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Electric vehicle owners report 80% more problems than with conventional cars and trucks amid ‘growing pains’ for the industry, Consumer Reports says

Electric vehicles have proven far less reliable, on average, than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, according to the latest Consumer Reports survey, which found that EVs from the 2021 to 2023 model years encountered nearly 80% more problems than did vehicles propelled by internal combustion engines.

Consumer Reports said electric vehicle owners most frequently reported troubles with battery and charging systems, as well as flaws in how the vehicle's body panels and interior parts fit together. The magazine and website noted that EV manufacturers are still learning to construct completely new power systems, and suggested that as they do so, the overall reliability of EVs should improve.

However, Consumer Reports noted that lingering concerns about reliability will likely add to the issues that give many buyers pause when considering a switch to the new technology, joining concerns about high costs, too few charging stations and long charging times.

“This story is really one of growing pains,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. “It's a story of just working out the bugs and kinks of new technology.”

The survey also concluded that plug-in hybrid, which can travel on battery power before the gas-electric powertrain kicks in, are more likely to have problems than fully electric cars. Plug-ins, Fisher pointed out contain two separate, complex power systems in which glitches can arise. He also noted that brands that over time have proved less reliable, in general, such as Jeep and Volvo, have begun mass producing plug-in hybrids.

But tried-and-true, integrated gas-electric hybrid systems are more reliable than gasoline vehicles, largely because they have been in use for about a quarter-century and the bugs have mostly been worked out, Fisher said.

Consumer Reports derived its survey data from subscribers who own electric vehicles from the 2021 to 2023 model years and compared them with other vehicle types. In calculating the average vehicle problem rate, the organization assigned extra weight to serious problems such as battery or engine failure.

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Twice as many problems of gas-fueled cars

Overall, 2021 and 2022 electric cars models had more than twice the problem rates of internal combustion cars. The rates were more closely aligned in the 2023 model year: those electric cars had only 21% more problems than gasoline cars, Fisher said.

Fisher said the narrow gap in problems between electric cars and combustion vehicles in the 2023 model year indicates that the reliability of electric cars, in general, is improving. Still, he noted, that newer vehicles tend to have lower problem rates that rise as they age.

Among the EV owners whose vehicles have encountered trouble is Michael Coram of Lockport, New York, near Buffalo. In July, intent on reducing his commute costs, Coram purchased a 2023 Chevrolet Bolt electric SUV, drawn by its sporty handling. Coram, 44, a heating and air conditioning technician, said he he ran into one annoying problem: On a cold day in mid-November, his Bolt wouldn’t shift into drive.

Eventually, after Coram had turned the car on and off 10 or 12 times, the problem fixed itself and he hasn’t experienced it since. Other owners on the Bolt social media forum told Coram that he might have shifted into drive before the SUV’s computer had finished its startup sequence.

"It kind of is a bit too much for the computer to handle," he said.

Now, Coram waits for all the dashboard lights to go out before pushing the drive button. He said his dealer told him that mechanics will check the Bolt when a loaner car is available for him.

In 2021, General Motors recalled its popular Bolt Electric car from 2017 to 2022 models to replace the batteries because of manufacturing defects that could cause fires. Bolt owners had to limit how much they charged the batteries and had to park them outside until replacement batteries are available, Fisher said. Repairs are still underway this year, Fisher said, prompting some Bolt owners to report problems in a Consumer Reports survey.

Additionally, Hyundai Ioniq 5 EV owners reported battery and charging issues related to the charge control computer, which in some cases caused the vehicles to stall.

Rivian, an upstart manufacturer of electric pickup trucks and SUVs, had trouble getting body panels to line up correctly and with broken internal parts, Fisher said.

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Tesla’s reliability improves

Tesla, the leader in electric vehicle sales, which now has years of experience manufacturing vehicles, has shown improvements in reliability, Fisher said. This was largely because a high proportion of Tesla's sales include the relatively small and less expensive Model Y SUV and Model 3. Those are simpler to build and lack glitch-prone new technology that Tesla offers in its most expensive cars, the Models S and X.

Tesla ranked 14th out of 30 automotive brands in the 2023 survey, up from 19th in 2022.

Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand, was the most reliable in the survey, followed by Toyota, Mini, Acura and Honda. The five lowest-ranked brands were Jeep, Volkswagen, Rivian, Mercedes-Benz, and Chrysler.

The most reliable segment in the market was compact cars, followed by sports cars, small pickups, midsize and large cars, and luxury midsize and large cars. Electric cars, electric SUVs, full-size pickup trucks, mid-size pickup trucks, and electric pickups had the worst reliability.

Consumer Reports says its survey of subscribers, representing 330,000 vehicles, took place last spring and summer. It asked owners of vehicles from the 2000 through 2023 model years, with a smattering of 2024 models, about the problems they had experienced in the previous 12 months.

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