Electric Car Brake Maintenance Has Some Unusual Steps

Internal-combustion cars are still easier to refuel on the go, but EVs have livability advantages in other areas. Besides the fuel savings and quieter interiors, an electric car usually has lower maintenance costs. However, just because they have fewer parts to maintain doesn’t mean EVs are entirely maintenance-free. And when it comes to brake maintenance, electric car owners might need to pay attention to things ICE car owners don’t often think about.

Regenerative braking plays havoc with the notion that electric cars require less maintenance

A close-up view of a Tesla Model X's disc brake and wheel during electric car maintenance
Electric car brakes often require additional maintenance due to disuse | Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

Although electric powertrains aren’t simple per se, they have fewer consumables than gasoline-powered cars. Yes, EVs still use coolant, windshield wipers, cabin air filters, and so on. But electric cars don’t have to worry about spark plugs, oil changes, and other engine-related maintenance items. However, EVs—and technically hybrids—have something pure-ICE cars lack, regenerative braking.

On one hand, regenerative braking allows EVs to recoup energy otherwise wasted as heat to recharge their batteries. Also, some EVs’ regen is strong enough to basically make the brake pedal unnecessary. Hence the term ‘one-pedal driving.’ But therein lies the problem.

See, cars don’t like it when they sit idle too long without taking the necessary precautions. Rubber parts decay, fluids degrade and start to corrode metal, and brakes begin rusting in place. Admittedly, EVs aren’t affected by some of these potential issues. However, even though they have regenerative braking, they still have physical brakes. And that means electric car brakes suffer from a lack of use and maintenance just as much.

In short, because EVs with good regen don’t use their brakes as often, their brakes often rust more quickly. Furthermore, EVs might not have oil, but they do have brake fluid. And brake fluid degrades even if you’re not using it to, well, pump the brakes. All this means that, when EV drivers actually need their physical brakes, they might hear a bunch of squealing but not feel a lot of stopping. Or, if the lack of use and maintenance is extreme enough, your electric car might not stop at all because of seized calipers.

Electric car brakes might need additional maintenance to avoid rusting and seizing from disuse

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Traditionally, car maintenance schedules were designed around parts wearing out. For brakes, that usually means things like worn pads, thin rotors, and old fluid. So, what happens when parts are used so infrequently that they don’t function? Well, it means electric car owners might have additional maintenance tasks on their hands when it comes to their brakes.

For one, pay attention to your brake fluid’s replacement interval, both in terms of mileage and months. Even if it’s not being used, it’s still pulling water from the atmosphere and degrading. Hence why many EV brands’ maintenance schedules include regular brake fluid changes, usually every two years.

Secondly, unless you have carbon-ceramic brakes or something similarly non-ferrous, your rotors and pads will start rusting. A little bit of surface rust isn’t something to worry about, but it’s not a good idea to leave it unchecked for long. If your EV’s brakes are really rusty, though, break out the brake cleaner and elbow grease. But make sure you remove the wheels and protect nearby painted surfaces, The Drive notes. And no, WD-40 isn’t a brake cleaner; use a chlorinated non-flammable actual brake cleaning formula.

In addition, electric car brake maintenance includes regularly checking the calipers themselves. Not just for rust but making sure they haven’t seized, too. Forbes recommends regularly lubricating them to prevent this. Remove surface rust first, then apply a high-viscosity silicone-based grease/lube to the caliper’s metal parts, The Drive explains. Please note that this might be a ‘some disassembly required’ procedure.

It’s worth noting that ICE car brakes might need this type of maintenance from time to time, too. However, because their brakes are used more frequently, rust and seizing aren’t typical issues.

Is there a way to avoid these EV brake issues?

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If this sounds like a lot of extra work, don’t worry, the automakers and suppliers are aware of it. Brembo, for example, recently released an EV-specific line of brake pads and rotors. These Beyond EV rotors and pads are compatible with regenerative braking systems and are reportedly quieter and more corrosion resistant. Furthermore, they produce less dust and don’t contain copper, both of which make them more environmentally friendly.

However, there is an easier way to avoid some of this additional electric car brake maintenance: use your physical brakes more. Yes, regenerative braking is convenient, especially in cities, and helps boost EV range. But consider toning it down so your brakes won’t rust into uselessness.

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