Electric Vehicle Range: How Far Can an Electric Car Go?

Lessen range anxiety by learning exactly how long an EV can last on one charge.

Electric vehicle on a road trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains

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Many potential EV buyers worry about how far an electric car can go on one charge—a concern that's known as "range anxiety."

Range anxiety emerges when potential buyers base their purchase on the longest trip they can imagine taking, not on how an EV might fit into their actual driving habits. But range anxiety is on the decline as EVs become more common and their range increases. Learning about how EV range is determined and how drivers can maximize their range makes some of that anxiety go away.

How Is EV Range Calculated?

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates the driving range of electric vehicles. In Europe, the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) has been used since late 2017, replacing the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test, which was criticized for using theoretical estimates instead of real-world data.

The EPA's test involves using a dynamometer (or “dyno”) to test vehicles—essentially a treadmill upon which EPA testers attempt to simulate real-world driving conditions. The vehicle is fully charged overnight, then driven in succeeding simulations of city driving and highway driving until the battery is drained and the wheels stop moving. Because the test is conducted at room temperature in a closed environment, the dyno's readout of the number of miles driven is then multiplied by 0.7 to give a more realistic estimate of a vehicle's range.

The EPA issues estimates for city driving and highway driving, then creates a combined estimate based on 45% city driving and 55% highway driving. The final range is meant to “reflect the values that customers can expect to achieve in the real world,” meaning EPA's estimate depends on their assumptions about how the average car is driven, atmospheric temperature, road conditions, routes, driving patterns, and other factors.

Europeans tend to spend more time commuting on city streets rather than on highways, so the WLTP emphasizes urban and suburban driving more than the EPA does. Rather than extrapolating based on laboratory testing, the WLTP relies on real-world driving data from around the world. It tests vehicles at four different speeds and in a variety of driving conditions. Because electric vehicles are more efficient in city driving than on highways, WLTP ranges tend to be longer than the EPA's.

Ranges of Popular EVs (standard range or base model)
Model EPA (miles) WLTP (miles)
Audi e-tron 222 270
Chevrolet Bolt 259 N/A
Ford Mustang Mach-E 230 N/A
Hyundai Kona Electric 258 279
Kia Niro EV 239 282
Nissan Leaf (40 kWh) 149 168
Porsche Taycan 4S 199 253
Tesla Model 3 263 267
Tesla Model Y 244 N/A
Volkswagen ID.4 250 308
Sources: EPA Fuel Economy Guide Model Year 2021; EVSpecifications.com

Official Estimates vs. Real-World Range

"Your mileage may vary,” as the cliché goes. Here are some of the factors that affect the real-world range of a vehicle.

Aggressive Driving

With the instant torque that an electric motor provides, it's tempting to accelerate quickly from a stationary position, but the surges of power from aggressive driving puts strain on the battery. High-speed driving also reduces range. As with a gas-powered vehicle, fuel efficiency declines in electric vehicles at excessive speeds, because the motor is working harder to overcome increased wind resistance (drag).

Ambient Temperature

EV batteries are more efficient in moderate temperatures. Extreme temperatures can affect the car's range by an average of 12%. Batteries hold a charge less easily when in freezing temperatures, while excessive heat can lead to the battery's coolant system working overtime, drawing energy from the battery. Before buying an EV, look to see if it has battery warming and/or cooling technology.

Cabin Temperature

Auxiliary vehicle functions, such as air conditioning and heating account, for roughly a third of an EV's total energy consumed. While gas-powered vehicles can draw heat from the vehicle's engine to heat the cabin, electric vehicles need to have separate heaters, often using resistive heating. More recent models use heat pumps, which are far more efficient at regulating cabin temperature.

Driving Patterns

Unlike gas-powered vehicles, EVs are more efficient in city driving than in highway driving, as a gas-powered engine continues burning gasoline while “idling” in stop-and-go traffic, while an EV's electric motor truly is idle, consuming no energy while the vehicle isn't moving. EVs also use regenerative braking to recapture energy while braking in that same traffic. Thus, tests that only measure EV range in highway conditions, such as those of Car and Driver and InsideEVs, do not reflect the real-world conditions of most electric vehicles. For a long-distance trip, however, they are a good measure of the maximum number of miles that an EV can be driven.

Vehicle Age

Lithium-ion batteries lose about 2% of their energy capacity annually. However, that does not necessarily mean a 2.3% annual loss of range. The battery management software in EVs set “total usable energy” in a battery to roughly 80% of the total physical energy capacity of the battery, in part because completely draining the battery degrades the battery more quickly. Over the years, that same software will make more of the total energy capacity available to users in an attempt to keep “total usable energy” nearly the same and maintain as much of the vehicle's original range as possible.

Wheel Size

Due to rolling resistance, it takes more energy to get a larger wheel rolling. Car and Driver conducted a study that concluded that 19-inch wheels lost 10% in fuel efficiency compared to 15-inch wheels. Smaller wheels can increase range, especially in city driving, where stop-and-go traffic involves overcoming rolling resistance more frequently. In highway driving, however, larger wheels cover more ground once they are in motion.

EV Range FAQs

While the above factors will help you determine your EV's range, you may still have specific questions and concerns on your mind. Here are some of the most common queries.

Q: Will “range anxiety” ever go away?

A. Hopefully not. Concern that the vehicle you are driving runs out of fuel—whether gas or electricity—is not unreasonable, but it's reduced by the increasing availability of EV charging stations and by the fact that most current EVs have ranges exceeding 200 or even 300 miles. What is worth considering is how often you take trips beyond the estimated range of the vehicle. The average American commute is just under 40 miles/day. With the money you save from owning an EV, it might be cheaper to rent a car for the few long-range trips you take each year.

Q. Why isn't there an EV with 1000-mile range?

A. Well, there is. Released in 2021, the three-wheeled, futuristic Aptera claims to be the world's first 1000-mile electric vehicle. But conventional electric vehicles are limited by the weight of current batteries. The energy density of batteries continues to improve, but there will always be a trade-off between weight and range.

Q. How do I know how efficient my driving is?

A. Rather than miles per gallon, EV fuel efficiency is usually measured in miles per kWh. (A kilowatt-hour is the unit of energy used.) An average EV can get 3 miles per kWh. On most EVs, this number can be displayed on your control panel or touchscreen. If your EV records trip histories, it often includes the miles/kWh for each trip. Some EV efficiency measurements are reversed as kWh/100 miles. Just remember that in that case, the lower the number of kWh, the more efficient the vehicle.

Q. What would happen if I run out of battery charge?

A. It's unlikely you'll ever run out of charge. An EV's battery management system can warn you if your battery is getting low and even direct you to the nearest charging station. But if you do run out of fuel, pretty much the same would happen as if you ran out of gas: You would call a tow truck, and the EV would be towed to the nearest charging station instead of the nearest gas station. Many EV drivers also keep charging equipment in their trunks, which allows them to plug into any household electrical outlet. But if you've never run out of gas, you'll probably never run out of charge, either.

Electric car charging in the desert.
Yes, you can even find EV charging stations in the desert.

stellalevi/Getty Images

How to Maximize EV Range

  • Keep your tires properly inflated to reduce rolling resistance and friction.
  • Precondition your car before driving: preheat or pre-cool your car in the morning while it is still plugged in. In the winter, you may then be able to rely only on your seat heater to keep you warm.
  • Keep your battery charged between 20% and 80% to avoid battery degradation and loss of range.
  • Set your cruise control to a reasonable, legal speed. High speed and sudden acceleration put more strain on a battery.
  • Park in a garage if you can, especially in extreme temperatures. If you cannot, park in the shade in the summer and in the sun in the winter.
  • To reduce drag, remove any unnecessary weight from the vehicle and close the windows at higher speeds.
  • Allow your car to slow itself down using regenerative braking. Sudden or harsh braking engages the disc brakes and does nothing to increase your range.
  • Take advantage of “economy mode,” which can increase range by limiting acceleration rates and by engaging regenerative braking more assertively.
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