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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