Conquering Electric-Car Range Anxiety: A Complete Guide

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2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

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Range Anxiety. Two very familiar words, but their coming together is more recent.

It's the fear of running out of electricity in an electric car, compounded by typically short ranges and long recharging times. And it's contagious: A potential customer could drive under 30 miles per day and use a regular longer trips, but scare stories convince people that they'll be left stranded if the temperature drops by a degree or they forget to top up the range by 5 miles one night.

Opinions vary on just how much of an issue range anxiety is in the real world, but Chad Schwitters of Plug In America has posted his thoughts on how to conquer it on the Tesla Motors Club forum.

Schwitters describes how he's even had range anxiety in regular gasoline cars before, where the next gas station is a little too far away when you're low on fuel. And many readers will be familiar with "gas light roulette", where you try and drive for as long as possible on the "low gas" warning light, never quite knowing whether your car will splutter and die before you reach the next station.

In the post, Schwitters lists ten factors contributing to electric car-specific range anxiety.

1 - Novelty - Simply as new technology, a user is less familiar with electric cars and how they operate. This can make some people nervous straight away.
2 - Functional fixedness - Most people wait till a gasoline car is empty, then fill up. They're used to going a certain distance before requiring more fuel. This isn't how most electric car owners drive - recharging at virtually every stop, simply topping up the battery - but it induces questions about total range and total charging time.
3 - Lesser analogues - You know when your TV remote simply stops working without warning, because it has no battery meter? Some people fear electric cars will do the same.
4 - Optimistic marketing - Many cars fall short of their claimed range - even gasoline and diesel vehicles. This is a problem with a new technology like electric cars, because when they fail to meet the advertised claims, people are immediately put off.
5 - Optimistic/unreliable instrumentation - An electric car's battery gauge can fluctuate hugely on the average journey - a sure-fire way to make people nervous.
6 - Sparse infrastructure - With a charging station on every street corner, most people wouldn't give it a second thought. But a relatively small infrastructure means people are worried about recharging (even if most is done at home).
7 - Charging standards wars - It's a nuisance getting to a charging station to discover it doesn't fit your car. Worries potential customers, too.
8 - Oversharing owners - The electric car community is brilliant for sharing information, but some may be deterred by the sheer volume of advice - particularly if they think they have to learn it all in order to use an electric vehicle.
9 - Media meme - The concept of range anxiety is endemic to media reports on electric cars. If a driver didn't have it before, they probably do now...
10 - FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) - Anti-electric types spread fear in potential customers by highlighting what they consider to be the worst aspects about the cars. For consumers not yet familiar with the technology, it's easy to believe all the negative publicity.

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Comments (21)
  1. I love this article. I especially like the "functional fixedness" idea as it puts a name on a phenomenon that is difficult to describe.

  2. Here's the best exercise for a prospective owner: record your odometer on a spreadsheet every night for a month.

    You can simply see how many miles a day you drive. I've done this since I got my EV and while I'm able to drive beyond my battery's range easily enough with switch stations, it still turns out that some 85% of my days are entirely within one battery's range. Add in a bit of daytime static charging and I'm up to 90%.

    And I'm atypical to some degree: I wouldn't have bought an EV without access to Better Place's switch stations but even I'm slightly surprised by how many days 100km is perfectly adequate.

  3. Range Anxiety was an awful campaign from Detroit and all it really did in the end is feed another frenzy to an already emotionally taxed clientele. The confusion is spread amongst novice was staggering.

    In the end, we all have "range anxiety", be it gasoline, electric, bicycle or horse back. Using to promote a plug-in hybrid simply never helped the industry, on the contrary.

  4. RIRA (Reliable-Infrastructure Range-Anxiety) is more related to reliable availability of Electric Vehicle Support Equipment (EVSE) than to an EV per-charge range.

    • Most EV drivers (8/10) plug-in for the evening; so start each day will a full charge. :)

    • Typical EV daily driving routes (90% of time) are under the range of a single charge with average driver (in U.S.) traveling less than 30 miles per day.

    So what could go wrong? Like with any vehicle, problems can arise when not paying attention to vehicles operation limits, or driving in a new area. EVs being more efficient (4x of avg. gas car), are more sensitive hills & power accessory use. Less infrastructure requires more planning. Lack of familiarity, can lead to a learning lesson!

  5. Well, I think "range anxiety" is real b/c people aren't familiar with BEVs.

    Let me tell you a story. One of my friend who has a Leaf. They absolutely love it. The wife drives it for all errands and short trips they need. She stays at home and the husband takes their other hybrid to work. Mother-in-law came for a visit. Borrowed the Leaf to do some shopping and helped around the house. One day, she can back from the shopping trip and "forgot" to plug it in. Later that afternoon, the wife needs the car for a longer trip and found out that her mother-in-law forgot to plug it in. She is stuck. She is pretty mad at the mother in law for that. Well, the mother-in-law aren't used to do that... The blame is sure on the mother in law.

  6. But the point of the story is that people are more familar with ICE cars and infrastructure is set up to accomandate those "mistakes" more easily. If the mother-in-law forgot to put gas in and low fuel light is on, then the Wife can easily fill it up in the nearest gas station within 5 mins. BEVs don't have that luxury. When mistakes happen, you can't refill it in a short time (still at least 30 mins for a decent range) and those "fast refilling" stations aren't easily accessible for most of the population/location.

    There was a similar story where a Leaf driver got stranded b/c the Blink Stations aren't reliable and he can't get a quick charge to get home...

    The lack of fast refilling infrasture is what "anxiety" is about.

  7. So you'd argue that, despite all the drawbacks (fuel cost, noise, maintenance, etc), one should prefer an ICE over an EV, only because it could accommodate this one exceptional situation slightly better?

    [I said "slightly", because a 5-minute quick-charge on the Leaf would already get you 10 to 15 more miles, and quick-charging to almost-full would still take no more time than what typical ICE drivers spend every month or so going to the pump.]

    Let's see, point 10 in the article above... Ah yes, that's it.

  8. I don't think he is arguing for ICE cars at all. He is actually pointing out that behaviors need to change for EVs to be used successfully.

  9. @Just O,

    You know that I am a plugin fan. I don't preach going to ICE. But my point is that today's lack of infrastructure and battery technology is the reason that we have "range anxiety".

    Quick Chargers are greater, but how many of them are within the reach of most people? Most homes certainly can't afford that quick-charger.

    EV will certain work for many people. But until we have behavoir change and technology improvment, we will continue to have "range anxiety" and it is real!

    That is probably why the combined sales of PHEV/EREVs are higher than the sales of BEVs...

  10. This is purely the wife's fault due to lack of knowledge of Carwings and it's features. The Leaf can be configured through Carwings to send you an email and text if you are parked near your EVSE at home and not plugged in. She would have received the text alerting her that the mother-in-law didn't plug in, then she could have simply asked her mother-in-law to plug in the car or went and did it herself. RTFM people...

  11. That is NOT the point. The point is that if a "mistake" is made, then it is easier or faster to correct that mistake in a gas car today with existing infrastructure. But it is hard to do so in an EV with today's charging speed and infrasture. Your point is basically saying "don't make that mistake" with the technology built in the car.

    Okay, what about the other Leaf guy that depend on the Blink stations? Was it his fault for those stations to be offline but not reported? (also his fault for Blink to tell him the wrong information?)

    "mistake" happens. You can run out of gas. But usually, you can correct that by walking to the nearest gas station or call AAA for quick lift to correct that situation...

  12. I agree with Xiaolong here. I don't think the EV community does itself much of a favor by not acknowledging a significant drawback of EVs (re-charge time).

    Of course the discussion has to be tempered with available "solutions" to mitigate the issue.

  13. It for sure that our psychological barriers to anything new take time to be diminished. IN FACT, according to AAA, the number one reason for assistance to motorists is OUT OF FUEL! The EV range anxiety is real but not for the claimed reasons. It is US who fear our own inadequacies. Two weeks ago I helped a motorist to move to a fuel pump as she had ran of fuel 50 feet! from a fuel station. The so called "EV Range Anxiety" is real but it happens THOUSANDS of time each day on gasoline powered vehicles. This is NEVER discussed on our daily exchanges. Have YOU ever ran out of gasoline?

  14. I have run out of gas before. But you know what? 50 feet of pushing can get you another 300 miles range in 5 mins. AAA can bring a can of gas and you will be able to reach the next station. Even with the new AAA EV truck, it will take a while to reach the same distance of 1 gallon of gas.

    EV supporters should NOT deny those issues. They are real. Instead, we should push for more infrastructures and technology improvement.

    The current solutions are expensive. Either get a large battery car such as Tesla S or install onboard generator. Both will make sacrifice in terms of weight gain or increased cost.

  15. I think that it is silly not to include a gasoline range extender in every electric cars. They are cheap and reliable and it cost less a medium battery with a range extender then a single big battery and it offer more as the car is driven mostly in electric but can also go far without problems. The taxi compagny that bought leaf is kaput after one year, they're be better with volts instead.

  16. Range extenders are not cheap and only reliable if maintained properly and operated regularly. The Volt / Ampera is 1.5 times the price of a Leaf because of that extra engine, even though it has a tiny battery. You are back with all the maintenance issues of an ICE car as well. And if you need to do large distances regularly the EV range is so small and the ICE unit is so inefficient that you're better off with a regular Prius. Most importantly, 90% of the people wouldn't even need the range extender if they had an EV with the range of the new Leaf or Zoe.

    There is a Leaf taxi service (about 20 of them) between Amsterdam and the airport, doing just fine. There is also a fleet of Renault Fluence ZE taxis with a battery switch station.

  17. @Emile: The Volt/Ampera battery is 16 kWh, of which it uses 10.8 kWh. The Leaf battery is 24 kWh of which it uses about 21 kWh. I'm not sure "tiny" is the right adjective to describe the Volt's battery.

    The Volt's ICE unit is EPA-rated at 37 mpg combined, which is better than 90 percent of the cars sold in the U.S. and bested only by a handful of hybrids. It comes off less well in comparison to the range of vehicles sold in Europe, however. Again, I'm not sure "inefficient" is quite justified--or supported by the data.

  18. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to stay within the Leaf's range of travel. Two to three times a week I have to make a 120 mile trip that is mostly highway. The Volt is the ideal solution. Without it, I'd need a second car which more than offsets the cost differential.

    On my 120 mile trip I get about 75 miles in EV mode (roughly 40 miles from my initial charge and another 35 through regen and ICE recharging mode (MM for you Volt guys) and average about 60 mpg with ICE use.

    As far as maintenance, I have 6800 miles on my car and still have 85% of my oil life remaining. I can handle the once a year oil change.

    People should be buying cars that accommodate their lifestyle and needs, not the other way around.

  19. I think it is all about infrastructure. Not being able to stop along your way to WHEREVER is a huge drawback. Being forced to stay within a 30 mile radius because you cant stop along the way is a big deal to a lot of people. The charging stations arent there yet. Yet gas stations are basically everywhere. You can get range anxiety in an ICE car, but it is harder to do because you really have to be out in the middle of nowhere. You can get range anxiety in an EV less than 10 miles from your house.
    The bridge is a PHEV. Volt, PiP, mitsu outlander PHEV; these are the cars that need to bridge the gap, demonstrate the effectiveness of the fuel savings, and more importantly, get people used to charging at home every day so it isnt foreign.

  20. Everytime I get in my Volt, those thoughts never even occur to me. Most of the time I can stay in EV mode. When I have to make that 120 mile trip, no big deal. Absolutely the best of both worlds.

  21. Thanks for picking up on my article and starting a discussion, Antony. Yes, I'll give the press a pass for discussing range anxiety when they are trying to help. :-)

    My post was long (there is a slightly shorter one on the Plug In America web site now at because the fear is multi-causal, but my intended point was short:

    There is no reason to ever have range anxiety. There are a million easy ways to avoid driving an all-electric car near the edge of its range, including buying a PHEV instead of a BEV (but I gave plenty of alternatives even if you buy a BEV). It's dead simple to drive electric most of the time, and use gas for long trips.

    Drive electric!

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