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What happens when an electric car runs out?

The reason for range anxiety: what happens when an electric car’s battery runs out and what to do if it happens

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You’re sure to have heard of the term range anxiety, which refers to the stress of running out of electricity in a car powered solely by batteries. Since it’s not possible to nip to the petrol station and fill a can of electricity like you can with conventional cars, it’s more worrying to think about running out of power in an electric car.

It’s becoming less of an issue with each new generation of electric cars – these days, even the affordable Renault ZOE can manage 245 miles, while high-end models like the latest Teslas can exceed 350 miles (check out our list of the longest-range electric cars for more).

Ultimately, the fear of running out of power is the same as it is in a petrol or diesel car – you’re looking at the gauge on the dash which tells you how much is remaining, and worry about reaching a place to refuel or recharge with the amount you have left. With proper planning, it ought to never be a problem. Yet we don’t always manage that, and can be caught out.

Luckily, there are apps like Zap Map or programs in the car’s built-in sat-nav that can navigate you to the nearest charging point, and also show if the station is available to use. They can even show you how much it’s going to cost and what connectors are available there. 

Like running a conventional car to empty, using all of your EV’s charge can damage the car. Running completely out of power is known as 'deep discharging' and can lead to the battery deteriorating, reducing its performance and ability to hold charge. If you have less than 10-20% charge left, it’s always best to recharge if possible rather than letting it dip further.

How far can an electric car go?

This depends entirely on the size of the batteries on board, the type of driving you’re doing, the weather and even traffic conditions. Electric cars come with a range indicator on the dashboard that tells you the realistic, real-world mileage you can expect from your car as you’re driving. This real-world mileage differs between cars. A 40kWh Nissan Leaf can do over 160 miles in the real world, while a Tesla Model S P100D can do over 360 miles thanks to its 100kWh battery.

Can you tow an electric car?

On the off chance you do run out of electricity, contact your breakdown provider and ask for a flatbed truck to take you to a nearby charging station. Electric vehicles shouldn’t be towed with a rope or lift, as this can damage the traction motors that generate electricity through regenerative braking. Different manufacturers give different advice. Tesla and Renault, for example, advise owners to only use a flatbed truck for recovery. However, Nissan says that the latest Leaf can be towed with the front wheels raised, as this avoids damaging the traction motor. However, a flatbed is always the safest choice.

What is range anxiety?

The term 'range anxiety' is often mentioned in connection with electric cars. In general, it refers to the worry a driver has that their car will run out of electricity before they reach their destination or charging point. It's generally accepted that the more time you spend in an electric car, the less range anxiety you'll have. This is because the UK’s public charging infrastructure is rapidly growing. There are currently over 12,000 locations where you can top up, making it extremely unlikely you'll find yourself stranded out of range of somewhere to plug in.

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