Image of I-PACE with bike rack courtesy of Jaguar
John Goreham's picture

5 Reasons Battery-Electric Vehicle Road Trip Range Stinks

Electric vehicles have multiple issues that make them harder to use on road trips than plug-in hybrids or hybrids. Here is why the range between charges is so low on long road trips.
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Battery-electric vehicles are about to become the default family vehicle in America. It may happen in a year or two, or maybe five or ten, but every major automaker and the entirety of the party controlling Congress and the Executive branch have sworn to make it so. Who are we to stand in front of a train? All aboard!

BEVs are so good at so many things, we won't recount them here. We have a team of about a dozen employed doing that. Read the stuff we write. Some of it is very good. All of it is free. Let's examine one aspect of vehicle ownership where BEVs may not lead the pack - Long road trips.

EPA ID.4 chart

What Is The Maximum Range Of An EV?
Electric vehicles have a maximum or average maximum range that is often used to compare one model to another. The EPA controls how facts like range and efficiency are discussed, and with EVs the range the EPA estimates is a good way to cross-shop EVs. As our example above of the Volkswagen ID.4 shows, the maximum estimated range is 249 miles. The EPA averages a lot of different scenarios to come up with that number. It includes mostly warm-weather operation, a mix of speeds, and multiple trips. It includes a bit of range to be used for heating and cooling, as well as some stops and restarts. It’s not the ideal maximum, nor is it a wildly optimistic number in temperate weather. Overall it is handly but not set in stone.

Image of Chevy Bolt charging by John Goreham

Charging From 10% to 80% Means 30% of Your EV’s Max. Range Is Useless
The first and perhaps largest deduction of one’s EV range on a road trip is due to how owners charge EVs at public charging stations. You need some buffer to ensure that if you arrive at a station that is damaged, full, or ICED-out you can move on to another station. Shall we call that 10% of the total range? Would you be comfortable on a road trip arriving at a charging station with less than 25 miles remaining? Maybe you would. In any case, most folks are not comfortable arriving with near-zero range.

You arrive at the charger and you plug it in. One might expect that the charger would be from the starting point to the 100% state of charge level, but normally this is not the case. Ask any savvy EV owner and they will tell you that the proper public EV charging etiquette is to stop charging at 80% of the maximum state of charge (SOC) ie, range. So your ID.4’s range is really from 25 miles to 199 miles. That is a distance of roughly 174 miles total range between road trip charges. As you will see, it may be less than that.

There are two additional reasons besides being a good citizen that EV owners stop charging at 80% and they are all related. EVs charge relatively rapidly in the middle of their state of charge, but once past 80% most slow their rate of charging dramatically. This slows down your road trip and the cost can also go up at chargers that have a per-minute charge plan.

Steven Loveday is an experienced EV reporter. In one guide he wrote for U.S. News, here's what Steven said: "Charging to 80% is also better for the life of your battery, it will speed up your road trips, and it’s more considerate to other EV drivers who may be waiting to use the charging station. Before you depart for your road trip, you should charge to 100% at home. Once you arrive at your destination, you can use a Level 2 public charging station to charge the car to 100%. Level 2 charging is cheaper than DCFC (or free), and when it comes to charging that final 20%, DCFC isn’t going to provide a time advantage."

Steven is being polite. Your fellow BEV owners are going to give you the stink eye if you charge past 80% at a public fast charger. For proof, see what EV owners say about public fast charging past 80% SOC in the comments under our story below.

Related Story: Charging an Electric Vehicle In Public Can Cost Triple What Fueling Up a “Gas-Guzzler” Does

Long Highway Runs - Lower Efficiency For Two Reasons
If your road trip is mostly high-speed highway miles, your total range will be reduced. This is not theoretical. Owners of EVs are keenly aware of the lower efficiency of their vehicles on the highway. EVs are meaningfully less efficient at speeds of say, 75 than they are at speeds of say, 55 MPH. This makes sense. Wind resistance is one big contributor to energy consumption and it rises significantly as speeds increase. Join any social media club for any model and ask owners what they observe. You will see there is a lively discussion about how driving at the pace of traffic uses more range than you might expect. You could of course move over to the right lane and watch cars whiz past you during your road trip. That’s fun (Not).

Long uninterrupted highway trips also have far fewer opportunities for electric vehicles to perform their very best party trick - brake regeneration. Although EVs do regain energy from regenerative braking on downhill sections of highways in certain circumstances, and all of us brake a bit from time to time due to merges and slow motorists ahead (like those EVs in the merge lane going 55 MPH), the regeneration of energy is far lower on highway trips than it is in mixed driving. Look closely at the EPA’s “Highway” efficiency for the ID.4. You can see that is about 12% lower than its city efficiency. Just to be safe, assume your EV’s highway road trip range will be about 5 to 15% lower than its maximum range in mixed lower-speed driving. So, let's deduct 13 to 25 miles of range from your above total of 174 miles. Now your EV with a “range” of 249 miles is down to about 161 to 149 miles. That’s unless it’s cold.

Bolt charging in snow. Image by John Goreham

Cold Conditions
The EPA’s EV range estimate gets a bad rap from most of the media. Because heat is a major contributor to range depletion, the range estimates your vehicle displays may be downright scary when you enter it in the winter. We’ve observed drops of 40% in various test vehicles from major brands. These range estimation reductions have been widely reported. AAA and Consumer Reports have both done studies documenting the range reduction.

We spoke to the EPA about this controversial cold-weather range issue and learned a few things. First, the EPA’s hands are mostly tied. Unless something changes later they need to report one big range number and that means they have to pick a scenario or blend conditions. They didn’t pick the conservative winter number to display as the range. Why should they in a country where most of the EVs are in sunny California?

Related Story: Prediction: EPA Will Switch to a 3-Number Electric Vehicle Range Figure To Address Cold-Weather Reduction

However, the EPA also reminded us that the drastic range reductions your in-dash estimator displays may be too conservative. Most cars predict you will make many stops and require many warmup cycles. “It’s not as bad as you think” is the general theme. Let’s say it’s about 10% lower than temperate conditions. So deduct another 25 miles. Now your ID.4’s road trip range is 136 to 124 miles between public charging stops. Be patient. We’re not done yet.

ID.4 with motorcycle courtesy of VW media

Is Your Trunk Full? Do You Have A Full Car?
Is the cargo compartment of your ID.4 full on this road trip by any chance? Cooler full of soda cans and ice? Some roast beast sandwiches to snack on at the lonely public chargers not in front of a Starbucks? Your clothes, toilet kit, maybe some hiking boots. Heavens forbid a bike on a roof rack or a kayak up top. Maybe you took the family? All of this stuff is dead weight you are carrying around. Weight reduces range. Maybe that’s why you don’t have a spare tire in your EV, right? We’ll let you guestimate your range reduction for all that road trip stuff you brought along. It’s not zero. Let's not get started on range reduction and charging hassles associated with bringing a trailer on a long road trip. It's just not fair to bash BEVs that way.

Related Story: Myth Busted - Spare Tires Don’t Reduce Electric Vehicle Range

Easy Proof That Using EVs on Long Road Trips Is Questionable
In reality, EVs are not able to drive their maximum range between EV chargers on road trips. They have a meaningfully lower range between charges than the maximum. This casts the use of EVs on long road trips into doubt. Can they be used for long road trips?

We can prove that EV road trip use is questionable in one simple way. Google “EV road trip.” You will find a slew of well-written EV road trip stories. “We made it!” is the general theme “No problem!” is popular. There is even a Facebook group specifically dedicated to dispelling the myth that EV road trip range is an issue. EV owners share their success stories about using EVs on road trips. The proof that using EVs for long road trips is questionable is proven in each of these stories. If it wasn’t questionable, then why write a story about it telling everyone you made it?

Summary - BEVs Are Awesome, But…
Battery-electric vehicles like the Volkswagen ID.4 and Ford Mustang Mach-E are rapidly expanding in the marketplace. Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, and others will bring their models to market this calendar year, and each one has new and innovative features that make driving not just possible, but joyous. EVs are a blast to drive. They are going to save us all a lot of money on fuel and hopefully reduce our maintenance and repair hassles as well. But they are not the best vehicles for all tasks. And they are not the best electrified vehicle options for long road trips. Plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles and hybrids are.

Image of I-PACE with bike rack courtesy of Jaguar. Fuel economy chart courtesy of EPA. ID.4 with motorcycle courtesy of VW media. Images of Chevy Bolt charging by John Goreham.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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Comments

Some time back, at a visitors' center in Utah, the lady at the desk cautioned us about our planned route. Seems those exits on the map were "ranch roads", with absolutely no services. We needed at least 126 miles in the tank. That would, of course, leave us looking at the low fuel warning starting at 76 miles. It would have been in the dark. Might be phone service there by now. Point is, if you get one tier--speaking north to south--west of the Mississippi, even on the Interstate, don't let your fuel/juice drop below 100 miles, or in the case of the Utah route, maybe 175. Which is to say, some of the range scenarios in the article are simply insufficient.
Amazing article, all about electric cars without a single mention of Tesla, the dominant electric car producer. Y’know . . . the one that has all the loooong range cars, built hundreds of charging stations all around the world, and is the dominant electric car maker. Hmm. Wonder what the goal here is?
Jan, thank you for your comment. No EV post comments section would be complete without a Tesla owner asking about a conspiracy.
She has a point. You were like writing about how uninspired driving ICE cars by only driving Corollas and Sentras.
Jan, everything in the story apples to ALL EVs, including Tesla. You didn't refute any of the data. Wonder why.?
I recently took a family of 4 with gear and luggage on a 900 mile (each way) road trip to a mountain in new mexico to snowboard, in a Tesla Model Y. Supercharger stops were never a hassle (ready to go by the time we peed and got a snack or whatever).The small ski town had no charging option at all (80 minute drive from last charger to ski town, one way). We stayed there 3 nights and temps got down to 2F, and 2 feet of snow fell on the car while it was parked. Had to drive back off the mountain on icy roads at the end. Everything worked out just fine, no issues
The company that has built hundreds of charging stations around the world? There are about 150,000 gas stations in the United States alone. Your sarcasm inadvertently underscores the author's key point. EV's are like horses when it comes to long range travel.
In other words, they're great 2nd cars for sporting around town....not so great otherwise.
It depends what is the primary use of the car. If you drive 300 miles highway all day your stuck with maybe a tesla s or a new lucid air, otherwise yes a fuel efficient ICE would still be best. Most people, including myself take less than 4 roadtrips a year. We have 2 EBEVs and one older pick up truck. We road tripped with the truck and home depot run and only average 2k miles on it a year. The BEV cars get 15k miles a year on both. So for us the old truck is just that, a second car that has about 5 years before it totally rusts away. In that time, new battery tech and charging network will be out.
Hello ScubaEsteban, In the future all vehicles will be BEV's. All ICE and hybrid power vehicles will only be a memory as there's no way in the future to operate them. The present and the short term future will have improvements that will overcome the present problems for BEV's.
My wife and I bought a Tesla Model X in 2020, and we have driven it on multiple road trips — one from coast to coast and back, one from the east coast to Chicago and back, and three times down to Florida and back. We bought it with road-tripping in mind, and we’ve been quite happy with it. With a max range of 350 miles, Teslas were the only comfortable SUV EVs that could handle road-tripping at the time we bought it. (We loved the Jaguar I-Pace when we test drove it, but the range just wasn’t there.) BUT, what you say in this article about not getting your max range when driving a lot on the highway is completely true. You don’t get best efficiency at 75 mph, and you don’t charge often above 80% because that last 20% charges too slow and you want to get back on the road. Depending on how far you are going, this can add up to an hour and a half or even two and a half hours of charging over the course of a day. So, you need to be honest with yourself about how you road-trip. If you’re the kind that blitzes through the gas station and eats while driving, today’s EVs will slow you down. If you’re the kind who stops more often than just when you need gas, who walks the dog, goes to the bathroom, and/or eats at a restaurant, you can do those things while the car charges, and an EV will add very little to your overall time on the road.
TMXO, thank you for adding this comment.
"Long uninterrupted highway trips also have far fewer opportunities for electric vehicles to perform their very best party trick - brake regeneration." This is an irrelevance. Stopping and starting, even with brake regeneration, doesn't improve efficiency of either EV or hybrids. It improves RELATIVE efficiency re ICEs only.
Thanks, Bill.
Sounds terrible. Sounds like a major step backwards in convenience and safety. Today, I had to drive 1.5 hours to a business meeting, (approx 90 miles). Therefore, 180 miles of my “range” spoken for, there and back. At the meeting, we decided I needed a short trip to the bank to finalize the small deal. And then after, I had lunch with my friend, requiring a short drive in the opposite direction to home. All of this at 32 degrees. So given what you said above, if my range meter told me I had 250 miles of range when I left. I would be sweating bullets to make it home. Also, minor point. Women sitting in line at a charging station, or sitting waiting for their EV to charge, for an hour(?), yeah, that sounds completely safe.
Having owned an EV now for over 10 years the author makes some good points. EVs are not the most practical vehicles for long trips in a hurry. If you only have one vehicle and you do not have access to home charging Plug in hybrids or e85 vehicles are your best bet. Before switching to all electric vehicles 7 years ago we averaged 68mpg in our 2012 Plug in Prius. It had a 12 mile electric range and my wife used it for commuting and we used it for long trips. We also had a EV we could do all our local commuting in. EVs are outstanding commuter vehicles and second family vehicles. If you can charge at home you never have to F*** with gas pumps and gas pump diseases, panhandlers, oil changes, and waiting 10 minutes for heat in the winter time. Most all new EVs have instantaneous heat, heated seats and steering wheels. I'm always impressed with how hot my wife's Leaf is in winter. Regarding range. Consumers need to find an EV that has twice the range of your daily commute. You need extra range for heat, AC, headwinds, rough roads, rainy weather, and extra errands just like gas cars. In winter in snow country it doesn't matter what kind of car you have when travelling, you need a sleeping bag and some granola bars just in cast. 50 years ago I used to commute between Denver and Grand Junction about ten times a month for work one winter. I never left home in Denver without being prepared. I wouldn't hesitate to go anywhere in my wife's 225 mile range EV in winter. We just finished a trip a few months ago to 18 National Parks and 11,000 miles travelling. EV travel is much easier now than 3 years ago when we did a 15 National Park trip. There are over 7000 combined Chademo/CCS quick charger locations, about 1200 Tesla Supercharger locations, and thousands of RV campgrounds we can stay and charge overnight. If your family has more than one car you are wasting a lot of money and fun and adventure if one of those vehicles isn't electric. Remember, twice the range of your daily commute, that allows for spare range and it doesn't stress the batteries. For example, my EV is over 10 years old and it had a 75mile range when new. My commute before retiring 3 years ago was 36 miles. My EV still has 65 miles range or 85% battery capacity. It has literally saved 90,000 miles on my expensive 4x4 crew cab and saved me thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars not pumping 28 gallons into that beast every week. EVs are great commuter cars so much better than gas cars, only takes 2 seconds to plug it in and the next day it is ready to go.
Great insight, David. I live in New England and the distances between civilization are relatively short by comparison to other places in the U.S. When we took a vacation to the West we quickly learned that we had better be careful with our fuel. Those "Last fuel for Xhundred miles" signs were a wake-up call for us. In my past career as an on-the-road salesperson in the semiconductor and biopharma industries, there were many days I parked the rental in Santa Clara and walked to meetings all day. Others, in Arizona, Northern California, or Idaho, I would drain the full tank and not have time to fuel up before returning it empty at the airport, thus paying the "fine" for Airport gas. I completely agree with your points. Particularly that not having an EV as the second car is a mistake. We were shopping new Bolts for under $20K here in Mass this past spring. I have mixed feelings about having passed on that. (because of the recall)
Of course you can find a charger in any metro area or even change at home. On a long distance trip you'll have to plan carefully to ensure that you're going to make it to the next charging station. For all other trips where you don't want to be concerned about running out of power and charging back at home, make sure that you don't exceed the point of no return... So, think of it this way, whatever your range is cut in in half and leave extra room for good measure. Otherwise, you're going to have to find a place on the way home to ensure you have enough power. Oh, by the way, sure these cars save money not using fuel, but, it takes a long time to charge. It's not like driving a hybrid which just charges while you drive.. I know people who would like to eliminate all gas cars as soon as possible within 10 years...I really don't know if this is possible given all the demand for electrify on the grid.... So, I think the solution is hybrid vehicles until we can get the charging network built and standardized... There's too many competing platforms and this is not good for the future of electric vehicles.
Well said, Mark. Having three (arguably 4) different charging handles, and more "branded" non-public charging stations like Tesla's being discussed (Audi, Jeep, and others) we seem to be pretty far from the charging being the same experience for all EV owners. It cracks me up when the new PHEV owners post that they could not charge at a DCFC station. So much to know for the new owners.
No manufacturer could get away with selling an ICE car that could only be gassed up at a particular brand of gas pump, ot that forced you to carry multiple nozzles around with you. The industry needs a single standard for charging connections and billing, just as gas nozzles and filler necks are standardized. I shouldn't need to figure out which highway exit or hotel charging spaces will or won't work. The industry also needs to do a WAY better job at ensuring that chargers are maintained ND working 99.9% of the time. Far to many chargers are out of order at any given time.
The charging to 80% is better for the battery is a nonsense, this is taken care of by the battery management system. You arent charging to 100% of battery capacity , you are charging to 100% of what the maker lets you use (remember Tesla magically turning on more range for people fleeing a hurricane?) I wonder how many have actually timed the last 20%?
I won't say I think you are wrong myself, Yarpos, but EV owners really went crazy when I wrote a story about having charged a Bolt to full in public in a recent story. I charged a Bolt using an EVgo DCFC to gain the last 34 miles of its range and it took 29 minutes and 23 seconds. There is a link in the story. It's the one titled, "Charging an Electric Vehicle In Public Can Cost Triple What Fueling Up a “Gas-Guzzler” Does" Please note that "Can" is an important part of that story's title.
Way to base your article on a car that only gets 250 miles on a full charge. With many vehicles on the horizon getting another 100 miles over that, why focus on that one? And teslas have more range as well, though I'm tired of hearing from "Tesla" people. They're more annoying than "annoying" iPhone people.
When we get to the horizon I hope to still be writing. I'll link back to this one and do a story titled, "Who remembers when long EV road trips were an inconvenience?" Tesla's are great options for the folks that have $45K for a car the size of an Insight or $60K to spend on a crossover the size of an Outlander. With 8 price increases in the past 12 months for the Y, this comment may need editing soon.
On the whole, EVs are better than ICE cars when it comes to efficiency, cost of ownership, convivence for in town driving and much less damage to the environment. As far as road trips, long range Tesla's can go longer than most people can hold their pee and be charged and ready for another 250 miles by the time you finish your potty break, get a coffee and stretch your legs. And, this is just the beginning of EV tech, it's just going to get better and better. There's almost unlimited upside to EVs tech, ICE cars on the other hand are about as good as they will ever get. For example, wireless charging built into the road so you have limitless range and never have to plug your EV in again. I would like to see an ICE car do that trick.
Well said, Brian. At any point in the story did we cast an ICE car as better than an EV in cost of ownership, convenience, efficiency, in-town driving, or damage to the environment? Unless we did it mistakenly conventional ICE cars were not a part of this story at all.
We took our first long road trip last fall, through remote parts of CA and Arizona that often had no cell signal. The best advice i can give is to 1) stay at hotels with chargers or 2) plan to stop every few hours for breaks at fast chargers. Electrify America chargers were the best ones we found, overall. The majority of our charging was free, including a charger at the Grand Canyon that was somewhat hidden (which we located, thanks to Plugshare). Yes, it takes more planning to road trip in an EV. Yes, we encountered broken chargers - and once, a brief waiting line. I’m hoping to soon see gas stations reconfigure with at least a few chargers, and places for customers to sit outside. The good news is that hotel chains (including La Quinta) seem to understand that this amenity is important. Even the owner of a tiny inn where we stayed asked me how she could install a charger, because she gets so many requests from EV owners. Another hotel in Sedona had a dedicated EV space plus a free charger. We made sure to thank the manager and explain that we chose that hotel because of the charger (in addition to the great reviews). Incentives could help expand our charging networks the way gas stations expanded along Route 66, due to demand. I wish more of our elected officials would drive EVs on long road trips to see for themselves how important it is for local, state, federal govts to help business owners add chargers, especially in shopping centers near major highways.
So we took a 220km range 2018 nissan leaf 20,000km in 2 months. During covid lockdowns to try to buy land. It was hellish, but basically free because the fast charging network was pretty lacking and canada has quite a few free level 2 chargers.... but we only can make trips like that in the shoulder seasons due to lower winter range and no battery cooling in summer. 5 to 15 celsius. Average temperatures... that being said, if there was a 25kwh chademo every 65km, i could stop at each one for 15 minutes and actually enjoy the trip a lot more by taking time to stretch and play with dog and such. People who rush through road trips are basically wasting their time which is why even though it was a hellish experience overall I preferred it to a gas car. Smell the roses people. Life is too short to continuously drive. There is so much you will miss out on seeing. The trip is more important than the destination.
Well, said, Benjamin. Very good perspective.
I have a 200 mile range older Tesla and take numerous road trips with the car heavily packed. I live in central NC and take regular trips to Maine, Miami and Ohio. There have only been a few times that after getting food or drinks that I was ready to go before the car was.

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