Electric car range: how far will they really go on a single charge?

Wondering whether you could live with an electric car? Find out how far they can really go, and what support is available when they run out

Matt Rigby
Jun 8, 2022

Running out of fuel in a conventional petrol or diesel car can be a nuisance, but it's fairly difficult to do thanks to the number of fuel stations around the UK; unless you’re in the middle of nowhere in rural Scotland or completely ignoring the fuel gauge, you should have at least several opportunities to fill up before the car splutters to a halt.

And even then, if you do grind to a halt at the side of the road, it's an issue that can be relatively easily solved if you can get hold of an emergency jerry can of fuel from somewhere. But what happens if you’re driving an electric car and the battery runs flat?

Vehicle recovery firms have had to adapt to the new challenges presented by electric cars, and many now offer to tow your car to a nearby charging station or other location, including the RAC and the AA. Some RAC recovery vehicles also carry a 5kW charger with enough power to add around 10 miles of range.

During the infancy of electric cars, their limited range per charge and the patchy availability of chargers gave rise to the phrase 'range anxiety'; the fear of the battery running flat and getting marooned somewhere. This was a very real problem for long-distance trips, with most early electric vehicles (EVs) managing fewer than 100 miles from a full charge.

Now, though, there is a far more substantial and wider-reaching network of charging points available in the UK. And, with a greater number of electric cars now offering more than 200 miles of charge, many more people could feasibly manage to drive an electric car every day - and still be able to charge .

Electric cars are becoming a much more realistic alternative to traditional petrol or diesel models. The best electric models - admittedly the most expensive ones - can offer more than 300 miles of range per charge according to official figures - which is similar to what you'd expect from a tank of petrol in a small car.

Real-world electric car range

It's important to take manufacturers' claims of their electric vehicles' ranges with a pinch of salt, because these are based on ‘WLTP’ testing, which consists of a 30-minute run at an average speed of around 29mph - a typical speed for urban driving, but much slower than most out-of-town roads.

This is why electric vehicle owners will often meet, or even exceed, the claimed range of their cars around town, yet may struggle to do so on longer trips. Travelling at faster speeds requires more energy from the batteries, thus reducing overall efficiency and real-world range.

The tests are also conducted at 23 degrees, which is far from representative of the British climate. Consequently, ranges can plummet significantly when the weather gets colder, as batteries are less efficient at low temperatures.

In our experience, it can be fairly easy to meet or exceed an electric car's claimed range during the summer - especially on slower roads. However, you can typically expect a 20% reduction when the temperature drops or you're on a high-speed motorway trip. Vehicles fitted with a heat pump - which warms the cabin more efficiently - go some way to eliminate this drop in efficiency.

Much like driving a regular petrol or diesel car, there are several ways to extend the range of an electric car. Making use of the regenerative braking system will be key to your success here.

Instead of using the regular brakes to slow down, electric cars can increase the resistance on the motor(s) which in turn adds a small amount of charge back into the battery. This is known as regenerative braking. The result is a feeling similar to dropping down a few gears in a regular car - and the car slowing more quickly. However, energy that would usually be wasted in petrol and diesel cars gets captured in electric cars (including many hybrids), all while reducing wear and tear on the brake pads.

Driving style changes can also help to increase range, including accelerating less harshly, slowing down in plenty of time rather than slamming on the brakes when you approach an obstacle, and picking slower roads instead of choosing the motorway. Many models have ‘eco’ modes, which reduce the response from the accelerator pedal helping drivers to build up speed more gradually, in turn using less electricity.

In June 2021, a team of drivers managed to squeeze out 475 miles of range from a Renault Zoe ZE50 fitted with ‘ENSO’ range-extending tyres, though admittedly the average speed was a rather slow 19mph and it was the middle of June in the comparatively warm south of England. Still, this came from a car with a 245-mile claimed range, proving that how you drive can dramatically affect how much range you can get from an electric car.

 

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