The fear of running out of battery (otherwise known as range anxiety) is a very real concern for EV owners. So what happens if an electric car runs out of battery?
In this article we will review the warning signs to look out for, what actually happens if your electric car battery dies and the steps you can take if you do end up stranded on the side of the road.
What happens if my electric car runs out of battery?
You have a couple of recharging solutions to consider should your electric car run out of battery: If it is not possible to recharge at a nearby charging station then you can use a portable charger or call for a breakdown cover provider who will charge the EV with a partial charge or tow you to a charging station.
Here’s a rundown of what you can expect to happen if your electric car dies:
The functionality of the car will become limited
When the battery gets low the car’s other functions may stop. Things like heating, air conditioning, infotainment systems, and other electronic systems that use the battery for their power.
As the battery charge starts to get low some EVs will limit the power supply to these systems in order to save some energy for driving. This would make it a bit uncomfortable if you are relying on air-con or heating, not to mention inconvenient if you are using the sat nav for a journey!
The EV will start to lose power
When an electric car runs out of battery the power to the electric motor will eventually stop. The electric motor is pretty important, as you can imagine, it makes the vehicle drive! So the car will gradually lose speed and eventually come to a complete stop.
This loss of power can occur suddenly or happen more progressively, depending on the remaining battery charge and the vehicle’s energy management system.
What can you do if your EVs run out of battery?
So, power is starting to run out or you’ve come to a complete stop, let’s look at your options:
- Find a nearby charging station
Yep – captain obvious. The most common-sense answer is to locate the nearest charging station as the power starts to run out, using your smartphone, in-car navigation system, or a dedicated EV charging app. I’m guessing by this stage you would have considered this already and we can move on to point number 2.
- Use a portable EV charger
A portable charger can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet. These chargers generally provide a slower rate of charge, taking significantly longer to recharge your battery compared to going to a dedicated charging station. However, they are very handy in an emergency if you are stranded and out of charge. If you don’t have one in the car and you are stranded, is there someone you know that may own one that can drive to your rescue?
- Call your breakdown cover provider or a roadside assistance service
Many breakdown cover providers offer breakdown cover specifically designed for electric vehicles. These services often include mobile charging units that can provide a temporary power boost, allowing you to reach the nearest charging station. If the nearest charger is a long way away they should be able to tow you there if they are capable of towing EVs (they need to be able to lift all 4 wheels off the ground).
How do I know if my electric car’s battery is running low?
Most EVs provide real-time information about the battery’s state of charge, so it’s really easy for drivers to see how low the battery is getting.
Here are some ways to know if your electric car’s battery is running low:
- The battery display
The dashboard display is your first place to check, it typically includes a battery charge gauge or percentage indicator. This display provides a good visual representation of the remaining battery charge, allowing you to glance up and track the battery level during your trip.
- Range estimation display
Most EVs also provide a range estimation, which calculates the approximate distance you can still travel based on the remaining battery charge and your current driving habits.
This estimation can be found on the dashboard display or infotainment system and can help you determine whether you have sufficient charge to reach your destination or a charging station.
- Warning alerts
As the battery level drops further, your electric vehicle will no doubt start to warn you via alerts. It could display messages, sound alarms, or both. In some cases, the vehicle may then go into a reduced power mode to conserve energy and extend the remaining range.
- Smartphone apps
The smartphone apps that connect to your vehicle might also ping up a message. Not helpful when driving but if you are out of the vehicle you can remotely monitor your battery’s state of charge and estimated range.
Your display should start to alert you if your range is low
How far can an electric car go on a low battery?
An electric car could potentially travel for around 10-40 miles on a low battery before running out of power (estimated for a battery of around 10% and under). This will vary massively depending on the type of EV, the size of the battery, the health of the battery and the speed driven. So don’t take it as an absolute measure, keep your EV charged over 20% when possible and don’t rely on driving with a low battery.
What if my electric car runs out of battery on a motorway?
Try to keep calm, this is stressful but panicking can make the situation worse.
As soon as you notice your battery is running critically low or the car starts to lose power you should pull over safely onto the hard shoulder or the nearest safe area away from the traffic.
Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers and place a warning triangle at a safe distance behind the car.
Call your electric vehicle breakdown cover provider if you have one in place, roadside or a 3rd party EV towing service to help you reach the nearest charging station or a safe location.
Some electric vehicles come with built-in assistance services, so check your vehicle’s documentation or infotainment system (if it’s still running) for any available support.
What apps can help me find charging stations in an emergency?
In the UK we have a number of apps that will help you find a charging station in an emergency:
Zap-Map is probably the number one choice that you will no doubt have already encountered – it’s the most popular app in the UK that provides comprehensive information about charging stations. It includes real-time availability, user-generated reviews, and route-planning features
- Pod Point
Pod Point is a major UK charging network, and the pod point app helps you locate their charging stations and you can even start and stop charging sessions from the app
- BP Pulse
BP Pulse is another big charging network in the UK, and its app helps people find their charging stations
- Charge Your Car (CYC)
The Charge Your Car app offers access to various charging networks and stations across the UK. Users can find and navigate to charging stations, check availability, and start or stop charging sessions
How long can your Hazard lights stay on before the EV battery dies?
Hazard lights don’t use a huge amount of power compared to other systems in the car. In most cases, they can be left on for several hours without causing a significant drain on the battery. However, if your EV’s battery is already low or near-empty, the time it takes for the hazard lights to completely drain the battery may be considerably shorter.
Can you get a backup battery for an electric car?
There are portable backup battery solutions for electric vehicles, such as the ZipCharge Go which launched in the UK in 2022. It’s big though, coming in at roughly the size of a suitcase it might not be practical for the average motorist to keep with them at all times but it could be very handy on a planned long journey.
Can EVs be charged by breakdown cover vans?
Yes in the UK most major breakdown cover providers offer mobile charging services for electric vehicles. RAC for example offer a 10-mile boost through their EV Boost mobile charger, which is equipped in their patrol vans. This means there’s no need to tow you to the nearest charging point when you’re running low on battery.
If your EV does need a tow though, breakdown cover providers should offer this service, more on that below.
Can electric cars be towed?
Yes, electric cars can be towed if all 4 wheels are off the ground, but electric cars cannot be towed with the wheels on the ground, as it can potentially cause serious damage to the electric motor! Even more so if the vehicle is in ‘park’ or if the electric parking brake is engaged. This is because the electric motor is directly connected to the wheels and can generate electricity if the wheels spin while the car is off, potentially damaging the system.
So if your EV is broken-down you need to find an EV breakdown cover provider who can provide flatbed towing or a recovery vehicle that lifts all four wheels off the ground. This ensures that there is no risk of damage to the motor or other components.
What happens if my Tesla runs out of battery?
If your Tesla runs out of battery you can contact Tesla Roadside Assistance, which is available 24/7. You can find the contact number in your Tesla app by tapping on the ‘Service’ icon and then selecting ‘Roadside Assistance,’ or by visiting the Tesla website’s support section.
When you contact Tesla Roadside Assistance, depending on what the issue is, they may be able to offer one of the following solutions:
- Mobile charging
In some cases, the Tesla Roadside Assistance team may be able to get someone out to provide a temporary charge when your Tesla dies, giving you enough power to reach the nearest charging station. However, this service may not be available in all locations or under all circumstances.
- Towing to a Tesla Supercharger
If a temporary charge isn’t feasible or available, Tesla Roadside Assistance may arrange for your vehicle to be towed to the nearest Tesla Supercharger station, where you can quickly recharge your battery.
- Towing to a service centre
If a Tesla Supercharger isn’t nearby or is not the best option, Roadside Assistance may tow your vehicle to the nearest Tesla service centre or a compatible charging station, where you can recharge your battery.
The final word on what happens if your EV runs out of battery
Running out of battery in your electric vehicle is THE worst-case scenario and quite rightly causes range anxiety for EV owners. However, you can take steps to avoid this happening and, if the worst should happen, be prepared to get the vehicle charged and back on the road:
- Always plan your trips with charging stations in mind, especially on longer journeys. Use your vehicle’s navigation system or an app to locate charging stations along your route.
- Invest in a portable charger such as ZipCharge Go, which can be carried in the boot of your car for emergency situations.
- Sign up for a breakdown cover provider that covers EVs, such as RAC, AA or Green Flag. These providers will offer mobile charging or towing to the nearest charging station if your EV runs out of battery.
By taking these 3 simple steps you can reduce the risk of running out of battery and know that if your EV should die you have good measures in place to recharge the car.
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John is the Editor and Spokesperson for Electric Car Guide.
With over 20 years of writing experience, he has written for titles such as City AM, FE News and NerdWallet.com, covering various automotive and personal finance topics.
John’s market commentary has been covered by the likes of The Express, The Independent, Yahoo Finance and The Evening Standard.