Inside the Current State of EV Charger Maıntenance

Although there are glaring maintenance issues today, the process is maturing.

Inside the Current State of EV Charger Maıntenance

October 2023   minute read

By: Keith Reid

When it comes to fuel dispenser repairs and upkeep, retailers rely on in-house maintenance teams, third-party maintenance providers, distributors, equipment manufacturers and in some network areas brand partners. The same generally applies with EV charging equipment, but with mostly different players and different technical issues and challenges.

Maintenance is a mature and relatively straightforward process on the liquid fuels side, but in many ways it is the Wild West with EV charging technology. Not every charger is created equally, and not every service provider offers the same level of support. In fact, the rapid expansion of EV charging networks has outstripped the base of qualified charger technicians.

Chargers tend to require less preventive maintenance than fuel dispensers, according to retailers with experience. Most maintenance is about solving failed or undercharged charging attempts. Further, the degree of maintenance varies with the level of EV technology (Level 1 and Level 2 vs. Level 3 DC fast chargers), and the quality of the equipment and support network varies with each manufacturer.

“The first two chargers that we installed years ago were technically Level 3 but limited to 25 kW. They were simple and used 3G modems,” said Scott Minton, director of operations for OnCue Marketing. The company operates over 75 convenience stores in the Oklahoma City area and has been on the forefront of EV adoption for years, exploring a range of solutions both in-house and third party. “There was little that could go wrong and so they almost had no maintenance. One unit was used for five years and the other for six years. I think I might have sent someone out twice to literally just turn the power off and back on. That was all the maintenance they needed—just a reboot,” he said.

Minton noted that the newest Level 3 DC fast chargers (DCFCs) are far more complex, with features like liquid cooling, heavy computer integration and more involved grid and network connections. Troubleshooting and restoring service is often more of an IT function than a hardware issue.

The uptime for the handful of chargers OnCue uses has ranged from 95% to 10%, with one particularly troublesome problem: Locking down the specific failure point(s). This has been a challenge, but not an unexpected one.

“Obviously, all of this is new to everybody and so sometimes you’re going to have some headaches to work through,” said Minton. “At the same time, our EV customers are asking for it and we’re having pretty good success overall. We’re not making a lot of money yet, but we want to be known as the company that will give our customers what they’re asking for versus one that will be dragged kicking and screaming into it.”

The support infrastructure varies depending on the model the retailer assumes for the charging offer. This can range from little to no maintenance beyond contacting the partner, if the service is managed and maintained by a third party, to being fully responsible as the charge point operator (CPO), except for warranty work.

Obviously, all of this is new to everybody and so sometimes you’re going to have some headaches to work through. At the same time, our EV customers are asking for it and we’re having pretty good success overall.” —Scott Minton, OnCue Marketing

“Typically, the model we see now [for a CPO] has a lead, a software help desk manager, a hardware manager, somebody who can talk to the OEM and then one or two folks who have cloud platforms SaaS training,” said Greg Ricchiuti, a manager at Techniche. “But they’re new to EVs, so they’re looking at the messages that come in on these dashboards” and may not be sure how to handle the requests.

On the digital side things begin with the open charge point protocol (OCPP) that provides the basic interface between the hardware and the charging solution’s charging point management system (CPMS). However, the messages generated from a failure can be vague, perhaps pointing in a general direction but not at a specific cause.

Minton noted that 80% of the time most problems can be fixed by a simple reboot. However, the other 20% can be frustrating.

“If I’m able to deliver 350 kWh but someone’s only getting 50 kWh, is it the car that has the problem? Is it the [cable] that has the problem? Is it the grid that has the problem? Sometimes it’s very difficult to diagnose where the problem lies and everyone points a finger at somebody else,” said Minton.

A CPMS support system can help pinpoint the issue and build a maintenance database. These systems, such as one provided by Techniche, work in conjunction with the CPMS and use machine learning and detailed fault tracking to sort vague fault messages from the OCPP into more specific failure identification. In Techniche’s case, the system also provides holistic site maintenance tracking and vendor management for issues like warranties.

“One customer couldn’t figure out why some chargers were failing in a certain region,” Ricchiuti said. “After about six weeks the charging sessions were just getting funky. After looking at about two weeks of data, we determined that the cables had been sourced in Turkey, and the chemicals in those cables had been sourced somewhere in Eastern Europe. The chemical makeup was breaking down in the customer’s region, where the coastal weather was just salty and wet enough that if you bent the cable enough it would start to crack.”

With that issue identified, the customer could add this failure point into their system as one of their logic rules to check the supply chain if connection errors start appearing in those regions.

Points of Failure

From the hardware to the software, systems fail. Failure can include undercharging, an interrupted charge session, failed charging sessions, cellular network issues between the charger and the network back end, vandalism and weather-related issues. However, there are some common issues that rise to the forefront. As has been the case on the liquid fuels side, vehicle drivers are sometimes at the root of the problems.

“Most of the time the problem is somebody’s parked cockeyed or they’ve pulled up in the wrong direction, so the cable doesn’t reach far enough, and the cable connector is angled,” Ricchiuti said. “You can put sensors in the cable to tell when it’s angled wrong, and they are improving the connectors. But I’ve seen people with $80,000 EVs pull up, charge or try to charge, and [then] just drop the cable on the ground. … We don’t see that at the fuel dispenser.”

As Ricchiuti noted, a common point of failure is the connector. This can range from the quality of the connector itself, to angle issues related to older automobiles and newer chargers, to damage at the site.

“Nobody complains about Tesla [which is a fully proprietary system including the vehicle] because it just works,” said Ricchiuti. “And if it doesn’t work, it tends to get fixed quickly. However, when people have used extenders and you have sites that support Teslas with different connectors on public chargers or non-Tesla chargers, those can be very unreliable.”

And in some cases, it’s just a matter of the new players catching up with some conventional forecourt wisdom.

I’ve seen people with $80,000 EVs pull up, charge or try to charge, and [then] just drop the cable on the ground. … We don’t see that at the fuel dispenser.” —Greg Ricchiuti, Techniche

“A long time ago in the petroleum world we discovered that if a dispenser screen faces south, it got direct sunlight all day long and that can degrade the screen,” Minton said. “Some EV folks haven’t figured that out. The screens are fading and cracking and last week I had to have them replace the screen on every single dispenser that faces south.”

Sunshades or canopies can help solve these issues as well as provide a more comfortable customer experience. However, the lack of consistency with the EV charging interface, noted earlier, complicates these efforts as well while causing some general disorder on the forecourt.

“There is a literal island under the canopy where you can have two cars pull up and fuel with gasoline,” Minton said. “The problem with EV manufacturers is that they haven’t consolidated on where to put their ports. This truck’s got it over here, but this car’s got it on the back, or the front, or the left side, or the right side. People are trying to maneuver their way in to be able to get the cable to fit to their vehicle.”

Another issue is a lack of service technicians to meet the expanding needs of the industry.

“I’m also not getting great support from the companies themselves,” Minton said. “Luckily, we have maintenance agreements in place, but when those maintenance agreements start to expire it’s going to get expensive to keep some of these things up. And our volume’s not high enough to really justify the cost for some of that today.”


Many of the maintenance challenges are simply due to the immaturity of the charging industry, which is fortunately changing. An example is the OCPP (2.0.1) that improves smart charging capabilities and control features. These include predictive maintenance, enhanced data monitoring, enabling credit card payments and the Plug & Charge (ISO 15118) integration. The hardware itself is seeing more commonality and the next generation of equipment is also improving with an eye towards field serviceability and improved reliability.

Technicians are also becoming more experienced. The systems and the CPMS enhancement help to dramatically increase the efficiency of maintenance and repair. Further, the next generation of equipment is improving, with an eye toward field serviceability and improved reliability.

“The standard that we’re starting to adopt as an industry is 97% uptime, which is 11 days per year” of downtime, said Walter Thorn, senior vice president of product and strategy at ChargerHelp. The company provides technology and reliability solutions for maintaining EV charging stations that includes in-field services and data capture, as well as electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) workforce training and development. “If your phone wasn’t working for 11 days, that would be a huge problem. So, we’re striving for turnaround times much faster than that. The most common service-level agreement (SLA) that we’re doing right now is two days turnaround to get somebody out.”

At the same time, the industry is at the precipice of getting even more complex with things like Plug & Charge, where an encrypted transaction process is automated within the charging process, requiring no input from the driver. Still, there is a strong push to promote success.

“We’re very optimistic,” said Thorn. “Obviously, reliability is not where it needs to be and there’s work to be done. But we are excited about the overall narrative, whether it’s at the policy level or within the industry.”

EV Maintenance Terminology

Maintenance issues can be related to any of the below:

EVSE—electric vehicle supply equipment.

This is basically the charger, or at least the hardware portion, including subsystems like cables and connectors.

CPMS—charging point management system.

This is the basic operational and back-office software that supports the charger. This is largely proprietary and differs from charger to charger.

CPO—charge point operator. This entity establishes and maintains the operation of EV charging sites. This may also be referred to as an electric mobility operator (EMO). Charging point network operator (CPNO) and charging point services operator (CPSO) are variations largely based on their solution branding models. A fuel retailer that decides to go it alone would be a CPO.

EMSP—electric mobility service provider.

These businesses are typically CPO customers, and they are the direct provider of charging services to an EV owner. A fuel retailer offering EV charging would be an EMSP. As is the case with motor fuel wholesale and retail, the business models can blur between CPO and EMSP.

OCPP—open charge point protocol.

This is an open standard communication protocol for EV charging stations. It is a base level of communications between the hardware and the network’s CPMS that offers basic controls, diagnostics, security and identification and transaction processes.

OEM—original equipment manufacturer.

An OEM is the original producer of a vehicle’s components.

SaaS—software as a service.

A cloud-based method of providing software to users.

Keith Reid

Keith Reid

Keith Reid is editor-in-chief and editorial director of Fuels Market News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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