Widely accepted wisdom has it that electric vehicles are easier to maintain than those with internal combustion powertrains. It seems intuitive—EVs have many fewer moving parts than cars that have to detonate small quantities of hydrocarbon fuel thousands of times a minute. But the data don’t really bear out the idea. In fact, according to data collected by Consumer Reports, EVs are significantly less reliable than conventionally powered cars.
CR is known for buying cars for its own test fleet, but for its annual auto reliability survey, the organization cast a wider net. Specifically, it gathered data from 330,000 owners of vehicles from model year 2000 onwards, and it uses that survey data to generate reliability scores for each vehicle and model year.
The results are a little inconvenient for the EV evangelist. EVs had 79 percent more reliability problems than a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle, on average. Plug-in hybrids fared even worse; these had 146 percent more issues on average than the conventional alternative. But simpler not-plug-in hybrids bucked this trend, with 26 percent fewer reliability problems than conventionally powered vehicles.
PHEVs also had the greatest number of potential trouble areas. A conventionally powered car, truck, or SUV has 17 main problem areas, according to CR, including minor stuff like trim rattling and more significant areas like the engine or transmission. PHEVs have all these plus electric motors, a high-voltage traction battery, and charging to contend with.
Hybrids have 19 potential trouble areas—all the above minus the charging problem—and EVs have just 12, since they go without things like internal combustion engines, fueling systems, or transmissions. (Yes, if you want to be very pedantic you could point out the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-Tron GT have two-speed transmissions, but no one will be impressed.)
Electric motors, charging, and battery problems make up most of the EV reliability complaints (and those are charging problems with the car, not with home or public charging hardware). The relative rawness of most EVs on sale is a big factor in this, and CR has some good advice for potential EV buyers: Do not get seduced by that launch edition vehicle.
“EVs are still in their relative infancy as mainstream vehicles, so it’s really not surprising that manufacturers, by and large, are still working out the kinks. That said, we are seeing signs of movement in the right direction. And as our data has consistently shown, reliability-minded consumers would be best served by forgoing brand new vehicles in their first model year,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR.
“Hybrids continue to surpass EVs and ICE vehicles for reliability even though hybrids are more complex with gas-powered engines supplemented by an electric drive system. This is because hybrid technology is now over 25 years old and is offered mainly from the most reliable automakers.
At first, CR’s data looks like it’s in conflict with one of its earlier reports; in 2020, its data showed that EVs and PHEVs had lifetime maintenance costs that were about twice as cheap as for an internal combustion-powered vehicle. But Fisher noted that the earlier study was looking at cost rather than reliability. Since the EVs and PHEVs were mostly under warranty (and EV powertrain warranties are typically much longer than regular powertrain warranties), many repairs did not cost the owners.
Who did well?
Different brands are having different reliability issues. Tesla, despite a legion of horror stories, finds itself very middle of the pack in terms of overall reliability, and in general it builds dependable EV powertrains—less so bodywork, paint/trim, and climate systems. It’s the second-highest ranked domestic automaker in CR’s list, and its two volume offerings, the Models 3 and Y, have average reliability, according to CR’s data and predictions.
EVs from other automakers mostly tell the opposite story. These brands know how to assemble and paint cars, and they can build climate control systems that don’t cause too many headaches. But there are many more complaints about their electric powertrains. CR says that the Ford Mustang Mach-E is a notable bright spot, “which has shown enough improvement in its EV battery and charging system to now be rated average for predicted reliability and is eligible for CR’s recommendation.”
Meanwhile, PHEVs are the worst of both worlds. As an example, the conventionally powered Chrysler Pacifica minivan is one of CR’s recommended picks this year, based on its reliability. But the plug-in hybrid Pacifica is well below average, thanks to plenty of problems with its hybrid drivetrain and charging system.
Those reliability problems affect different manufacturers differently, though. By contrast, Toyota’s RAV4 Prime was one of the most reliable vehicles in the entire survey, despite being a PHEV.
In general, the Asian OEMs dominate the upper end of the reliability chart, although Mini, Porsche, and BMW also made the top 10. As noted, Tesla placed pretty solidly mid-pack, along with other domestic brands like Buick, Ram, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Dodge.
From there, things got progressively worse. Ford is in 22nd place overall, and many of its best-sellers like the F-150 and Bronco suffer from below-average reliability, as does the F-150 Lightning and the F-150 hybrid. (The Ford Maverick and Edge stick out from the rest of the range with above-average reliability ratings.)
But bottom of the heap came Chrysler, which also took the honor for the least reliable vehicle overall, the aforementioned Pacifica Hybrid.