Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety – Does It Exist?


Does range anxiety really exist?

This appears to be one of the most frequently asked questions.  How far can an electric car drive?  How accurate is the battery gauge?  Will I be left at the side of the road with an empty battery?  To provide a quick answer, yes range anxiety does exist.  Currently, electric vehicles have less driving range than an equally sized gasoline vehicle mainly due to the higher energy density of liquid gasoline. This may be more of a psychological problem rather than an electric vehicle issue.


When you look at vehicles in general, there will always be a level of range anxiety.  Many people are not comfortable in a gasoline powered vehicle when the fuel tank is below the halfway mark. I have heard people try to explain this by saying that gasoline can freeze in the winter when there is not enough in the tank.  There is the real possibility of moisture formation in a low-level gas tank when the vehicle is heated and then cooled, and this often happens when a vehicle is left in the sun all day with cold winter nights.


One of the major contributors to electric vehicle anxiety is a more accurate gauge.  The battery gauge is more accurate than the fuel tank gauge which most people are used to.  The battery gauge range estimates the remaining distance until empty and is literally letting you know the remaining distance.  This is still an estimate based on the previous driving distance, so if you know that the remaining drive is either at a higher speed, stop and go, or uphill, then you will have to take that into account.  Currently, electric vehicles on the road do not take into account these real-life situations, which can impact any vehicle’s efficiency.


Why would an EVs gauge being accurate effect range estimate?

The electric vehicle gauge is connected directly to the battery pack and motor controller.  Compared to the gasoline version, this is much more information than previously available.  Gasoline vehicles have been around for many years and all of them estimate the remaining distance until the gas tank is empty; however, one issue is the way the gas tank level is measured.  There is a float in the gas tank which functions properly for the majority of the time but there are times when it does not work well at all.  Since it is a float there are two times when it does not report accurate information back to the driver and onboard computer: when the tank is roughly 5% are the extremes of full and empty.


Why would this matter?

Many people are used to seeing the gas fill light when the gas tank float has bottomed out.  This is interpreted simply as a warning that you have a certain amount of driving distance until the tank is truly empty.

A few vehicles I have personally owned I knew I could drive for an additional half an hour before worrying about finding a gas station to refuel.  This slow conditioning from knowing the additional distance and abundance of refueling stations only further contributed to this bad habit.

Will I end up on the side of the road in my electric vehicle?

This is a common question asked by people who have the same bad habit that I had.  I understand that life can be busy with family, friends and work life taking up your time and adding in refueling can make you late.  Before anxiety builds up any higher, there is a limp home feature in electric vehicles that reduces the output of the electric motor.  This function is used to limit the input of the driver throttle when the low battery level is indicated.  The intention of this feature is to provide a safe way to return home or to another safe place to stop.


What can be done about EV range anxiety?

Range anxiety is one of the most indicated hesitations drivers have before switching over to an electric vehicle.

This is one of the reasons for the different types of electric vehicle types.  I will be addressing this soon with a new post going over all of the electric vehicle types in depth.  In short, there are battery electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid EVs, extended range electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles.  Battery EV’s rely on the battery only for power, while hybrids have a separate gas tank to run a generator or to propel the vehicle.  As for fuel cell EV’s they do not have a battery at all and can still be considered an electric vehicle as fuel is not consumed in an internal combustion but rather used to generate electricity on demand instead of a generator and battery pack combination.


This does not by any means undermine anxiety as a mental illness.  It is merely the common reference to this low power/fuel situation.

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