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March 28, 2023

Another Unintended Effect of EVs

Those electric cars are really fantastic … until you have an accident and it ends up totaled.

It’s something that happens to almost everyone: an inattentive driver pulls out in front of you to crunch your fender or misjudges the distance on a sudden stop and bangs right into your trunk. Normally that’s a time for a police report and exchanging information once it’s established everyone is okay, followed by letting the insurance company sort out the damage toll.

With the slowly increasing number of electric cars on the road, though, Americans are finding that fender-benders aren’t that simple anymore.

Besides the additional safety concerns from accidents involving an electric car, insurance companies are finding the assessment of damages to be far more complicated than standard body work. “For many electric vehicles, there is no way to repair or assess even slightly damaged battery packs after accidents, forcing insurance companies to write off cars with few miles — leading to higher premiums and undercutting gains from going electric,” Reuters reports. “And now those battery packs are piling up in scrapyards in some countries, a previously unreported and expensive gap in what was supposed to be a ‘circular economy.’”

Damaged electric vehicles are going to continue piling up, with totaled EVs relegated to an “isolation bay” at scrapping facilities because of the fire risk. Yes, imagine your brand-new Tesla 3 or Ford F-150 Lightning being towed to the junkyard because the replacement cost of the battery on top of body damage makes it too expensive to repair. That’s the outcome drivers could have to endure thanks to the high cost of powering EVs.

While many EV batteries might survive an accident with little damage, their current technology doesn’t allow for simple replacement of a handful of the potentially thousands of cells that make up their batteries. Teslas in particular are trouble: “A Tesla structural battery pack is going straight to the grinder,” said automotive expert Sandy Munro. If a battery needs to be replaced, chances are the EV will be considered a total loss. Compare that to the replacement of a standard car battery: it’s an inconvenience, but one that’s easily handled by a repair shop or even a layperson with basic skills.

It’s easy to make light of the situation, as some of us just love picking on those who believe in EVs as a virtue signal. But the truth is that the whole auto and insurance markets will get worse as federal and state governments foist these vehicles upon us through a combination of tax incentives and the simple browbeating of eventually banning the sale of cars with internal combustion engines.

In the meantime, though, Tesla is attempting to move in the direction of making the batteries easier to replace, territory Ford and GM are also exploring with their newest models. EV proponents claim the cost of batteries will come down as the market expands and technology improves, but it would have to come down significantly in order for batteries to lose their status as the biggest-ticket item in the car, not to mention a wallet drain thanks to higher insurance rates they make possible.

So the best advice we can give, particularly to EV drivers: If you really like your new car, exhibit strict situational awareness while on the road and don’t be in a big hurry. In a way, that would work out better for everyone.

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