Electric vehicles (EVs) provide many benefits over gas-powered cars, including lower maintenance costs and reduced emissions.
However, one downside is the possibility of running out of battery charge mid-trip. While rare, it’s important to understand what to do in this situation to get back on the road safely.
Table of Contents
- Recognizing the Warning Signs
- What Happens When the Battery Runs Out?
- Safely Managing a Dead Battery
- Finding An Emergency Charge
- How Long Does It Take To Recharge?
- Tips for Avoiding Dead Batteries
- What If It Happens Again?
Recognizing the Warning Signs
The first step is recognizing the early warning signs that your EV’s battery level is critically low. Most electric cars have a battery management system that will alert you well before the battery is depleted. Here are some common alerts:
1. Dashboard Warning Lights
Your car’s dashboard will display a low battery warning light, usually in the form of a battery icon, when the state of charge drops below a certain threshold. This indicates it’s time to find a charging station soon.
2. Range Estimate
Keep an eye on your EV’s projected remaining range. Once it drops below 10-20 miles, it’s time to seriously look for a charging opportunity. Range anxiety is common among EV drivers.
3. Charge Scheduling
Many EVs let you set charge level alerts and schedule charging times. Use these to your advantage to avoid cutting it close on charge.
What Happens When the Battery Runs Out?
Once your EV’s battery is completely depleted, the car will lose power and coast to a stop. You’ll be unable to accelerate or restart the vehicle until it can be charged. Specifically:
1. Power Steering and Brakes Shut Down
Without battery power, features like power steering and anti-lock brakes will become disabled. You may still be able to steer and stop the vehicle, but it will require more effort.
2. Hazard Lights May Still Function
Depending on the car model, your hazard lights may continue to work even once the battery dies. Use them to alert other drivers if you’re stopped in an unsafe spot.
3. Electronics and Climate Control Off
The car’s infotainment system, powered seats, climate control, and other electronics will shut off since the battery supplies these features.
4. Car Will Need To Be Towed
You’ll be unable to restart or move the vehicle until it can be charged. The car will need to be towed to a charging station or electrical outlet.
Safely Managing a Dead Battery
When your EV does run out of charge, follow these tips to manage the situation:
1. Pull Over Safely
As soon as you notice power is cut, signal and carefully pull over to a safe roadside spot. Use momentum to coast as far as possible from traffic.
2. Hazards On
Turn your hazard lights on if they still work. If not, use roadside flares or reflectors to alert approaching traffic.
3. Call for Help
Call emergency services if stranded in an unsafe area. Roadside assistance can tow your EV to a public charging point.
4. Wait Inside
Wait safely inside the car with your seatbelt on. Do not exit the vehicle unless in a safe area away from traffic.
5. Conserve Cell Phone
Limit cell phone use to preserve the battery for emergency calls. Turn off features like Bluetooth that drain the battery.
6. Stay Warm/Cool
Use heavy clothes in cold weather or shades/fans in warm temperatures to maintain comfort while you wait.
7. Prepare for Long Wait
An EV can take hours to recharge from empty. Have snacks/water ready in case you’re stranded for an extended time.
Finding An Emergency Charge
If you run out of charge in an unfamiliar area, how do you find the closest charging station? Smartphone apps and built-in EV mapping can locate nearby options:
1. EV Mapping Systems
Most electric cars have built-in maps that highlight public charging stations. Use this to search for the closest chargers if stranded.
2. Charging Station Apps
Apps like ChargePoint, EVgo, and PlugShare map nearby public charging spots. But call ahead as some may require payment or membership.
3. Online Charging Maps
Websites like Alternative Fuel Life and Open Charge Map provide maps of charging locations across the country.
4. Business Charging Stations
Many businesses like hotels, restaurants, and retailers offer public EV charging stations – and some are free. Search business listings.
5. Tow Truck With Portable Charger
Some tow companies carry portable chargers strong enough to provide a small emergency charge. This can get you to the next station.
6. Safe Driving Distance
Only drive as far as needed to reach the next charging station safely. Pay close attention to your EV’s estimated mileage until empty.
How Long Does It Take To Recharge?
If your battery is completely dead, how long will it take to recharge at a public station? Charging times vary based on:
1. Charging Level
- Level 1 is slowest at 2-5 miles of range per hour plugged in.
- Level 2 is moderately fast at 10-20 miles of range per hour.
- DC Fast Charging provides 60-100+ miles of range in 15-30 minutes.
2. Charger Power Rating
Home and public charging stations have different power outputs. Higher outputs replenish batteries quicker.
3. Battery Size
The larger the battery, the longer a full recharge takes. Replenishing a 100 kWh battery takes much longer than a 24 kWh battery.
4. Battery Chemistry
Lithium ion EV batteries charge more quickly than older lead-acid batteries. But charging rate slows as a lithium battery approaches full.
Very hot or cold temperatures will slow down charging speed. Ideal temps are 60-80°F.
With Level 1 charging, expect a full recharge to take upwards of 15 hours. Level 2 cuts that time down to around 8 hours typically. Fast chargers can often charge empty-to-full within 1-2 hours.
Tips for Avoiding Dead Batteries
The best way to handle an empty battery is to avoid it happening in the first place. Here are pro tips for monitoring your EV range:
1. Buffer Your Range
Maintain a 20-30 mile buffer on your estimated remaining range. This minimizes the chances of fully depleting.
2. Understand Range Loss
Know that factors like cold weather, speeding, and uphill roads will reduce your EV’s actual range per charge.
3. Only Rapid Charge When Needed
Rapid charging generates more heat which can degrade your battery over time. Use it only when necessary.
4. Regularly Check the Battery
Make checking your car’s battery percentage part of your routine when starting a trip.
5. Know Where Chargers Are
Plan routes in advance and locate charging stations along the way in case a top-off is needed.
6. Track Energy Usage
Apps can track your battery usage and driving habits. Adjust as needed to conserve energy.
7. Address Range Anxiety
If you suffer from chronic range anxiety, consider an EV with a higher battery capacity to minimize worries.
What If It Happens Again?
Despite your best efforts, EV batteries do occasionally die. If you find yourself repeatedly needing roadside assistance due to dead batteries, some steps you can take include:
- Schedule maintenance to check the battery for issues.
- Speak to the dealer about battery upgrade options.
- Trade the EV in for one with higher range capabilities.
- Alter your daily commute to include mid-trip charging opportunities.
- Consider only using the EV for short trips and local driving.
Ideally, running out of charge will be a one-off learning experience. But if it becomes a regular nuisance, trading up to a new EV or hybrid may provide welcome peace of mind.
Running out of battery in an electric vehicle can certainly be an inconvenient and stressful situation. However, understanding the warning signs, practicing safety precautions, using available resources, and taking preventative measures can help you handle a dead battery scenario with less hassle. EV technology continues to improve, providing faster charging times, expanded public charging infrastructure, and more accurate range estimates to make range anxiety a thing of the past.