If you’re still on the fence about electric cars, the idea of running out of juice in the middle of a journey might be what’s stopping you from going petrol-free. Likewise, getting caught short on charge will still be a worry for electric car owners too. Whether you’re a sceptic or a convert, it’s a very real situation that neither side of the divide will want to find themselves in.

And with the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars coming in sooner than you think, it may be something many of us will have to deal with after 2030. But as long as you’re prepared, there’s no need to fret over so-called range anxiety. To help you avoid getting stuck in an empty electric, we’ll take a look at what you should do when your EV runs out of charge below.

Planning ahead for long journeys

Think about it: if you had a long journey ahead of you in a petrol or diesel car, you wouldn’t attempt to go the distance on a tank that’s almost empty. Likewise, you wouldn’t do the same in an electric vehicle that was running low on charge, either. Make sure it’s fully charged on the day of the journey and look up where the nearest charging stops will be on the way ahead of time.

"Will my electric car run out of charge?"

In all likelihood, running out of electric car charge probably won’t happen all that often. Any modern EV – providing it’s in good nick – will let you know if your battery is starting to run low. The range of modern electric vehicles is greater than those of previous generations too, so range anxiety is unlikely to creep in during your journeys.

And don’t forget, thousands of chargers pop up around the UK every year. In fact, there are now over 42,000 chargers across more than 15,500 locations, so it’s easy to stay pepped up with charge whenever you’re lagging. And considering there are around 8,300 UK petrol stations, you’d actually be more likely to run out of fuel than run out of charge.

Car driving at sunset

How your electric car stops you from running out of charge

Modern EVs are designed to keep you in safe hands, giving you plenty of advanced warning if your batteries are nearly out of charge. The way each car does this will differ from model to model, but you can expect your car will let you know in the following way:

  • When your car’s battery is low, the display will warn you
  • When your car’s battery gets below 5%, the car’s navigation system will kick in and locate the nearest charger
  • After this, an estimated range will show how far you’ll be able to travel on your current charge
  • At 0% charge, your car will be able to drive on reserve power, typically for about five miles of range
  • Once that range is depleted, your car goes into turtle power mode. At this point, you’ll only be able to go 20mph and only the car’s basic features will be available
  • After half a mile on turtle power, the car will finally come to a halt. Your car’s secondary 12-volt battery means safety features like your hazard warning lights will still work

What to do when your electric car runs out of charge

If you’re running out of charge, or you have completely run out of charge, you’ll want to pull over to the side of the road where it’s safe and flat. Turn your wheels away from the road, put your parking brake on and turn your hazard lights on so other motorists can see you. Make a note of where you are if possible and, if necessary, let people know you’ve broken down.

frustrated man sat in his car

Calling for roadside assistance in an electric car

EV roadside assistance works differently depending on the recovery company you sign up with. Nissan, for instance, offers EV Roadside Assistance to Leaf owners, while other manufacturers will also provide similar packages.

AA and RAC also offer breakdown cover for out-of-charge incidents. Basically, whatever you go for, there’s no need to worry about being stranded anywhere.

Whether you’re placed on a flatbed and taken to the nearest charging station or you’re given a small amount of charge so you can drive there yourself, you’ll be able to charge up fully (which will take time, of course) and you can be on your way once again.

Using a mobile electric car charger

While mobile chargers do exist, they cost a pretty penny – almost as much as the battery itself. And when we say mobile, they’re more akin to early 80s mobile phones in terms of shape and size. But if you can afford them, then by all means buy one, as they can come in very handy.

Can you tow an electric vehicle?

For the most part, electric cars cannot be towed. Electric cars don’t have neutral positions in their transmissions; their wheels are attached to the motor. So, when the wheels of an EV turn, they turn the motor too.

​When an EV car is out of charge, turning the electric motor can easily lead to overheating, which can cause some serious damage. This is why most breakdown providers will send a flatbed truck to pick up your EV.

With that said, some models can still be towed. The Nissan Leaf, for instance, can be towed since its traction motor is in the front wheels. Towing it with its two front wheels raised causes no issues with the motor as a result.

Can you jump start an electric car?

​Yes, it’s possible to jump start an electric vehicle. Your EV will probably have two batteries: a lithium-ion one which powers the motor, and the smaller 12-volt battery we mentioned earlier.

It's this second battery that powers your car’s radio, wipers, heated seats and other assorted features. It’s also responsible for making sure the bigger battery can be charged too.

Jump starting an electric car is no different than doing it for any other car. Use a traditional diesel or petrol car, or a battery starter, along with the correct jump leads. Just be sure to consult your car’s manual to find where your batteries are stored. The manual will also let you know how to attach the jump leads.

​Keep in mind, however, that you can’t jump-start an EV using another one, nor can you jump-start a traditional car engine using an EV. Attempting to do so may damage the 12-volt battery.

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