What to do if your electric car runs out of charge?

Worried about getting stranded in your electric vehicle (EV), miles from home with no way to charge? Don’t worry. Here’s the truth about what happens when your battery starts flagging, it’s not as disastrous as you might think.

How to avoid running out of charge in your electric car

Driving an EV is very similar to a petrol or diesel car when it comes to planning ahead. You wouldn’t head onto the motorway for a long trip with your tank nearing empty, same deal with an electric vehicle. Plan your journeys around regular charging stops.

Likewise, it’s important to maintain your EV in good condition, as you would with any car. Properly maintained EVs have the efficiency and range to easily handle most trips. Find out how much it costs to service an electric vehicle in Lookers Electric FAQs.

How likely is your electric car to run out of charge?

To be totally upfront: running out of electric car charge isn’t something you’ll need to worry about often. Assuming your equipment is in working order, today’s EVs give you ample warning when the battery starts to get low. Plus, their range is greatly increased from that of previous generations.

It’s also easier than ever to find a public charging station. The UK has a network of over 42,000 chargers spread across more than 15,500 locations. Thousands of more chargers get added every year. By comparison, there are only about 8,300 petrol stations in the land. Running out of charge is now less likely than being caught without fuel in a traditional car.

Onboard and in-car support to help keep you going

If you start to run low on charge, don’t panic. Modern EVs give you a lot of warning when their batteries are nearing empty, more warning than a traditional vehicle would give you about low fuel. 

In a standard Nissan Leaf with a 40kWh battery, for example, the process might look a bit like this:

1. When your car’s battery is low, the display will warn you
Somewhere below 5% battery, the car will offer to use its navigation system and find a nearby charger
. An estimated range will be shown, giving you an idea of how much distance you can travel on your current charge
4. At 0% charge, your car will still drive normally on reserve power, you might expect to get about five miles of range from this point
5. After that range gets used up, your car enters turtle power mode. Its speed is capped at about 20mph and only basic features are available
6. Only then, after about half a mile on turtle power, will the car finally stop. Safety features like hazard warning lights will still work, powered by your car’s secondary 12-volt battery

As you can see, your car’s onboard support gives you a lot of help. More advanced EVs are even more generous with reserve power and recovery features.

Using ZapMap with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

If you’re using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in your EV, you get access to some extra features to make finding a charging station easier. Both services integrate with ZapMap, a comprehensive community-led map of charging points in the UK.

Using ZapMap, you’ll be able to get to a compatible charger before your EV’s reserve power runs out. Other services exist; Open Charge Map is a good choice if you’re abroad, and good old Google Maps also lets you search for charging points in a pinch.

Of course, you can always use your phone to search and get directions to a charger. But integrating directions into your EV’s infotainment display is the most convenient and efficient method when time is running out.

Roadside assistance for electric cars

If all else fails and your EV runs out of reserve charge, there’s always roadside assistance. Exactly how this works for you will depend on the recovery company you sign up with, and the services they provide just for EVs.

In most cases, where your equipment is working fine, they’ll be able to give you a small charge and see you safely to a nearby EV station. Once you’re there you can pay to charge up fully. The time this will take depends on your battery’s capacity.

Using a mobile electric car charger

Similar to how you can buy portable charging packs for your phone, there are mobile EV chargers available on the market, although they aren’t cheap. Some often cost more than the car’s battery itself. If you encounter mobile chargers, it’s most likely they’ll be used by your breakdown recovery service.

Breakdown companies like the RAC now kit their vans out with portable chargers. That’ll provide enough power to get a stranded EV driver safely to the nearest charging station. It’s also way more convenient for the driver, compared to having their vehicle taken away by a flatbed.

Can you tow an electric car?

Don’t get your EV towed unless you have no other option. A lot of EVs come with regenerative braking, which calls for traction motors. Those could be damaged if your vehicle is towed. Most breakdown providers will send a flatbed truck to pick up your EV instead.

Not all models come with this concern. The Nissan Leaf, for example, can be towed as long as its front two wheels are raised because that’s where the traction motors are. Check with your own EV’s manufacturer to see the specific advice they provide. But in general, towing is riskier when you go electric.

Can you jump start an electric car?

Yes. Your EV is likely to have two batteries: the big lithium-ion one that powers the electric motor, and a smaller 12-volt battery. This second one is responsible for running the car’s features (radio, wipers, heated seats and so on) but it also makes sure the bigger battery can be charged.

You can jump-start that smaller battery using a traditional petrol or diesel vehicle if you run out of juice. That should give you enough range to reach a charging station. Your car manual will tell you exactly where your batteries are stored and how to attach them.

Don’t try to jump-start an EV using another one, and definitely don’t use your EV to try and jump-start a traditional car engine. The 12-volt battery simply isn’t powerful enough, you’ll risk damaging it.

Hit the road for less with Lookers

Range anxiety is a thing of the past. We’re helping UK motorists embrace the future by providing great EVs at fantastic prices. Are you ready to make the jump? If so, we can’t wait to hear from you. Browse our range of electric cars


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