The Science of Sustainability

Clean Car Diaries: Could Tesla's 'Brick Problem' Happen To Other EVS?

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Tesla Roadster

As if range anxiety wasn't enough, do I also have to remember to keep my car charged — even when I am not driving it? The answer is yes, but since I drive a Leaf, it's not quite as serious as owning a Tesla. A recent blog about Tesla's cars turning into "immovable bricks" if the battery ever becomes completely discharged, has set off a firestorm in the blogosphere. The claims say some Tesla owners have left their cars for as little as a few weeks and found their EVs could not be re-charged.

Tesla has been applauded for having some of the most advanced battery technology but it seems that there is one design flaw that can cause serious problems. If the charge in a Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries is fully depleted, the batteries are essentially destroyed and the car is left immobilized. The repair can be costly, some estimates say around $40,000 dollars for a new battery.

Tesla is downplaying the issue. In a statement released this week the company doesn't deny that the "brick problem" could happen but says its unlikely because they offer several safeguards against it including low charge warnings. "All automobiles require some level of owner care. For example, combustion vehicles require regular oil changes or the engine will be destroyed. Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time. However, Tesla avoids this problem in virtually all instances with numerous counter-measures." Tesla says its cars can be unplugged for weeks without reaching zero charge. But now who wants to test that claim?

Nissan Leaf

Good news for Nissan Leaf drivers, the company says the battery shuts down completely before it fully drains. GM says its Volt plug-in hybrid has a buffer at the lower end of the state of charge to prevent it from being fully depleted. Right now the problem seems specific to Tesla. However, from what I have learned, keeping an electric car charged is not only part of good maintenance but also part of keeping a battery warranty valid. Nissan recommends charging up to eighty percent for better battery life. To prevent damage to the battery the company also says owners must not leave the car parked for more than 14 days where the battery available charge gauge reaches a zero or near zero state of charge.

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About the Author ()

Andrea is KQED's Senior Science Editor . Andrea was born in Los Angeles and discovered radio news through listening to her college radio station. With a curious mind and a love for telling stories, she set off for Tampa where she landed her first job as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. After three years reporting in an unbearably humid climate and a brief stint as a miscast opera reporter, Andrea returned to L.A. to work for public radio, then for television news and finally as a reporter for CBS radio. Andrea has been at KQED for over twelve years, working first as a producer for Forum, and then as the senior producer for The California Report. She is now KQED's Senior Science and Environment Editor and narrates the QUEST television program. Andrea says she feels lucky to cover emerging science and environmental trends in a place where geek is chic.
  • Anonymous

    The Tesla Model S actually has better technology than the Nissan Leaf. It can be driven to a zero charge and can fully recover as long as its plugged in within 30 days, not 14! Also, the Tesla Model S can sit for up to 1 year with a 50% charge before losing all of its charge.

    Read more about it here:
    Tesla Motors, Batteries, and the Truth
    http://teslarumors.com/News-2012-02-25-013.html

    You can read more about the economics of owning a Tesla Model S also.
    http://teslarumors.com/Teslanomics.html