How to Maximize Your Electric Car's Range

By · May 21, 2013

LEAF Guessometer

Does your EV get less range than the E.P.A. says? Follow these tips.

Just like gasoline cars, the real-world range of electric cars depends on a lot of different factors—from the climate and road conditions to car speed and the number of passengers on board.

Take the 2013 Nissan LEAF for example. While the E.P.A.’s official range rating is 75 miles per charge combined, some owners manage more than 100 miles per charge—while others are perplexed when they struggle to get 50 miles. An EV with a bigger battery, like the 2013 Tesla Model S with up to 265 miles of range per charge for the 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack model, can demonstrate even more widely divergent range figures.

There's a reason that the E.P.A. says "your mileage may vary." But what exactly can you do to maximize your real-world range?

1Maintain Your Car

While electric cars need less maintenance than gasoline ones, poor upkeep can have the same detrimental effect on efficiency, regardless of fuel type.

Make sure you’ve been following manufacturer-suggested service intervals for your car, and perform weekly checks on things like coolant levels and tire pressures. While electric cars don’t have an engine to keep cool, many use liquid cooling to keep the battery pack, inverter and motor operating at peak efficiency. Insufficient levels of cooling can result in poor performance, overheating components and even damage battery life.

On the outside, under-inflated tires increase your car’s rolling resistance, meaning it will need to use more energy to push itself along, decreasing efficiency.

2Change Your Routes

Like gasoline cars, the route you choose to drive your electric car on will have a dramatic effect on efficiency and range. You notice it more in an electric car than a gasoline car because it gets recharged every night, not refueled every week or so.

As a car’s speed increases, so does its drag. The faster the car moves, the more energy is required to overcome drag, draining your car’s battery more quickly. While driving non-freeway routes can result in better range, it’s worth noting that in some instances freeway driving can be more efficient, especially if the alternative route consists of lots of stop/start driving or hilly terrain.

For maximum efficiency and greatest range, pick a highway route with gentle gradients and minimal intersections. Adjusting when you travel, and therefore the amount of traffic you encounter, can also make a big difference.

3Adjust Charging Time

It’s all too easy to arrive home in the evening, plug your car in and immediately start it charging for the next day’s commute. But while you’ll know your car will be fully charged when you need it, you may be reducing your car’s available range.

That’s because most plug-in cars on the market today slowly self-discharge when they’ve finished charging, either through battery cell balancing or through natural chemical processes occurring within the battery pack. Over time, this practice can slowly affect your car’s battery pack. In fact, allowing your car to sit for hours at a full state of charge is something that many automakers—including Tesla, Nissan, Ford and Mitsubishi—advise against.

While it makes a minimal difference, scheduling your charge to finish charging just before you drive it can give you a few extra miles of range— compared to a car that sat with a full battery pack for many hours. (It’s also better for the long-term health of the battery, and allows you to make use of cheaper time-of-use rates.)

4Give Yourself More Time

You may not want to hear this, but the driver is often the number one cause of reduced electric car range. It comes down to stress, poor driving habits, or lack of concentration.

By ensuring you have your route pre-planned and given yourself 10 extra minutes to make the trip, you’ll find you’re calmer and much less stressed behind the wheel. A calmer driver is a more attentive driver, making it easier to maximize your car’s energy saving regenerative braking and make smart choices when it comes to reading traffic flow. Why speed up to every red light, slam on the brakes, and speed away again to the next light?

5Visit Your Dealer

It might be time to pay a visit to your dealer to investigate a potential problem with your electric car—BUT only as a last resort, only if the above methods don't work, and only if your electric car is chronically falling below expected range.

And before you take that step, reach out to fellow EV drivers on forums like PluginCars.com to see what other steps they're taking to get a few more miles out of a fully charged battery pack.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.