What to do if you are running out of charge in an electric car

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If you’re new to electric cars, it is only natural to feel a little anxious about the battery range. After all, a petrol or diesel car will usually start warning you that you need to fill up when you have enough fuel for 50 miles or so left in the tank. In an electric car, that could be half of your driving range! 

The difference is that an electric car only needs to get you home - or to a charge point – in order to fill up with fuel, and the range meter is usually fairly accurate. If it says there is 12 miles left and it is only seven miles to home then you will learn not to worry.However, it is good to know what to expect if you do get low on charge, and be prepared in case the worst happens and you completely run out.

Planning ahead will relieve the stress of running low

If you are getting twitchy

OK – you’ve exhausted all the options to charge and are running low. What happens next? 

The first thing to know is that the car won’t just stop or splutter to a halt like a petrol car would. It will give you plenty of warning, usually telling you that the battery charge is low at about 20% capacity and then again at 10%. 

The car’s sat nav will usually suggest it finds you a nearby charge point. You may find that some cars will also suggest that they go into an ‘Eco’ mode when the battery is getting low. This usually restricts the performance and turns off the non-essential features, such as the heating, to eke out every last mile. 

This is the stage where you need to start planning your options. Is there somewhere you can go to which might be safer and more comfortable to wait while you call for help from your breakdown provider? A service station or restaurant perhaps? 

The recovery will be far easier if the car has some charge left, so don’t sit in the car with the heater running if you can avoid it.If you still keep driving, most electric cars will be fitted with something which is called a ‘Turtle Mode’ because there is literally a warning light in the shape of a turtle on the instrument panel. This will give you a few hundred metres of very limited performance, at little more than walking pace. It is designed to get you off the road and into a safer place, such as in a lay by or an emergency refuge on the motorway. 

If you see that light, start looking for somewhere to stop that will keep you – and other road users – safe while you wait for recovery.

When 'Turtle Mode' kicks in, its time to start looking for a safe place to stop

I’ve stopped – what now? 

The first priority is to make sure you are safe, so keep the car visible with hazard lights on. If you are on a motorway or close to a live lane, get behind a crash barrier and use the emergency phones to call for help. These will help the recovery to find you quickly. 

If you are stopped in a live lane – for example on a ‘smart’ motorway with all lanes running – then call 999 as it is a dangerous situation.

Keep the car visible with hazard lights and make sure you are safe

What happens now? 

A professional breakdown recovery operator such as Green Flag will know how to recover an electric car which has run out of charge or broken down, so it is best to leave it to them if possible. It won’t cause any harm if you need to push the car a short distance in an emergency, such as if it is blocking a junction. They should not be towed for any distance with all four wheels on the ground however as it can harm the car’s powertrain.

The breakdown service will either use an onboard charging system to give your enough energy to get to the nearest charger or will recover your car using a truck. Once you get home or to your destination, it’s best to charge the car as soon as possible, as leaving the battery empty for long periods will upset its chemistry and shorten its life.

Have you ever run out of charge, or got close? Let us know what happened! 

The breakdown recovery operator will usually tow you to a charger

Green Flag Breakdown Cover is underwritten by U K Insurance Limited.

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