Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety: How Much Of A Problem Is It? How To Deal With It

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Most people considering an electric vehicle are most worried about running out of charge and being stranded. Basically, they premature anxiety about what is called “range anxiety.” They are also worried about where they can charge on long trips, how long charging takes, and how much will it slow them down on those cross-country trips.

Most EV owners do 95% of their charging at home in the garage using 220V service at ~28 miles of charge per hour. However, you can charge from any 110V outlet, even the one next to the mirror in your bathroom. Though, 110V charging is very slow and not for highway charging, so it’s not really relevant to these concerns.

I have been driving EVs now for 8 years and have never run out of charge. Well, that’s not strictly true. Once, I was purposely running my EV to dead empty to see how far it would really go. In the end, 13 miles after 0% charge, I ran out of electricity on the street in front of my house, where my EV stopped totally dead. In this case, I was able to run a 110V extension cord from my garage to the car, and in a few minutes, I had enough charge to reach my 220-volt “Level 2” charger in my garage. By the next morning, I was ready to go again. Another time, in Eastern Colorado on I-70, I encountered a 50 mph headwind with tumbleweeds rolling across the road. I was sure that I wasn’t going to make it to the next Supercharger. Slowing down to 20 mph on the freeway was not an option, so I drafted behind a big semi truck and made it to the charger with 5+ miles to spare.

Bottom line 1: You can’t afford to run out of charge, so you don’t. I never attempted trips over 220 miles in my former EV, a Nissan Leaf with 150 miles range. I did such a distance twice, and in each case I had a compatible charger available midway on my trip. For the last 3+ years, I have been driving a Tesla Model 3 Long Range. This gives me access to Tesla’s amazing Supercharger network. Superchargers are spaced at 70 to 110 mile intervals on all the major Interstate highways in the US. I’ve driven cross-country many times and never found one out of order. You back up to a charger, plug in, and it automatically initiates the charge and bills the credit card Tesla has on file. Until very recently, I’ve never had to wait for a stall, and even now my maximum wait time for one of my very few waits was 5 minutes. Tesla is approaching sales of one million cars per year in the US and it is madly building more chargers and expanding current chargers to meet demand. The picture above shows the Supercharger at Beaver, Utah. It is one of the Superchargers — with a total of 40 new 250 kW charging stalls — that Tesla has built between Salt Lake City and Saint George in Southern Utah on I-15. They have been installed in Beaver and Cedar City in the last ~24 months. The remaining “slow” Supercharger on the route is in Nephi, Utah, where new high-speed stalls are scheduled to be operational by Q3 of 2023.

Bottom line 2: You can travel most anywhere in the US in a Tesla on the Interstate Highway System with zero worries about finding a working fast charger. However, trips more than 100 miles off the Interstate require planning and likely an overnight charge.

Ways to Avoid Range Anxiety in a Tesla Model 3 on a Road Trip

The nominal EPA range of my Model 3 Long Range is 310 miles. New Model 3 vehicles are rated at 358 miles and the Model S is rated at 405 miles. However, when I travel cross-country, I am always carrying one or two big mountain ebikes on a tray rack on the back of my car (see the picture below). The ebikes destroy the aerodynamic efficiency of my car and intervals longer than 120 miles are a problem for me. If I am facing a 120 mile interval, the first thing I do is check the wind speed at my location. If the headwind is less than 10 mph I am good to go. I normally drive 75 mph on Interstate Highways. When passing a slower moving vehicle, I will speed up to 80 mph so cars behind me don’t get impatient then drop back down to 75 mph when I get out of the passing lane.

range anxiety overhyped - Tesla Model 3 road trip experience
My Tesla Model 3 with two mountain ebikes on back, and my wife Mary feeding donkeys next to it. Custer State Park, Black Hills, South Dakota. May 7, 2022. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Examples from Tesla Road Trips

When charging at a Supercharger, I put the next Supercharger on my route into the navigation system (NAV). The NAV will then estimate the amount of charge I will have upon arrival. When the estimated arrival charge (EAC) reaches ~30%, I stop charging and I’m off, usually by the time I’ve had a chance to walk to the nearest restroom and back and my wife has had time to walk the dog. I don’t like to charge over 80% because the charge rate above 80% is so slow that it doesn’t make sense to charge longer if I can make the next charger. Normally, I start out at 75 mph. If the EAC remains constant or at least doesn’t drop below 10%, I maintain that speed. If the next charger is 120 miles away or I am facing a headwind, I drop my speed to 70 mph and monitor the EAC closely. In extreme cases, I will drop my speed to 65 or 60 mph until I am confident I will make the next Supercharger and have no real range anxiety. I then usually find myself raising the speed to 70 or 75 mph for the last stretch.

We often make the 270 mile I-15 commute between Salt Lake City and our daughter’s house in Saint George in Southern Utah. The speed limit on this route is 80 mph. You can safely travel 85 mph or even 90 mph without risking a speeding ticket. With me traveling 75 mph or even slower, there are cars blasting by me continuously. However, there are plenty of cars and trucks in the right hand lane traveling at my speed or slower, so I don’t feel that I am in any danger from the faster moving traffic. With the bikes on back, we need to stop at Nephi for a 20 minute charge and Beaver for a 30 minute charge. In a gasmobile, you can make the whole trip at 80 mph without stopping if you start with a full tank of gas. Bottom line: If you aren’t willing to spend an hour or two longer making the trip, you shouldn’t be driving an electric car with bikes on the back. With the Tesla Model S with 405 miles of range and no bike rack, rocket box, or other extra aerodynamic-robbing equipment, you can make the trip without charging, but probably not at 80+ mph.

We make the 1500 mile commute from Salt Lake City to Northern Wisconsin and back every year in the spring and the fall. In our Toyota Highlander, we would break the trip into three 500 mile days. Even with the bikes, we are able to make the trip in 3 days with our Tesla Model 3 Long Range. The differences: The days are a few hours longer and the dog gets walked 3 or 4 times during the day. At nearly 83 years old, I need those restroom breaks and to stretch my legs. We can often grab some fast food to eat while charging. It’s a more leisurely day and once we have taken our break, we never have to continue charging for more than another 10 or 15 minutes before we are on our way again. Younger members of our family who have jobs, more endurance, and multiple drivers make the 1500-mile cannonball run to our Wisconsin lake house in one shot. An EV would make their trip considerably more challenging. However, they would arrive with less danger of leg embolisms. Also, these days, most can work remotely when they are at the lake, which makes the cannonball run less useful.

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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler has 122 posts and counting. See all posts by Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler