Home » Insurance Companies Don’t Know How Much Battery Pack Damage Is Too Much, So They’re Totaling Good EVs: Report

Insurance Companies Don’t Know How Much Battery Pack Damage Is Too Much, So They’re Totaling Good EVs: Report

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re still in the Wild West era of electric vehicles. The charging infrastructure isn’t what it needs to be, charging standards and systems are all over the place (including where the damn plugs are located) and automakers and repair businesses alike are still figuring out the ecosystem around making fixes. Case in point: if you scratch your EV’s battery pack, you may be screwed, even if it still works.

That’s our lead story today in today’s morning roundup, and we’re also talking about buttons (good), hydrogen (I dunno, man) and what General Motors’ buyouts may have to do with an upcoming labor negotiation (interesting.) Happy Monday, let’s get things started.

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Battery Damage Woes


Look, nobody wants to deal with a lithium-ion battery pack fire. That stuff ruins your whole day. Remember when Chevrolet told everyone to park their fire-prone Bolts away from other cars, houses, pets, small children or really anything at all, as if that’s realistic for most people? It’s not great.

But mild damage to the battery, even after minor collisions or damage, are resulting in entire EVs being totaled out because of the cost to repair or replace the pack, Reuters reports today.


This is an important thing for prospective EV owners to know about, but I think it’s less the fault of the vehicle and more an issue with the lack of a repair ecosystem around Li-Ion car battery packs right now. From that story:

For many electric vehicles, there is no way to repair or assess even slightly damaged battery packs after accidents, forcing insurance companies to write off cars with few miles – leading to higher premiums and undercutting gains from going electric.

And now those battery packs are piling up in scrapyards in some countries, a previously unreported and expensive gap in what was supposed to be a “circular economy.”

“We’re buying electric cars for sustainability reasons,” said Matthew Avery, research director at automotive risk intelligence company Thatcham Research. “But an EV isn’t very sustainable if you’ve got to throw the battery away after a minor collision.”

Battery packs can cost tens of thousands of dollars and represent up to 50% of an EV’s price tag, often making it uneconomical to replace them.

The story notes Ford and GM are working on making pack repairs easier, but that’s less true of Tesla; our pal Sandy Munro even told the outlet the latest Model Y batteries have “zero repairability.” Battery cells glued into a pack that forms the very car’s structure, as you see above.

Part of the problem is automakers are unwilling to hand over any battery data to third parties, including repair shops, which can make fixes difficult if not impossible.

Here’s the other problem: the plan to make EVs more carbon-neutral rides on battery recycling and repurposing. But if packs are sitting in junkyards even after minor wrecks because nobody knows how to fix them, it torpedoes the whole deal:

EV battery problems also expose a hole in the green “circular economy” touted by carmakers.

At Synetiq, the UK’s largest salvage company, head of operations Michael Hill said over the last 12 months the number of EVs in the isolation bay – where they must be checked to avoid fire risk – at the firm’s Doncaster yard has soared, from perhaps a dozen every three days to up to 20 per day.

“We’ve seen a really big shift and it’s across all manufacturers,” Hill said.

The UK currently has no EV battery recycling facilities, so Synetiq has to remove the batteries from written-off cars and store them in containers. Hill estimated at least 95% of the cells in the hundreds of EV battery packs – and thousands of hybrid battery packs – Synetiq has stored at Doncaster are undamaged and should be reused.

Like the charging infrastructure, this will, presumably, get better over time as EVs proliferate. But somebody had better get on it. (In fact, it’s probably a great industry for green entrepreneurs to invest in right now.)


Buttons Are Good, Buttons Are Right

Photo: Hyundai

Touchscreens in cars have certainly gotten better and faster over the years, but I don’t think they’re any easier to use—particularly when the car is actually moving. It’s just not a user experience that tracks with your ability to safely operate a vehicle at speed while still minding the road.

Some automakers get this more than others. One of them, now, is Hyundai. The Korean automaker’s head of design, Sang Yup Lee, told Australia’s Cars Guide that even in the digitized era of cars, they’re gonna stick with buttons:

[The new Hyundai Kona] deliberately uses physical buttons and dials for many of the controls, specifically air-conditioning and the sound system. Lee said this is because the move to digital screens is often more dangerous, as it often requires multiple steps and means drivers have to take their eyes off the road to see where they need to press.

“We have used the physical buttons quite significantly the last few years,” Lee said. “For me, the safety-related buttons have to be a hard key.”

He added: “When you’re driving it’s hard to control it, this is why when it’s a hard key it’s easy to sense and feel it.”

Yeah, man! No shit. It’s such an obvious thing to admit, but such a true one. Hyundai says it may move away from such switches when it gets to Level 4 autonomous driving (which is actual, real self-driving, unlike what we have today) but for now, this is the better, safer choice.

Do Not Think Toyota’s New Boss Is Giving Up On Hydrogen


Toyota’s incoming new CEO Koji Sato has pledged to be more EV-forward than his skeptical predecessor was, in part because Toyota’s not one to lose a competitive advantage over anyone else—especially in the manufacturing realm. But this should not be taken as an indication that it’s giving up on hydrogen fuel cells.


Toyota has been easily the biggest and most visible proponent of this power source and it’s invested a ton of money into development. Unfortunately, this hasn’t yielded car sales or a more robust hydrogen fueling infrastructure; the one we have in America is basically nonexistent. But there’s still a path here, Toyota thinks. This is from Automotive News:

“We want to ensure that hydrogen stays a viable option,” Sato said March 18 on the sidelines of a weekend endurance race where Toyota has planned to field a hydrogen-powered race car.

“We need a production and transport supply chain,” Sato said. “Unless we see evolution there, we cannot expect a volume increase in the energy’s use.”

Sato, who takes over as CEO of Toyota Motor Corp. on April 1, said last month after being named to the top job that the world’s biggest automaker “must drastically change” the way it does business and adopt an “EV-first” mindset. The company is now developing a new dedicated EV platform for 2026 that will be deliver less costly, better performing EVs. Sato, who will succeed Akio Toyoda at the top of Toyota, signaled the new push when announcing his new leadership team.

In contrast to the emboldened ramp up on the full-electric front, Toyota has been more circumspect in talking about hydrogen. The company that helped pioneer fuel cell technology with its Mirai water-vapor-emitting hydrogen-powered car doesn’t even have a concrete sales target.

Indeed, as that story notes, Toyota has the capacity to make 30,000 Mirai sedans a year, but in seven years it’s only sold 21,700 of them. I’m surprised it’s that high. Outside of auto shows, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one on the road in this country, though I don’t spend as much time in California (where most of the hydrogen stations are) as I’d like. Probably most of those went to Japan. [Editor’s Note: I see them all the time here in LA. -DT]. 

(Speaking of: You can level plenty of valid criticism at Tesla, but at least it had the stones to build out the Supercharger network. I think Toyota could’ve done more to put its money where its mouth is if it believed in hydrogen so much. It’s hard to say hydrogen’s the future when there are no cars and no filling stations on the road. Anyway.)

Automotive News also spoke to Kawasaki Heavy President Yasuhiko Hashimoto, who says he sees much more of a use case for hydrogen in heavy trucks, buses, construction equipment and other industrial applications. That seems to be the growing industry consensus these days.

GM’s Upcoming Union Fight

The First Ever 2022 Chevrolet Silverado Zr2


You remember how GM made a ton of profits last year, but now it’s offering buyouts to white-collar workers — a move that’s often preparation for layoffs? In one last item from Automotive News, that publication’s EIC speculates the buyouts could be a move to cut off the United Auto Workers union from asking for more money in upcoming negotiations.

The UAW will also be looking to save jobs in the EV transition, which could in theory mean less labor to build cars; that’s a hot-button issue in Europe right now. From that column:

I don’t want to doubt the sincerity of Barra and her senior leadership team, but it sure feels like a move that is intended primarily for sending a signal or two to the agitated members of the UAW and Unifor who may be looking for big raises and expanded benefits in addition to massive investments toward the electric vehicle transition.

In case you don’t know, “salaried employees” and the UAW-affiliated workers are a different class of folks, and GM actually has more of the former. But this could be some signal to union workers that it’s not about to hand out a big payday anytime soon.

Your Turn

Let’s talk car controls! Who does it the best right now? Who’s bad at it?

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Joel Robert
Joel Robert
1 year ago

I enjoyed reading your recent article about the lack of understanding insurance companies have about the extent of battery pack damage in electric vehicles. It’s concerning to see that insurance companies are opting to total EVs with minor damage to the battery pack, rather than investing in the technology and knowledge to accurately assess the damage.

This is especially important when considering the potential financial loss that auto repair shops may face when repairing or replacing a damaged EV battery pack. As you mentioned in your article, the cost of replacing a battery pack in an EV can be extremely high, and it’s crucial that insurance companies and repair shops have a clear understanding of the extent of the damage before making any decisions.

In addition, auto repair shops should consider investing in specialized insurance coverage to protect themselves from potential financial loss when dealing with EV battery packs. As the adoption of EVs continues to grow, it’s important for auto repair shops to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and insurance options in order to provide the best service possible to their customers.

Overall, I appreciate your article for highlighting this important issue and bringing attention to the need for greater understanding and investment in the technology and auto repair shop insurance coverage options available for EVs and auto repair shops. Keep up the great work!

1 year ago

I agree with most of us, the car I’m currently used to has the exact right configuration. Oh man, could you imagine having to go through a touchscreen menu to turn high beams on and off in semi-rural driving? that would be awful. is any UI that insane yet?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x