Corn Belt Energy Electric Vehicle (EV) Project

Follow our blog below as we share our electric vehicle experience.

Electric Vehicles: The Dead Battery Dilemma


One very common concern that we hear from members when discussing electric vehicles (EV) is range and battery life. Gas stations exist on every other corner in this country but EV chargers are not as easy to come by just yet. Therefore, it's only natural to fear becoming stranded while taking a road trip in an EV because of a dead battery.

Thankfully, EV manufacturers are very aware of this common apprehension, and have built safeguards into their vehicles to make sure this doesn't happen. On a Tesla, entering your destination into the navigation screen will automatically plan your trip to include necessary stops at supercharging stations. In other vehicles, you may have to plan ahead a little more for long trips, but mobile apps are available to help locate charging stations via GPS, should you find yourself out on the open road with a low battery.

Out of curiosity, we decided to run our Chevy Bolt completely out of battery to see what would happen. As the battery got low, both audible and visible warnings began to occur. The dash display changed from green to orange, and eventually the miles remaining screen switched to read "Low" rather than a number. After a while the screen suggested switching to "Low Power Mode", which disabled non-essential power consumers such as the radio, console display screen, and heating/air system. While the miles remaining was only displayed as "Low", it did seem as if we were able to go beyond what would have been zero. Eventually acceleration was reduced, and then reduced again, forcing a slower and slower pace. Power steering and braking continued to work as usual. Eventually, the car slowed down to a roll and then to a gentle stop.

Since we were in our parking lot when the battery finally died, we were able to push the vehicle back to its regular parking spot and charger. If we had been out driving, the warning signals began early enough (somewhere around 20 miles remaining) that we would have hopefully been able to navigate to a power source.

What happens if I do find myself out on the open road without a charger in sight?

Unfortunately, walking to the nearest gas station is not going to help in this situation. A few years back, AAA had started equipping their trucks with quick battery chargers but discontinued after they found that the chargers were not being used. It seems EV drivers are typically really smart about planning ahead, to not run their vehicles out of battery. Still, it happens on occasion and when it does a tow is typically the only option. A tow company with a flatbed truck is required, due to the mechanics of electric vehicles.

If you notice you're getting low, but aren't near a charging station, you might be able to stop and convince a business or homeowner to let you plug into their outlet, assuming you remembered to bring your charging adapter. However, if it is a standard 120-volt outlet, you're going to be there for a while. A one-hour charge from a 120-volt outlet will result in enough power to travel about 4 miles. Ideally, proper planning should be utilized to make sure you'll arrive at a level 3 fast charging station. You'll be able to reach a full charge in about an hour. Level 2 chargers are more widely available, and charge at a rate of around 25 miles per one hour of charging. Websites like PlugShare and ChargeHub are helpful in locating level 2 and 3 chargers, and each offer mobile apps as well.

Know your vehicle's range.

Prior to purchasing an electric vehicle, it is important to consider your typical driving needs, and the range of the vehicle you are considering. A full charge will get you anywhere from 90 up to 400 miles depending on the EV model you choose. Even if this is more than enough to cover your daily commute, you'll want to remember your vehicles maximum range, to plan for any longer trips.

Other factors to consider:

The mile range rating given to electric vehicles is an estimate and would typically only be reached under the most ideal conditions. If your vehicle's range is 250 miles, and you have a 125-mile round-trip drive, you should not assume that you will not need a charge mid-trip. The following are just a few factors that may impact your vehicles driving range:

  • Electric vehicle batteries are affected by extreme temperatures. During winter weather, you can expect to get up to 20% less miles on a full charge with your EV. During summer heat, mileage loss is less but can still be significant. Taking steps to keep your EV out of extreme elements, like in a garage or under shade, will help to improve its efficiency.
  • Your driving style can have an impact on EV range. Just as with a gasoline-fueled vehicle, a fast acceleration is an inefficient method of driving. Easing into your speed will help preserve power.
  • Interior heat and air conditioning can be a drain on battery power as well. If you're worried about range, try to avoid using the climate system.
  • The number of people in the vehicle, and any other cargo can reduce the efficiency of any vehicle. The lighter weight the vehicle, the farther it will go on a charge.

Owning an EV is certainly different from owning a gas-fueled vehicle. However, many of the differences are beneficial, and adjusting to the changes is well worth the effort. For those who are truly concerned about range, or those who frequently take long trips in their vehicle, a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) may be a great alternative to look into.

For questions or comments about electric vehicles, call 800-879-0339 and ask to speak with our Energy Advisor. 

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