The writing is on the wall. The electronic vehicle (EV) revolution has arrived. With the surge of EVs entering the marketplace, the time has come for fleets to adjust to new ways of doing business. Fleet managers will need to adjust truck driver and shop technician training. These are new vehicles and charging them, installing infrastructure, and prepping our team will be critical to ensuring your EV strategy stays on the right track.
For fleet shops, in particular, a new approach to maintenance will be required. Even though there are fewer parts in this type of system, there are still some intricacies that need to be identified and mastered before technicians get under the hood. Let’s take a closer look at how EV maintenance will change in the modern era.
Maintenance Needs Change with the Times
So, how do EVs work? For one, they require far less maintenance. Put simply, batteries power the EV motor, which then rotates the wheels of the vehicle. In this setup, there is no need for a transmission, exhaust system, or motor oil. But it doesn’t stop there. EVs require less to no regular maintenance of the battery, motor, and associated systems. They also burn through brakes far fewer thanks to the use of regenerative braking.
There are simply far fewer moving parts on an EV compared to fossil fuel vehicles. While there are some changes to the interior components of these vehicles, technicians will still encounter many of the same components within the drivetrain, including the axles, wheels, tires, and so on. These components do not change. So, it won’t all be totally new, but it will require some updated training on not only the systems and components but also on how to safely service them.
Speaking of safety, EVs require a greater level of consideration when it comes to safety. Technicians will be dealing with sensitive materials and potentially volatile components. So, knowing how to work on EVs without safety incidents will be a critical component to ensuring your technicians remain safe and injury free.
A Closer Look at EV Safety
Fortunately, experienced technicians will be well aware of the dangers associated with EV work. Battery systems carry risks. Technicians are trained to initially — and safely — disconnect the battery before working on any vehicle to reduce the risk of injury. This precaution is amplified by the number of batteries that come on most electric vehicles. A careful set of steps must be undertaken to ensure battery work is done safely and securely.
With proper care, EV batteries are largely designed to last as long as a standard internal combustion setup. Still, like other vehicles, battery-powered EVs can have maintenance issues. Technicians should be fully trained to handle the increase in amperage. They must also have a specific set of tools and be provided with the necessary tools and personal protection equipment.
To minimize the risk of electric shock, one often overlooked factor surrounds insulation. All tools must be insulated. There should also be a written policy that technicians are required to use rubber gloves when servicing EVs. Finally, trucking shops should also require the installation of charging equipment to prep the vehicle for test runs once the maintenance has been completed. With all these systems in place, technicians will be set up for a safe and productive work environment.
Put a Proper Focus on EV Training
Still, let’s not put the cart before the horse. Your first step in ensuring a safe working environment for your technicians is to focus on training. Before new EVs can be maintained, the crews who service them need to be properly trained. In every sector of the consumer and commercial vehicle industry, there is a lack of technicians. Add to that these new and emerging technologies, and you have a dwindling workforce that needs even more training.
Fortunately, trucking companies are partnering with academic institutions and trade schools. Their efforts aim to ensure a steady stream of qualified EV technicians are ready to work on EVs when they are incorporated into the fleet.
OEMs are also aware of a training deficit for EVs and have instituted their own training programs. Volvo Trucks not only offers its Certified Electric Vehicle (EV) Dealer program, but it works with several industry stakeholders to create a training program at the community college level. Called the Volvo LIGHTS program, the company has developed a comprehensive electric truck technician training program.
Big car makers have also jumped on the bandwagon. Ford, as one example, has developed an initiative known as Automotive Student Service Educational Training. The program provides highly trained technicians in Ford service technologies and diagnostic and repair methods to Ford and Lincoln dealerships around the country.
What Kind of Technologies Will EV Technicians Work On?
There are some similarities between EV and internal combustion vehicles. For example, ICE vehicles utilize a radiator, coolant, and a grill to control the temperature of the engine. EVs will continue to use coolant circuits going through one or more heat exchangers depending on the OEM. EV motors and internal combustion engines both need to be kept cool, after all. A key difference lies in temperature. The temperatures that will be required for optimal thermal management of batteries and power electronics versus the delta temperature of traditional vehicles are vastly different.
Technicians must also keep in mind that heat is generated during the charging phase. The faster the charger (level 1, level 2, or DC fast charger), the more heat is produced. This is where proper cooling management comes in. By efficiently cooling the battery packs during charging, you can cut the charge time and reduce the degradation of the battery packs. And the less your battery packs degrade, the longer they will last.
But how do EV battery packs stay cool? Well, they primarily use liquid cooling to control excessively high temperatures. High temperatures reduce the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries and very high temperatures increase the risk of thermal runaway. Both are undesirable outcomes. Cooling is, therefore, necessary to reduce the temperature during fast charging or specific duty cycles that place a high demand on the batteries. Technicians must keep this essential fact in mind.
More on Motor and Liquid Cooling Systems
Most EV OEMs have put the focus of their efforts on a liquid cooling system to control the internal temperature of the battery packs. In the end, it all comes down to power density requirements. How? Well, due to power density requirements the system uses water or some type of refrigerant or coolant to keep the packs below 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
As the liquid flows through the components surrounding the battery cells, heat is moved away from the system. The cooling system also helps protect the components when the vehicle is being charged. These liquid cooling systems focus solely on the battery packs, with separate systems cooling the motor and other components. These systems operate independently of one another and in sync.
As we mentioned before, OEMs and vehicle solution providers have spent immeasurable amounts of time and money on research. And this is because the thermal management system is the linchpin and supports the functionality of the entire vehicle.
The cooling circuits make sure that the motor and inverter and other power electronics with batteries are maintained at their optimal operating temperatures. If they do not operate within the most ideal parameters, they won’t perform at peak level. Technicians must be very careful with their calibrations to ensure peak performance throughout their operation. For zero-emission vehicles, fleets need to understand the thermal management being applied to understand all maintenance aspects for the longevity and reliable operation of the cooling system.
The New Age of EVs
In the end, as we have said many times before, the most important thing is finding a partner that is with your values and culture. As with any vehicle purchase and the proper maintenance of it, fleets need to partner with the best solution providers to keep their EVs running right. The right partner can help you determine the necessary airflow requirements and available voltage for your EVs, as well as explore potential solutions for proper thermal management.
It will also be up to fleet managers and executives to ensure they properly train their technicians on EV testing, tweaking, and validation. Sure, fleet managers have a lot to do. But this is important. With the proper due diligence, smart motor carriers will set up a program to ensure extensive testing, tweaking, and validation to reach the right customized, scalable solution, which the right solution provider can help determine.
You need a system that offers proven reliability. A program that is built to perform and to last. Make sure you have access to a distribution network that provides industry-leading service and support via highly trained, experienced technicians. Only this way can you ensure a prosperous EV-driven future for your fleet.