“I thought the battery cover was slightly scratched, but when I was told I had to replace the entire battery, I was dumbfounded.”
Mr. Lee, 44, an office worker in Gimhae, Gyeongnam Province, who drives a small electric car, recently had a bizarre experience. A truck in front of him on the highway lost a wheel and hit his car. It didn’t lead to a major accident, but the front of the car was damaged and the battery cover at the bottom of the car was slightly scratched. “I thought I was lucky that I wasn’t hurt and that the damage to my car wasn’t too bad,” Lee said.
However, when he visited an EV repair center, he was told that the entire battery needed to be replaced. He was told that the battery cost 26 million won, and the total cost of the repair, including labor, would be 32 million won. This was similar to the purchase price of the car without subsidies.
“The repair center told me that the battery had to be completely replaced because they didn’t know what happened to it due to the impact of the accident, and if it caught fire later, they wouldn’t be able to receive any compensation due to unclear liability,” Lee said. “In the end, I gave the car to the insurance company and received 28 million won for total loss.” A total loss is when a car is damaged so badly that the cost of repairing it is higher than the price of the car, the insurer pays the insurance money and then disposes of the car or sells it to a used car dealer.
● Replacing the entire battery of an EV
The domestic electric vehicle market is growing rapidly. From just 1.7% of new vehicles in 2018, the number of electric vehicles increased to 9.8% last year, more than five times in four years. The cumulative number of EVs is currently around 400,000, and it is expected to increase to 3 million by 2030.
The problem is that there are not enough safety-related infrastructure such as repair and maintenance facilities for the growing number of EVs. As a result, EV users often face difficulties in repairing their cars when something goes wrong.
First, the cost of repair is higher than that of internal combustion engines due to the advanced technology. According to the Financial Supervisory Service, the average repair cost (labor) for an electric car insured by auto insurance last year was 2.7 million won. This is 37.1% higher than the repair cost of a regular internal combustion engine (1.97 million won).
In particular, if the battery, which consists of hundreds of cells, is impacted, it is often replaced entirely for safety reasons. “There is no clear standard for when to replace the entire battery and when to replace only some modules, so users often cry and pay a lot of money to replace the entire battery with mustard,” said Hong Young-sun, head of the Future Mobility Demonstration Center at the Korea Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. “Through research and experimentation, we need to create a standard to replace only some modules in case of minor damage,” he said.
The lack of repair shops is also a problem. For internal combustion engines, there is a garage in every neighborhood. On the other hand, fewer than 5% of workshops can repair electric vehicles. This means that once a car breaks down, it can take a month or two to repair it.
Regular battery maintenance is essential
Experts point out that due to the lack of infrastructure to repair EVs, it’s important to regularly check the battery to prevent breakdowns.
However, many EV drivers forget to do so unless they notice something wrong. This is because they don’t need to visit a mechanic regularly to change the oil like internal combustion engines. “If you visit a service center once a year or every 10,000 kilometers or so to regularly check the temperature and voltage of the battery cells and the condition of the motor and inverter, you can ride your electric vehicle more safely and for longer,” said Hak-Hoon Moon, a professor at Osan University’s Department of Future Electric Vehicles.
To make it easier, the Korea Transportation Safety Administration (KTSA) introduced the electronic device diagnostic system (KADIS) in August last year. KADIS is a device that attaches a diagnostic device to the vehicle’s terminal to check for battery defects. It is available at 59 inspection centers operated by the KEPCO and more than 300 private inspection centers.
Last year alone, the KEPCO inspected 9086 EVs and found 93 abnormalities such as battery fusion. “Currently, battery safety inspections are not mandatory, so some private inspection centers do not know what KADIS is,” said an official from the KEPCO, adding, “There is a need to strengthen regulations for EV battery inspections.” There are also technologies such as ‘B-Lifecare’ developed by LG Energy Solutions, which allows users to check battery performance in real time through a mobile phone application (app) once the device is installed on an electric vehicle.
‘Inspection blind spots’ for imported EVs
The best measure for EV safety is regular inspection, but some imported EVs are difficult to inspect because they do not provide materials for battery inspection.
According to the Enforcement Rules of the Automobile Management Act, automakers are required to submit data for KADIS operation to the KITA메이저놀이터. The KEPCO will use the data as a basis to conduct battery inspections. However, some EV manufacturers with batteries from Chinese manufacturers such as CATL have not provided the data for technical security reasons.
According to the ministry, there are 62 models of passenger cars (about 3,000 units) and 29 models of freight cars (about 6,000 units) that cannot be inspected using KADIS.
Tesla, in particular, does not have a KADIS connection at all. It only updates the car over the air. Tesla’s electric vehicles, which have already sold more than 50,000 units in Korea, cannot be checked using the domestic system.
“The EV market is expanding rapidly, but there is still much to be done in terms of building infrastructure and regulating imported vehicles,” said Kim Seung-ki, a researcher at the Samsung Institute for Transportation, Culture and Safety. “Sharing information may not be easy due to technological competition, but for the future of the EV market, we need to encourage companies to share as much information as possible,” he said.
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