segment is still only 1.5%. Despite a push to boost electric car sales (Tata Motors and MG Motor recently slashed prices of their electric variants to bring them closer to their petrol/diesel variants) users are still faced with long wait times, unavailable replacement parts, lack of skilled technicians, and higher insurance costs, as the industry works out the kinks and finds its footing. 

What Causes EVs To Malfunction?  

Tata Motors’ bustling service centre in Mumbai usually has an average of 10-15 electric cars in their workshop each day for servicing or repair work. While they get about three to four cases of accidents a month, most users bring in their cars  because of battery trouble, apart from regular maintenance. 

This, a service advisor at the centre said, was often due to a lack of knowledge on how to charge the battery correctly. Just as a water bottle being filled under a fully turned-on tap may spill and fail to fill completely, the same principle applies to EV batteries. “We recommend that they don’t fast charge all the time, as that can deplete their battery very fast,” he said. 

Every year, Tata releases a ‘dos and don’ts’ list, informing owners of new updates and the best way to use and maintain the vehicle, Gurgaon-based Asheesh Arora, who owns a Tata Nexon EV, told The Core. Arora runs several car owners’ communities where he helps users with technical issues and glitches. EV makers also regularly upload videos on best practices to maintain battery life. However, Arora noted that people rarely seem to watch or read these resources.

Owners adding unauthorised accessories to their cars, or getting repairs done at unauthorised workshops also lead to cars malfunctioning. After a Tata Nexon EV caught fire in Pune last year, the company conducted a detailed investigation which revealed that the user had gotten his left headlamps replaced at an unauthorised workshop. The fitments had shortcomings, leading to an electrical malfunction, the company had said while revealing its findings.  

Other issues include damage by external factors such as water entering the vehicle. Several users have complained about the “high voltage critical error” faced by the EV owner in Bengaluru. A “critical error” sign, similar to the “check engine” light in petrol cars, starts flashing before the vehicle stops plying. It is still unclear what exactly causes this issue and takes a bit of trial and error for the technicians themselves to figure it out. In most cases, if software updates don't help, the battery pack is replaced. “For instance, if the brake system is faulty and isn't using that power, it comes back to the battery. This is abnormal for the battery, so it triggers a high voltage error,” Arora said. 

Battery issues in EVs, the most commonly reported problem, isn’t expensive to fix, unless it is caused by user behaviour. Most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) offer a battery warranty for five to eight years. “And after 8 years, I doubt it will be this expensive,” the Tata Motors service advisor said. 

Low Cost But Long Wait Times

Not only the problem with batteries, most servicing needs of an EV cost significantly less than that of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. 

Bengaluru-based Adarsh Basavaraj, who owns an MG ZS EV and a Tata Nexon EV Max said that his first service session with MG cost a mere Rs 75, because he had purchased their service package. “The first time I got my Nexon serviced it cost me about Rs 2,100…I used to spend Rs 30,000 on my Tata Safari every six months,” he told The Core. Similarly, damages to the vehicle (either through wear and tear or because of external issues like rodent bites) don’t rake up a huge bill as long as they are covered by warranty or insurance. 

However, what frustrates users is the long amounts of time it takes to fix these damages. This is because of several reasons. First, because electric car parts are rarely repaired. Instead, they have to be replaced completely. And getting replacement parts takes time. Given how low the electric car penetration currently is, most parts are not readily available at the service centres and need to be ordered from the company’s main plant.

Compared to replacement parts for petrol or diesel cars, which are readily available even in local markets, electric cars need to be equipped with OEM-authorised parts that are more expensive and harder to find. “Getting replacement parts from an unauthorised workshop increases the risk of fire or other issues significantly,” an MG Motors technical advisor from Mumbai told The Core.  

Gurgaon-based Puneet Rana also owns a BYD E6 and said that last year, his battery malfunctioned even after being replaced once. He was told by the company that it would have to be replaced again, and he would have to bear the cost, which was around Rs 11 lakhs. After extensive negotiations, Rana persuaded the company to cover the cost of the batteries but had to pay for the transportation from its plant in Tamil Nadu, which came up to Rs 1.5 lakh. The process took more than 25 days. “I had to be without the vehicle for 25 days…which means an additional cost spent on alternate means of transport,” he told The Core

It takes around 10-15 days for replacement parts to reach an MG Motors service centre in Mumbai from their plant in Halol, Gujarat, the technical advisor at a centre told The Core. “We put in the stock order for all the parts we need, and get them within 10-15 days, all together,” he said. However, they do have a faster delivery option called ‘vehicle on road’ for when a customer urgently demands it. This is delivered every alternate day and costs are extra, borne by the centre itself. 

Another reason fixing damages takes longer for electric cars is because the company needs to ascertain that it is not caused by user negligence. “This takes longer as the car collects the data and the company scours through this to make sure it falls under warranty,” the Tata Motors service advisor said.  

Higher Insurance Premiums

While repairs are not heavy on the pocket for the user, they are costlier in general due to parts being more expensive and not easily available. And this leads to higher insurance premiums. Plus, in the case of EVs that are exposed to natural calamities like floods, the chances of total loss are much higher, Shashi Kant Dahuja, chief underwriting officer of Shriram General Insurance, pointed out. 

“Petrol and diesel [vehicles], even if they get exposed to water, you can still repair them. So this is one of the reasons that EVs are more exposed to claims as far as the repair cost and part of replacement is concerned,” Dahuja said. Plus, the chances of total loss claims are much higher with EVs in cases of head-on collisions because they don’t have engines. 

Animesh Das, chief underwriting officer of insurance company Acko Drive added that aftermarket parts are also more readily available for ICE vehicles, making them cheaper. All these factors contribute to higher premiums for electric vehicles. 

Repair costs are much higher for electric cars when it comes to own damage claims, that is, when the damage is caused by accidents, thefts, natural calamities, and man-made disasters. Third-party insurance, which covers the liabilities arising from damages to third parties, and is typically claimed more in ICE vehicles, is found less in EVs. “The reason is that you hardly ply your vehicle on the highways,” Dahuja explained. 

“Typically, people end up taking third-party insurance only when a vehicle is old. With EVs, given that it's a relatively new segment altogether, people are early users… that's why the adoption of comprehensive packages is higher,” Das added. 

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