How to maximize electric vehicle range (and minimize range anxiety)

Tesla Supercharger
Forget road rage, there’s a new psychosis in town. The rise in popularity of electric vehicles has led to a new phenomenon — range anxiety. EVs tend to have shorter ranges than gasoline or diesel vehicles, and charging takes a lot longer than filling up with traditional dinosaur juice. As you can imagine, this fact hasn’t exactly been well-received.

In an all-electric car, getting to your destination can require a bit more planning than it would with an internal-combustion equivalent, but it is possible to live with an EV conveniently. Here’s everything you need to avoid range anxiety (besides Prozac).

Know your car

First, you need to know how much range you’re working with. The EPA-rated range is a good indicator of what your car can achieve, but as with gasoline cars and fuel economy, the range will vary in real-world use depending on a variety of factors, such as driving style and road conditions.

All EVs include some form of range meter, but these can be optimistic; you’ll get a better idea of that after driving the car for a while. These projections typically change in real time, giving you an idea of how driving behavior or conditions are impacting range. Don’t be surprised if the meter plummets when you floor the throttle.

Consequently, it’s important to leave yourself a little wiggle room when planning trips. If you can’t fully charge the car at a given stop, charge it to the point where you’ll have enough juice to reach your destination, and then some. On trips that push your car’s limits, make sure you’ll be able to reach charging stations along the way, but keep in mind that it will still take you longer to get from point A to point B because charging takes more time than filling up with gas.

Your car can also help you plan a trip. Certain models, like the Nissan Leaf, can display nearby charging stations directly within their navigation systems. The Tesla Model S and Model X can even let drivers check how crowded Tesla’s Supercharger stations are.

For extra-long trips, consider using a different vehicle or mode of transportation altogether. See if it makes sense to fly or take the train, or even rent a gasoline car. BMW offers complimentary loans of internal-combustion cars to its i3 owners, for example. Or maybe keep a gas-powered car or plug-in hybrid around as a second vehicle for times when your all-electric car’s range won’t cut it.

Tips to maximize range

You can’t control everything about your electrified vehicle’s range, but here are some things you can affect.

  • Be diligent with the throttle. It’s common sense, but if you’re constantly hammering the throttle, your vehicle range will be negatively impacted. Whenever possible, ease on and off the gas.
  • Use climate control conservatively. Cranking the A/C may seem like a minor draw on your car’s energy supply, but in an EV, it can make a big difference. If you can tolerate a slightly higher temp, there are mileage gains to be had.
  • Plan the most efficient drive route. Another no-brainer, perhaps, but keep the detours to a minimum and heed Google Maps’ (or whichever app you prefer) route guidance.
  • Strategize drive modes. Most electric vehicles offer two or more drive modes to optimize efficiency or performance. If you don’t mind lethargic throttle response, choose the Eco mode (or equivalent) to squeak out a few extra miles per charge.
  • Use the right tires. We don’t have to tell you that cruising around on bald tires is a bad idea, but you might not be aware that wider tires can put a drag on efficiency. More tread in contact with the ground means greater friction. If you were racing, you’d love that friction, but when you’re looking for maximum range, you want narrower tires (within reason) and ideally ones made from an efficient compound.

Get a home charging station

While road trips can be more complicated, quelling range anxiety for daily commuting is simple. A home charging station is essential for every electric-car owner, and should take care of most charging needs for short, local trips.

Several companies make 240-volt, Level 2 AC charging stations that allow you to replenish your car at home in a reasonable amount of time. The large battery packs in all-electric cars make simply plugging into a Level 1 conventional household outlet impractical, as it will take much longer to get a full charge. (You might be able to get away with it with a plug-in hybrid, though.) A 240V charging station will allow you to charge your electric overnight.

Home charging stations are available through chain hardware stores such as Lowes and Home Depot, as well as online retailers like Amazon, and many automakers offer them as accessories to electric-car buyers. Installing one requires wiring a dedicated 240V line, the kind used by clothes dryers and other large appliances — and a job for an electrician. Charging stations can be installed inside or outside, so find the location that works best for you.

This is a straightforward process for homeowners, but a more complicated for renters. When approaching the property owner about installing a charging station, make it clear that you will pay for the installation work, the station itself, and any electricity you use. California explicitly requires property owners to let renters install charging stations; in other states, it’s a process that may take some negotiation.

Know the ins and outs of charging networks

Public charging stations are operated by a series of private companies, just like gas stations. But unlike gas stations, many companies require EV drivers to carry network-specific cards to use their stations — you won’t be able to access every charging station by simply swiping a credit card.

Many drivers address this problem by getting accounts with multiple networks, just to ensure they are covered wherever they go. Operators have discussed some form of inter-network payment scheme that would allow one-card access, but little has come of that so far. Nissan Leaf owners can get the automaker’s EZ-Charge card, which is good at AeroVironment, Blink, CarCharging, ChargePoint, Greenlots, and EVgo stations.

Mitigating that issue is the fact that many public charging stations are free to use. At this early stage in the development of electric cars, governments, automakers, and other groups are still looking to promote them. Subsidizing public charging stations is a pretty good way to do that, both because it helps assuage consumer concerns about the availability of charging infrastructure, and because everyone loves free stuff. Businesses also view charging as a way to draw in customers — you have to do something while your car charges, after all — and some are happy to offer free charging just for the traffic it brings.

chevy bolt vs volt thumb

Once you know where the charging stations are, and know you can use them, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the different types. Most public charging stations are Level 2 AC, charging at 240 volts — about twice the rate of normal household current. These typically take several hours to fully charge an electric car. Level 1 is basically plugging a car into a standard household outlet, although some dedicated Level 1 charging stations do exist. Charging at Level 1 takes too long to be practical for everyday use, however, so it’s more of a last resort.

DC fast-charging stations are, as the name implies, faster. They can charge many electric cars to 80-percent capacity in around 30 minutes, though charging rate slows down significantly after that to avoid damaging the battery pack. DC fast-charging stations are more expensive to install and operate, so they’re harder to find and are generally not used at residences.

Not every electric car has a DC fast-charging port, and there are three different types that correspond to different manufacturer-backed standards. The CHAdeMO standard is used primarily by Japanese and Korean automakers, while the Combined Charging Standard (CCS) is used by the majority of U.S. and German automakers. Tesla’s Supercharger stations can only interface with the company’s cars.

Put it in perspective

Owning an electric car can definitely be more challenging than owning an internal-combustion car. Shorter ranges and longer charging times shrink the margin of error for reaching a destination considerably. But that doesn’t mean every trip has to be nerve wracking.

A 2016 MIT study found that current electric cars could replace 87 percent of U.S. personal cars. Researchers looked at travel patterns and, rather than an expensive Tesla, they used the Nissan Leaf as a baseline. Assuming battery technology improves in line with government estimates, electric cars could replace 98 percent of gasoline and diesel cars by 2020, the study found.

Why? Most of the time, people drive relatively short distances. The average commute simply isn’t that long, and if you have a home charging station, you can charge at night and be ready to go in the morning. Range anxiety really only becomes an issue for longer trips, or other unusual circumstances. Put simply, if you can make a plan for those situations, you can conquer it.


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