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Low Electric Car Battery: What Can You Do to Make It Home?

Smart EV

A low electric car battery can be an instant source of anxiety for any driver who finds themselves caught many miles from the nearest charging station. Unlike a gas-powered car, you can’t simply fill you EV’s battery with a jerry can of electrons should you run out of power on the side of the road. What can you do in this kind of stressful situation? Check out these tips to help you make it home safe and sound, even with a low battery.

Lighten the Electrical Load

Start by slowing down. The faster you drive, the more power it requires to maintain speed. Stick to the speed limit (or even a little under) but don’t impede traffic. Turn off anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. No radio, no climate control system, no heated seats. Try to get down to just the basics to drive safely. Every little bit of power savings helps. Everything in an electric car runs off battery power and right now you need that battery power to turn the wheels. Running the air conditioning powers not only the climate control fan, but also the air conditioning compressor motor drawing precious battery life. Don’t skimp on safety though so keep the headlights on at night and windshield wipers going in the rain.

EV charging stationMaximize Your Regenerative Charging

A low electric car battery can often be charged just enough to get you to the next charging station through the careful use of your vehicle’s regenerative braking systems. Electric cars are capable of using the brakes, not just to slow down, but also to convert the kinetic energy of the automobile into electricity, which is then fed directly into the battery.

The best way to do this in a low battery situation is by gently riding the brakes as you coast down hills, all while keeping the car moving at as high a speed as possible. If you can, strategically plan your route to include as many downhill sections as you squeeze in, and if you do have to bring the vehicle to a complete halt make sure to do it as slowly as possible to maximize the amount of time spent braking.

If your vehicle has one-pedal driving mode, use it. This is the most effective way to accelerate and decelerate while also recapturing energy through regenerative  braking. You will need to adjust your driving style to make the most of the system. Acceleration is like normal, but coming to to a slow stop is the challenge. Ease off the accelerator pedal to allow the regenerative braking to activate. The idea is to not use the brake pedal (unless necessary to stop quickly) and let the regenerative braking bring the vehicle to a long stop. You will need to give yourself plenty of stopping room so no tailgating. If an emergency arises though, don’t hesitate to use the normal brake pedal. Stopping safely is more important that regenerating power.

Find The Closest Charging Station ASAP

When you are stuck between your normal routine charging stations, you need to find other options. Some electric vehicles have a built-in charging station locator included with the infotainment system.  If you are lucky enough to have that option, just let it navigate you to the nearest electric oasis. One of the most popular and easiest ways to find a charging station is to use an app on your phone like PlugShare. This app identifies public charging stations around you, even ones in residential areas. Once you create an account and specify what kind of vehicle you drive, PlugShare will help you find compatible chargers nearby.

Think Outside the Box

There might not be any charging stations nearby, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any electrical outlets. If you have a portable charger a low electric car battery can be brought back to life using a simple 110-volt household outlet in pinch — it just takes significantly longer. Fortunately, you don’t have to top off your entire battery, you just need to fill it to the point where you have enough range to get back home, or to the nearest 220-volt or higher charging point.

There are plenty of options when it comes to finding an 110-volt plug you can use for a few hours. Gas and service stations are the most obvious solution, but if you are in a more rural area then a campground would also be a good pick. Big box stores like Walmart often have outside electrical connections that you might be able to use, and even a local restaurant might be willing to run an extension cord out into the parking lot for you if you spring for a meal to pass the time while your vehicle charges. Or maybe ring up any friends or family in your area to see if they can spare a plug.

Park It

If things are looking bleak, it is best to go ahead and find a safe place to park before the battery goes totally dead. You don’t want to run out of juice in the middle of the street or in a deserted area. Find a safe place to secure the vehicle and arrange for a tow truck to transport it to a charging station. Don’t feel bad, it isn’t much different than running out of gas and can happen to anyone. After a good proper recharge you will be happily rolling again.

Check out all of the batteries available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to deal with a low electric car battery, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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