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Range Anxiety or Stupidity? Pushing an Electric Car to its Limits

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Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

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Yesterday we told you about our generally hassle-free, two-day, 520 mile round trip in a 2011 Nissan Leaf. Thanks to a succession of available rapid charging stations, a little measured driving and a few strategic detours we were able to arrive at both destination and start point without little more than the discomfort that comes from sitting in a car for many hours at a stretch. 

But with expensive rapid chargers certainly not nationwide and even Level 2 charging stations lacking in some areas we wanted to know the flip side: what happens when you have to make a trip without the comfort of a rapid charger well within range?

As we’ve pointed out before, electric cars aren’t designed to do long-distance trips. In keeping with that statement, our test-trip this time would be a 101 mile trek on a mixture of slow and medium speed roads at night time, using nothing but the Level 2, 240V 10A charging cable supplied with our European specification 2011 Leaf. 

NIght Driving

NIght Driving

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Leaving our departure point with a fully charged battery and dusk setting in, we pushed into the night, taking care to embody the very heart of eco-zen driving style. 

25 miles in we were feeling positive: our car told us we had managed to consume an indicated 0.14 kilowatt-hours of energy per mile and we were feeling great. Taking into account the known inaccuracies in NIssan’s Carwings system we were skeptical, but the state of charge indicator was still showing us well over 90% of charge remaining. 

Pulling into a drive-thru, we noted a nearby power socket capable of providing up to 16A of power at 240V. Sadly though, our portable EVSE cable could only pull 10A. Cue a 15 minute supper break and an paltry 5 miles of estimated extra range put back in the battery. 

Our aim? To keep a buffer of ideally 30 miles between the estimated range and the actual miles left to travel.

Onwards into the gloom and with cabin heating turned off to maximize range we followed the pre-planned ‘shortest’ route calculation to our destination.  Two hours in and driving at at speeds of between 25 and 40 mph, we had covered just 60 miles.

And then it happened. As the temperature dropped we began to notice the estimated range of our car drop just as rapidly. Our delta between estimated range and actual distance to go dropped to 20 miles, then to 10. We inched further onwards, the radio our only companion. 


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Comments (14)
  1. Range anxiety is real, LOL. We took a trip to Palm Springs last month, 300 miles total, with nary a care in the world. Love my Volt! #1756
     
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  2. I knew the small 24KWH battery meant the Leaf was for city driving and short distance commutes only but I'm still a bit disappointed about how limited it's real world range really is. Level 2 charging predictably adds very little to it but ample availability of level 3 charging along with double the battery capacity (which Nissan promised for the next gen battery in 2015) should give it some practical long range capability in the not so distant future. For EV's to really offer (almost)the same convenience as ICE's I reckon it takes triple the battery capacity along with the capability to recharge within 15 minutes. So:though good enough to start their long march to end the reign of the ICE EV's aren't ready to take over the world yet.
     
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  3. I really don't understand the point of these "experiments". If you want to understand the implications of a limited driving range, here's a data point for you: we've been using our LEAF as our sole mode of transportation for the past 3 months. We average about 30 miles per day and charge every night using the 240V charging station in our garage. How long does it take to charge? Don't know, don't care. All I know is I spend 5 seconds plugging it in as I'm heading into the house. Next morning I have a full tank of electrons. If we do decide to head out of town, the LEAF can easily take us to the car rental counter, where we can pick up a gas burner for the weekend.
     
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  4. I really don't understand the point of these "experiments". If you want to understand the implications of a limited driving range, here's a data point for you: we've been using our LEAF as our sole mode of transportation for the past 3 months. We average about 30 miles per day and charge every night using the 240V charging station in our garage. How long does it take to charge? Don't know, don't care. All I know is I spend 5 seconds plugging it in as I'm heading into the house. Next morning I have a full tank of electrons. If we do decide to head out of town, the LEAF can easily take us to the car rental counter, where we can pick up a gas burner for the weekend.
     
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  5. Trevor,
    Here's part of the reasoning behind it. We had a car, and it was cheaper to do the trip by electric car. But secondly, we did have the car and wanted to see just how it performed. Sure, we had to make sacrifices, but we proved with careful driving it was possible.
    Nikki.
     
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  6. Trevor,
    Here's part of the reasoning behind it. We had a car, and it was cheaper to do the trip by electric car. But secondly, we did have the car and wanted to see just how it performed. Sure, we had to make sacrifices, but we proved with careful driving it was possible.
    Nikki.
     
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  7. Noel: The volt is a great car no doubt, but there are plenty of people that do want a BEV, not a hybrid. Of course the volt can drive 300 miles and so can a prius, and the prius will use less gas than a volt will driving 300 miles to a destination.
     
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  8. #7 Michael,
    Well maybe, but I have driven my Volt 2800 miles and used 14 gallons of gas. Let's see a Prius do that. 90+% of my driving is commuting on battery alone. For the other 10% it's really handy to be able to shift to gas and not worry about stopping every 80 miles or whatever to wait around for 20 minutes for the Level 3 charge, which essentially does not exist in the US anyway.
    Honestly, if GM had chosen to build a BEV instead of an EREV, I would probably be driving one of them and using a gas burner for extended trips as Trevor suggests. No Nissans or Mitsus for me, thank you very much.
     
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  9. I now have my LEAF and have no plans for an excursion out of SOCAL until there are many more level 3 chargers available. I appreciate the knowledge gained by these real world experiments, however. Thank you Nikki.
     
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  10. I've read where the use of the level 3 fast chargers can harm the battery. How often would use of the L3 have to be to cause harm and how much harm would it do?
    As for using Volt, Prius, or Leaf & rental cars. It seems tpo me that question goes back to the adage that seems to get more and more use, "it depends on your personal driving needs and circumstances". For example If you normally make multiple 300 mile trips a week a Prius would make much more sense than a Volt in regards to fuel use.
     
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  11. I'm not a leaf owner, but been watching the development of ev. I'm always wondering... why couldn't we stick a portable generator into the trunk, at least as an emergency backup (leaf owners seems gasphobia). If we could do that on the go (don't have the generator running in your trunk!) we essentially convert leaf into volt, with larger battery pack on board!
    Also watched an interview with the ceo of 'Better Tomorrow', who came up with the idea of 'Swapping stations' where your empty cells pulled out and full cells pop in, in less than a minute. He indicated such infrastructure already built in Israel.
     
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  12. It seems to me that posts like are more likely to turn people off of electric cars. It is hard to imagine someone wanting a car that they drive 30 MPH on the highway with no heater and considerable anxiety about being stranded.
    The Leaf is a commuter car. Period. It is a rather good one. But using it for long highway trips is simply not advisable.
     
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  13. Hmmm, living in a cold climate these cars would be useless for about 6-8 months a year so I would need another vehicle for the colder months or even worse a bus pass. Too many negatives to deal with so I'll let the rich and famous pay for the R&D phase of these until the price is wayyyyy down and the cars are more useful.
     
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  14. "With only the radio for company" Great stuff. There's something definitely fun & pioneering about an EV road trip; sure, you could have taken the Volvo or borrowed a Volt but how much fun would that have been? I love the idea of pushing the tech.
    One thing that was very clear though; you didn't run out, you would never have run out, why? Because you would have found some power, somewhere; this electric stuff is everywhere, it just comes from small pipes today.
    Keep racking up those miles!
     
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