The hardest working parts of an electric vehicle (EV) are not the battery, the powertrain, or the on-board navigation. The hardest working parts are the tires. EVs are, on the whole, 30% heavier than internal combustion vehicles, according to Greg Brannon, director of automotive research for the American Automobile Association (AAA), and that can mean a pounding.

“A shock from a pothole has to go somewhere, and the tire is trying to absorb that,” he says. Regenerative braking, which allows an EV to convert the heat and friction created when the brakes are applied into electricity that can be stored in the battery, also causes some resistance—and stress—in the system. “EVs are just hard on tires,” says Brannon. “They seem to be failing at a higher rate.” Much higher. The AAA has found that the rate of tire issues (mostly flat tires) in EVs is almost twice that in internal combustion vehicles.

The tires’ woes are not the only things AAA—a global organization founded in Chicago in 1902, and now providing roadside assistance to 53.2 million members—is learning about the changes in the ways cars operate and break down in the EV era. Increasingly, they will be serving a bifurcated market, offering different types of services to different kinds of customers.

In 2023, AAA provided roadside assistance to 160,000 EVs in the U.S., representing a 180% increase from 2019, according to data shared with TIME. The majority of those cases involved tire damage. But those very big numbers are actually very small numbers. Overall last year in the U.S., the organization serviced more than 32 million vehicles at the roadside. “At the moment, EVs still represent less than 1% of the vehicles on the road, and a half a percentage point for events that we conduct,” Brannon says.

That makes for a boutique market. AAA provides mobile charging services for EVs in just 24 U.S. cities, with particular concentration in the northeast and northwest—where demand is especially high—just a small fraction of the group’s overall 50-state reach. While EVs have a reputation for causing “range anxiety” in drivers—fear that they’re going to run out of charge before they get where they’re going—only 4% of the EV service calls AAA gets are for vehicles that have run out of power. And in many cases, the car does still have juice. “People haven’t actually run out of charge,” Brannon says. “They’re close [to running out] and are concerned about their ability to get to a charger. So they call us for help.”

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Often, they need that help even if they can get to a charger. According to Brannon, 25% to 50% of the time, public charging facilities are not working. “People expect to be able to refill their charge the way they go to a gas station and get topped off,” he says. “It’s something that we’re going to need to continue to work on.”

Internal combustion vehicles have their own electrical problems—with loss of charge in the small 11 kg (25 lb) 12-volt battery that starts the engine responsible for most roadside assistance calls. An EV’s main battery is much larger, weighing an average of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), but the vehicle has a little 12-volt as well. When the engine is shut off, the main battery is disconnected as a safety measure—preventing the car from taking off on its own—and it takes the 12-volt to reconnect it. Those 12-volts can malfunction as well.

The EV revolution is something closer to a creep, with sales plateauing in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to Bloomberg, slowing the push to get past the current 1% share of the market. Still, as long as there are cars there will be breakdowns—and as long as there are breakdowns, there will be people at the side of the road, waiting for a tow, push, charge, or gallon, hoping to get home.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at and Andrew D. Johnson at

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