Rising popularity of electric cars could lead to increase in potholes, survey reveals

Close up of car wheel on a road in very bad condition with big potholes full of dirty rain water pools.

A survey reveals electric cars cause twice as much stress on roads as petrol equivalents, which could result in an increase in the number of potholes.

The University of Leeds led the study that found the average electric car puts 2.24 times more stress on roads than a similar petrol vehicle – and 1.95 times more than a diesel. 2.32 times more damage could be caused to roads by larger electric vehicles.

A greater movement of asphalt is caused by stress on roads, which can lead to small cracks and eventually potholes.

Analysed by The Telegraph, the research comes as the UK suffers a pothole crisis, with an estimated £12 billion needed to fill them. Reports reveal half the number of potholes have been filled compared to a decade ago.

Since buyers have shifted to larger, heavier petrol and diesel SUVs, the weight of cars has become a bigger problem for potholes. The transition to even heavier electric vehicles, especially SUV-style vehicles, will put more strain on paved surfaces.

Experts have also warned that multi-storey car parks could be at risk of damage or even collapsing due to the weight of electric vehicles.

Since 2019, triple the number of electric cars are now being driven, with the number reaching 900,000.

The University of Leeds compared the weights of 15 popular electric cars to their petrol-powered counterparts and discovered that the electric cars were, on average, 312 kg heavier. This is mainly because electric cars have heavy batteries, which can weigh up to 500kg.

Smaller models such as the Peugeot e208, BMW Mini Cooper SE 3 Door, Vauxhall Corse-e, and Ford Focus Electric were included in the research, as well as larger ones such as the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi e-tron 50 Quattro.

The analysis uses a method adopted by highway engineers and researchers to assess damage on road surfaces caused by heavy vehicles known as the ‘fourth power formula. It reportedly means that if the weight on a vehicle’s axle is doubled, it can cause 16 times the amount of damage to a road.

Chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, Rick Green, said: “Unclassified roads would not have been designed to accommodate HGV axle weights, so heavier electric cars exacerbate existing weaknesses thereby accelerating decline.”

Electric cars are approximately twice as heavy as standard models and could cause serious damage to car park floors, with especially older, unloved structures most at risk of buckling, experts have stated.

In order to accommodate the larger vehicles, new guidance is now being prepared that recommends higher load bearing weights.

A structural engineer and parking lot consultant, Chris Whapples, is at the forefront of these new regulations, which will be published in the upcoming weeks.

“I don’t want to be too alarmist, but there definitely is the potential for some of the early car parks in poor condition to collapse,” he said.

“Operators need to be aware of electric vehicle weights, and get their car parks assessed from a strength point of view, and decide if they need to limit weight.”

Earlier this year, London, the Midlands, and the North East emerged as the worst regions for road conditions.

According to a report from the Asphalt Industry Alliance published in March, the cost of fixing Britain’s pothole backlog has risen by about £1.5 billion from the previous year to $14 billion. 

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