Electric car servicing: are local garages ready for EVs?

We examine the challenges for independent garages when it comes to servicing EVs, and what's being done to ensure they are up to speed...

EV wiring diagram VW

Electric vehicles (EVs) make up just 3% of the cars on UK roads – around a million out of a total of 35 million  with most being maintained within franchised dealer networks. However, when conventional cars age beyond their warranty period, most owners are likely to move to independent garages for maintenance, and that’s likely to be just as true with EVs.

In fact, independent garages already carry out 72% of all car servicing, according to data from the SMMT, which means they’re likely to take on a much larger share of electric vehicle servicing during the next few years. But are they equipped to do this properly?

Well, one of the main issues is whether independent workshops will have enough technicians qualified to work on all these used EVs. At present, there are more than 52,000 qualified EV technicians in the UK, with 6700 joining their ranks in the past six months alone. That means 22% of all technicians are EV qualified, which seems sufficient when you consider that 16% of all new cars registered in 2023 were electric. However, the latest figures from the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) show that 139,000 extra people will be needed by 2032, in order to keep up with demand.

EV servicing EV battery

This situation is a concern for the IMI, as its policy and public affairs lead, Hayley Pells, explains: “This gap could impact consumers by limiting their options for servicing and repair, possibly leading to higher costs or longer wait times. For independent garages, the shortfall in qualified technicians could mean missed opportunities in a growing sector and the risk of being outcompeted by franchises that are more closely aligned with manufacturers.”

The race is on to make sure that technicians in workshops around the UK have the vital skills to maintain EVs (and hybrid cars) correctly.

Electric vehicle technician training

There are a number of organisations involved making sure that the qualified workforce grows to meet demand. These include the IMI and the Independent Garage Association (IGA), both of which provide training for automotive staff.

The IGA has five training centres that have been providing EV training for independent garage staff for the past five years. Its most popular course is a two-day, in-person Level 3 qualification that provides candidates with the skills to perform diagnostic testing and repair work on EVs with high-voltage electrical systems, and to repair faults.

EV servicing Volkswagen

“EVs have a lot of components in common with combustion-engined vehicles, such as brakes, steering and suspension, and there’s very little difference in repairing or replacing these components,” says the chief executive officer of the IGA, Stuart James. “However, we’re also starting to see a lot more high-voltage electrical system faults, and that’s one area where the technicians who have completed our training courses can help.”

James adds that its member garages can access a technical helpline that provides information on fixing faults on high-voltage electrical systems. The IGA also works closely with the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Alliance (HEVRA), which provides support and information for garages on EV electrical system faults; it already has instructions for around 200 repair methods, and garages can get expertise from HEVRA whenever it’s needed.

National chain Halfords has also been investing in EV training, running internal programmes for existing staff and apprentices at its four training academies since 2016.

“We have more than 700 EV-trained staff at our service centres, and 80% of our 700-strong network of centres can service EVs. The majority of sites have staff who are trained up to Level 3 to work on EVs and hybrids, and the sites have specialist tools and equipment for working on these vehicles,” says the leader of Halfords’ apprenticeship team, Dave Nicholls.

EV servicing Volkswagen

“We also have some highly skilled technicians, who have undergone additional training to Level 4. They are qualified to work on live high-voltage systems, so they can do complex work on the batteries of EVs and hybrids, such as identifying cells that aren’t performing like they should and replacing them in order to maintain efficiency. They are on hand to help Level 3-trained staff at service centres if more specialist expertise is required.”

It isn’t merely a case of ensuring that there are enough EV technicians to keep up with increasing demand, though. Every member of garage staff in contact with EVs must know how to treat them safely – no matter what their role.

Dean Lander, head of repair sector services for automotive safety organisation Thatcham Research, explains: “To be able to say that one person in a company has been on a training course or has gained a qualification to work on EVs isn’t enough. More engagement is needed for other staff and for those in non-mechanical repair centres, such as bodyshops.”

Thatcham Research has introduced three levels of training below the formal Level 3 qualification that can be completed by all employees of a garage or related business. The organisation started offering EV safety training in 2016 and ramped it up with the introduction of its EV Aware course in 2021.

EV Aware is the most basic level of training and has been completed by more than 1400 automotive sector employees so far. It is an online programme for all staff from receptionists to car valeters to ensure they know the core principles of safety around EVs.

EV Enhanced is the second level of training and is aimed at all other non-mechanical staff, including those working in vehicle body repair and paint shops. This online course goes into more detail, for example, explaining the difference between 12-volt and 60-volt systems.

EV Safe is an in-person course that ensures people know how to make a high-voltage system safe to be worked on. “Only a very small percentage of maintenance work involves working on high-voltage systems, but technicians need to know how to isolate them and make them zero voltage so they can keep everyone in the workplace safe,” says Lander.

EV servicing Volkswagen

It’s great news that garages are taking steps to handle increasing EV servicing demand, but it’s important that consumers are able
to confidently choose a garage that’s up to the task. Thankfully, this should only get easier as time goes by.

During 2022, Thatcham introduced a certification scheme called EV Ready. This is an annually reviewed certification scheme for garages and workshops. To qualify, everyone in a given business must complete the EV Aware course, with those directly working on EVs taking further, more technical courses. Consumers can look for the business’s EV Ready certificate, which is renewed annually.

The IMI has also introduced TechSafe, a Government-approved recognition programme that provides independent assessment of the technical competence of technicians and businesses working in the UK automotive sector. It’s a continuing professional development qualification that identifies a member’s professionalism and ability to work safely on EVs and ensures they keep up to date with the latest developments.

Consumers can check which workshops are TechSafe accredited via the IMI’s Professional Register website.

More technicians are needed

Despite all these measures to ensure that independent garages are ready for the big influx of EVs that is expected as we approach the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2035, there are a number of factors that could derail preparations, says Lander.

“The threat isn’t about businesses not being able to repair EVs; it’s more to do with the political and financial climate as we go forwards. If the Government doesn’t provide the incentives and financial assistance that are needed for all companies to make the necessary changes, the ability for the independent sector to take over the majority of EV servicing could stall.”

Pells believes that a multi-faceted approach is needed to ensure a smooth transition. “Firstly, continuing to raise awareness and understanding of EV technologies among both technicians and consumers is essential,” she says. “Investment in training is non- negotiable; we need to accelerate the pace at which technicians are upskilled. And collaboration across sectors – including government, education, manufacturers and the aftermarket – is also crucial to address the challenges collectively.”

With that support in place, Pells believes independent garages will be able to offer the personalised, community-focused services that many consumers value.

“With the right training and tools, they will be able to compete effectively with franchises, offering a broader range of choices for EV owners,” she says. “The diversity in service options will be crucial for maintaining healthy competition and ensuring that EV owners across the country have access to quality, convenient servicing.”

What’s included in an EV service and how much does it cost?

With fewer mechanical parts than petrol and diesel cars, EVs are generally quicker and cheaper to service. On a smaller service, the only things that are likely to need to be replaced are the pollen filter and (on some models) brake fluid. In comparison, petrol and diesel cars will also have their engine oil and oil filter replaced.

EV servicing Peugeot e-208

Because of this, many EVs follow a time-only-based service schedule, rather than the mileage and time-based schedules of most other cars. No matter how many miles you do, they will require a service only once or twice over three years. This can represent big savings for owners.

That said, EVs may get through consumables, such as tyres, more quickly than ICE cars – especially heavy, high-performance models. That means it’s important to check tyres regularly for wear and take note of any dashboard warning lights that could indicate wear to components in the braking system.

EV servicing VW ID 3

Cap HPI has provided us with the expected service costs, over three years and 30,000 miles, of three petrol cars and their EV counterparts. The costs are inclusive of VAT and are based on fleet labour rates. 

Make and model Cost of servicing Number of services
Mini Cooper 1.5 C Classic £828 2
Mini Cooper E Classic £242 1
Peugeot 208 1.2 Puretech 100 Active £887 3
Peugeot e208 50kWh Active £284 2
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Match (long life max servicing) £307 1
Volkswagen ID 3 58kWh Pro £230 1

What Car? says…

The good news for consumers is that the number of technicians working in the independent sector who are qualified to work on EVs is increasing every day, so there’s no need to stick with main dealer servicing as your car grows older.

You don’t have to have your new car maintained by its manufacturer’s franchised dealer network at all, but most people choose this option for the first few years of a new car’s life. However, as your car ages, it makes sense to see if a local garage can offer servicing at a more affordable price.

As with any car, it’s important to ascertain that the garage has the relevant information to service the car in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, using parts that meet manufacturer’s specifications. If your local independent garage can do this, and it’s offering a better deal than you can get from a franchised workshop, there is no reason not to get your EV serviced by them. 

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