With the rise of electric vehicles, new and potential owners have many questions. If you just got an EV and are wondering what happens when the battery dies, you’re not alone.
It’s a valid concern considering no one wants to get stranded on the side of the road, especially when someone with a spare gas jug can’t save you. The short answer is nothing, really. Your EV will stop running, and you’ll need roadside assistance or a tow, similar to a car that’s out of gas.
However, there are multiple answers to that question, and it’s a bit more complicated than a regular ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. Here are several things you need to know about your EV battery and what to do if it dies.
Electric Vehicles Have Two Battery Systems
Before we get started, it’s important to mention that EVs have two main battery systems. First, there’s usually a regular 12-volt car battery similar to any other gas vehicle to power accessory devices. This battery delivers power to the dash, computers, lights, door locks, etc., and other essentials.
Then there’s the exciting new stuff. EVs have a sizeable high-voltage battery pack that gives power to the electric motors instead of gasoline feeding an engine. These are two entirely different systems.
Can You Jump-Start a Dead EV Battery?
If the standard 12-volt battery system drains (from lights left on or a door cracked), you could end up with a dead battery, and the car won’t “start.” That’s because the small 12-volt battery powers the computers and the “start engine” button.
You can jump-start this battery on your EV in the same fashion as any regular gas-powered vehicle. It’s a bit more complicated, though, and this guide goes into more detail.
However, and this is very important, you cannot “jump-start” the bigger battery system that powers the rest of the vehicle with the help of a friend or another commuter. Also, you’ll never want to use another EV to try and jump-start the small 12-volt battery in your EV. Basically, you shouldn’t ever mess with the high-voltage battery system that makes your electric car move. Leave that to the professionals.
If the regular 12-volt battery dies for good, as any car battery does after 3-5 years, you can quickly and easily get it replaced.
What Happens When an EV Hits 0% Battery?
The bigger concern, and what most of you probably worry about, is “range anxiety” and what to do when you run out of battery, similar to running out of gas.
When an electric vehicle runs out of the primary high-voltage battery, does it just shut off like a smartphone, stopping without notice? No, absolutely not.
Running out of battery in an electric car is like running out of gas. Your vehicle will display a warning to the driver on the dash well ahead of time. But, instead of a low fuel warning, it’ll be a low battery warning.
The car will give you plenty of notice that it’s getting low, allowing drivers to find a place to recharge safely. In select Tesla models, the center console screen will even start flashing to get your attention, so you have time to find a charger. Furthermore, many vehicles will even tell you where a nearby charging station is on the navigation system.
For whatever reason, if you happen to reach 0% and your electric vehicle is entirely out of battery, things vary depending on the manufacturer. For most, you’ll still have enough battery life to continue driving for a few more miles and hopefully reach a charging station. Some vehicles turn off the AC to preserve battery, others limit power to sip on juice, and some will only let the car drive at a certain speed. Either way, you’ll be on borrowed time.
Eventually, the throttle will become unresponsive, you’ll lose acceleration, and the car will slowly and safely roll to a stop. You’ll still have power steering and other safety systems, so you’ll want to try and quickly pull over to the side of the road and out of harm’s way. Just as you would when running out of gasoline.
Remember, the gauges, digital display, lights, and interior power will remain, as that’s all running off the regular 12-volt battery. You’ll only lose power to the electric motors and won’t be able to move any further.
What to Do Next
If you’re faced with this unfortunate event and run out of EV battery while driving, you’ll be fine. For one, several EV roadside assistance options are available. Plus, depending on the vehicle, you can get a tow.
Brands like SparkCharge will come to you, then recharge the car with enough juice to get you off the side of the road and safely to a charging network. It even offers Level 3 DC fast-charging to deliver upwards of 70 miles of range in an hour. Manufacturers like Ford have their own EV roadside assistance programs, as do select insurance agencies, including Progressive, that could come and charge your EV.
A big thing you’ll want to remember is that towing is not always an option. Only select electric vehicles can be towed due to the regenerative braking feature. For those unaware, many EVs will use regenerative braking to gain a little extra battery from the power and forces required to use the brakes.
For example, many Tesla’s cannot get towed unless they’re on a flatbed truck. However, the new Tesla Model Y has a “towing mode” that’ll allow owners or a tow company to roll the vehicle when the battery dies.
You’ll want to know the capabilities of your EV ahead of time. That way, you’re prepared in case of an emergency or dead battery.
Obviously, you’ll want to plan ahead on any road trips, know your range limits, and know where to find charging locations. And if you end up pushing your luck and the car gives you a low-battery warning, start looking for the nearest charging station immediately.
Again, you’ll have plenty of notice before an electric vehicle battery goes to zero, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.