Is Your Electric Vehicle At Risk Of 'Bricking?'

The recent stories of the Tesla Roadster “bricking” will likely cause owners of other electric vehicles to wonder whether they should worry. Our friends at AutoGuide managed to get commentary about measures in place that can prevent other EVs from becoming damaged like the Tesla.

A “bricked” car is a lot like a bricked gadget. It can’t and won’t turn on, and is essentially useless (unless you want to use it as a giant and expensive paperweight).

Tesla Roadster

The story is that an owner let his Roadster die and left it uncharged for two months. The car then couldn’t be turned on or started, or re-charged. When the car was taken for repairs it was found that it would cost $40,000 to fix the vehicle.

It’s stated several times in the Roadster’s owner’s manual not to leave the vehicle discharged for an extended period of time. Specifically: “Situations may arise when in which you must leave your vehicle unplugged for an extended period of time. If this is the case, it is your responsibility to ensure that the battery does not become fully depleted.” Lastly, “Over-discharge can permanently damage the battery.” While it’s clear that owner negligence caused this damage, some blame can be put on the manufacturer to have more safety measures to protect the vehicle.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan states that the Leaf cannot be fully discharged “thanks to an advanced battery management system designed to protect the battery from damage. One element of the battery management system is a failsafe wall that stops the battery from reaching absolute zero state-of-charge, even after a period of unplugged storage,”Steve Yaegar, Nissan’s technology communications manager said.

Still there are some warnings in the Leaf’s manual that advises owners to take proper care of its battery. One of the more conspicuous warnings says: “Avoid leaving your vehicle for over 14 days where the Li-ion battery available charge gauge reaches a zero or near zero (state of charge)”

When pushed, Yaegar skirted the issue of what would happen to a Leaf if a user ignored that advice.

Chevrolet Volt

While the Chevrolet has a gas generator to help keep the battery charged, what would happen if the battery is discharged completely? Nothing really. Chevrolet spokesperson Robert Peterson told us “This isn’t an issue for the Volt. The Volt uses only 10.4 kW of its 16 kWh battery. The rest of the battery space serves as a buffer to prevent overcharging or deep discharging.”

Mitsubishi i

In the i’s warranty manual, Mitsubishi states that the standard warranty does not cover any damages to the Li-Ion battery resulting from “failure to keep the main drive lithium-ion battery charged during storage of the vehicle.”

John Arnone a representative from Mitsubishi, said that while the i battery can be fully discharged, if left for a long period of time it will still be able to be recharged by the usual means.

Smart ED

While it’s true that electric Smart cars aren’t really on sale (lease-only), a member of customer relations told us that the upcoming 2013 model shouldn’t encounter any issues if left discharged. She did warn us that it may take a bit longer to fully charge back up again though.

It’s clear that electric vehicles are in their infancy. Being able to drive about without paying for gas certainly is a huge benefit. However, just as is the case with a gasoline or diesel car, certain responsibilities come along with the package – and some of them are unique to electrified vehicles. For example, knowing about recharging, possibly the whereabouts of yet-limited charging infrastructure, and available electric range is all new. Needing also to be added to the list in some cases, if you’re not already mindful of it, would appear to be battery maintenance.


    Maybe we should all go back to camels and corans ?

  • MichaelJ

    Polling the manufacturers about their opinion doesn’t really answer the question. It depends on (a) the parasitic load of the battery management system when the vehicle is parked (determines the rate at which the battery will be slowly drained for that), (b) whether it can be allowed to shut itself off when the battery gets drained dangerously low, and (c) the specific battery chemistry (determines whether being fully discharged as a result of (a) or (b) will prevent a recharge). The EVs mentioned above are very different in these respects. Tesla uses a Li-Cobalt oxide cathode chemistry that does not recover well from full discharge, and has thousands of small cells that likely need continual management, which are liabilities on both counts. Nissan uses a more stable spinel chemistry and has fewer cells to manage, so probably does a bit better on both counts. The Mitsubishi i uses the deep discharge Toshiba SciB chemistry which I would speculate is more revivable after a full discharge. All manufacturers will say it’s not a worry as long as you follow their recommendations, but you really need to know more details in order to know what level of risk you are playing with.

  • Jeff

    Fully discharging any Li based battery is a no-no any time. I have done this with smaller LiIon packs and had to coax them back to life. They are not like a normal car battery or a NiCd or NMHi battery. I would agree with MichaelJ’s assessment of the Tesla cell. $40,000 is probalby about right for completely replacing the battery pack and rebooting the electronics.

  • Kelly O’Brien

    Let this story drop. It’s bogus, as was the source in the first place…. no cheese down this tunnel.

  • Duude

    Nothing to see here. Move along……

  • mahdi

    I want the contents of your research is about the philosophy and structure of hybrid vehicles, and general performance issues that I would give in their graduation projects. I am that I can help in this regard.

  • Evan

    What a dumbass!

  • veek

    This report needs documentation, and the problems are probably on the far side of the bell-shaped curve. Still …. this report is not reassuring for those contemplating purchase of an electric car or a plug-in hybrid.

    Tesla seems like an innovative company, but progress can be expensive and Caveat Emptor also applies to First Adapters. Years ago, we bought one of the first Escape Hybrids in our region and knew we were taking a risk. Our Escape works great but if it wasn’t, we’d have had no one to blame but ourselves.

    Yes, $30 – 40K is plenty of money but … maintenance and repair (and insurance and depreciation) costs can be significant for many other vehicles, too. If you buy a Porsche, BMW, etc. and the engine blows out of warranty, you may be looking at a “brick” with a huge repair cost, too. We know a Mercedes dealer and he mentioned an SLR costs about $5K in routine maintenance every 10K miles and $30K every four years, a brake rotor can go for $7K, etc (not unusual for an exotic car). We once owned even a plain-jane Mercedes diesel and frequently placed well over $1K on the counter of our repair shop. Body repairs for many hybrids, or cars with lots of carbon fiber or aluminum, can be extremely costly and insurance prices will (and should) reflect this. Corvette tires may easily run a couple of thou every few thousand miles, more if you break a wheel. It wouldn’t be surprising if the depreciation for the Tesla (or many other cars) soon approached the cost of the battery pack. Those who like to drive too fast or unskillfully, or who “Drive While Yammering” on a cell phone, greatly increase the chances of medical costs for them and their victims that will dwarf the cost of a Tesla battery replacement. Etcetera. So …. before buying a car that is not “garden variety,” or before driving it like a maniac, investigate what the repair costs could be. You might be surprised to learn the Tesla “brick” is not out of your ballpark, either.

  • ttwettlaufer

    ‘Bricking’ an electric car falls under 1 of only 2 possibilities.
    1. it’s and Id10t problem.
    2. failure of the hardware between the steering wheel and the seat.
    No further discussion necessary.

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