How to Safely Work on EVs
As a master tech with extensive experience in the auto industry, Jake Sorensen knows the importance of reading the repair procedures and service information. Sorensen, the shop manager of McNeil’s Auto Care in Sandy, Utah, says it’s even more true when dealing with hybrid and electric vehicles.
Sorensen says this is the case for two reasons: first for safety, and because some of the old-school repair tricks just aren’t acceptable when dealing with electric vehicles.
Safety is an added concern for techs working on hybrid and electric vehicles because most techs are not accustomed to working with high voltage, and improperly handling components of the electrical system could cause series injuries. When understanding the risks involved in working with high voltage without extensive experience, it can be easy to jump to the worst-case scenario.
While acknowledging there are those very real safety concerns when working on hybrid and electric vehicles, Sorensen says the doomsday talk can at times be overblown.
“A lot of people want to make it sound like it’s really easy to make mistakes that it’s going to kill you,” he says. “I’m by no means saying that’s not possible, but somebody with electrical knowledge, automotive knowledge, common sense, being careful is going to be OK.”
Sorensen notes that many hybrid and electric vehicles will have redundancies built in where even if someone was not following the proper repair procedures, they would be safe.
“That’s not to say that you should do that … Not to say, ‘Well, there’s redundancy, so just have at it, you’re not going to hurt yourself,’” Sorensen says. “You do still need to be careful, know what you’re doing.”
Sorensen says working on electric vehicles is actually quite safe with the proper training and the right equipment and preparation.
Sorensen describes himself as a big proponent of training, but even more so when it comes to repairing hybrid and electric vehicles, for the same reasons—safety first and foremost—it’s important to read the repair procedures and service information.
Training is the first step you can take to ensure safety when working on anything—hybrid and electric vehicles included.
Sorensen says he initially had a difficult time finding training, but after some searching, he found several, including Weber State University’s hybrid-electric vehicle bootcamp, which he says was “phenomenal,” and the Automotive Training Group’s four-hour bootcamp, which he said provides a good baseline for working on these types of vehicles.
Sorensen did however warn that not every training was a great experience.
The Right Equipment
Another key to ensuring safety when working on electric vehicles is using the right equipment. However, Sorensen says you don’t need as much stuff as you might think.
“I think a lot of places want to scare people away from working on (hybrid and electric) cars by telling them … there’s all this stuff you need,” he says. “When it comes to things like tires and fluids and suspension components and all that, it’s all the same stuff.”
In terms of working with the electrical system, Sorensen says the most important thing you need would be a pair of high-voltage gloves and glove protectors.
The high-voltage gloves provide protection from electrical currents when working with the battery or other components of the vehicle’s electrical system.
The glove protectors are leather gloves that go outside the high-voltage gloves, and they’re worn to prevent rips and tears in the high-voltage gloves.
Glove protectors are important because batteries of electric vehicles contain sharp sheet metal, which can rip right through the rubber, high-voltage gloves. The tough leather glove protectors eliminate that concern.
Sorensen also notes the importance of getting high-voltage gloves tested regularly. You can’t just buy one pair and use them forever. They need to be tested frequently, and eventually either need to be recertified or thrown away in favor of a new pair.
When techs begin to jump into the world of hybrid and electric vehicles, Sorensen says they typically break into two camps: those interested in doing it all, but also those who say they’ll just work on anything unrelated to the electrical system.
“Stage one is people that want to just do repairs not relating to the electric systems on the vehicle and think that’s going to be OK,” Sorensen says. “I would just suggest that they still get at least some basic training, understand that the maintenance is a little different … even if it’s a system that they think is straightforward.”
While many of the non-electric systems function pretty much the same, Sorensen notes that the service procedures may be slightly different than working on a conventional, combustion-engine vehicle.
For example, when working on hydraulic brakes, there’s a different approach to inspecting them on an electric vehicle.
And at McNeil’s Auto Care, they offer a service where they will clean and lubricate the slide pins — something that wouldn’t be done on a combustion-engine vehicle because by the time it’d be needed, the brake pads would need to be replaced.
These differences, while slight, are why Sorensen says it’s crucial for techs to get some basic hybrid-electric training, even if they’re uninterested in working on the electrical system.
Another reason for the importance of training is that parts for electric vehicles are quite costly, and handling them improperly in a way that would damage them would leave you on the hook for covering the costs. That’s even more true when working on the electrical system, and the training is even more important when considering the safety component.
As a final piece of safety advice, Sorensen says it’s key to ensure shop awareness when working on electric vehicles. It’s crucial that everyone in the shop knows what’s going on.
If there’s a battery on the bench, everyone needs to know so no one will accidentally run into it. If everyone keeps each other in the loop, it’s easy to avoid accidents or other problems.
Ultimately, Sorensen says if you’re being smart, following the proper repair procedures, using the right equipment and preparing accordingly, working on electric vehicles can be incredibly safe.
“[If] you read the service information, have just some light hybrid-electric training, I just don’t think there’s going to be safety issues,” Sorensen says.