What Happens If You Run Out of Power While Driving an EV?

    Some buyers still struggle with "range anxiety" when considering an electric car

    Electric vehicle icon that is filled only partially with red indicating a low battery. Illustration: iStock

    If you’re in the market for a new car and trying to decide between a car with a traditional internal combustion engine or an electric vehicle, you’re not alone. A record number of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are set to debut by the end of 2024. But some consumers still struggle with range anxiety when it comes to electric cars and often ask the question: What happens if an EV runs out of power while driving?

    “Running out of power in an EV is not the same thing as running out of gas in a car with an internal combustion engine,” says Alex Knizek, an auto engineer at Consumer Reports. “Your only option is to get towed to the nearest charger.”

    AAA ran a roadside assistance program years ago where some of its trucks were equipped with level 2 and even DC-fast chargers, and they could provide enough of a charge to get you to the nearest charger, says Knizek. But few people used the program and it wasn’t a practical solution, so they phased it out. However, as EVs become more common we wouldn’t be surprised to see these types of programs resurface. That said, an EV won’t just stop without advanced warning. Drivers get plenty of heads-up when the battery runs low, and if it’s low enough, the car will reduce propulsion power. Some EVs will even have the navigation system display the closest public chargers and guide you there. 

    Range anxiety can be a powerful motivator for keeping a fair amount of power on reserve, just in case. There are also phone apps, like PlugShare, that work in the same way. And each network, like ChargePoint and Electrify America, has its own app. EVs with built-in navigation systems will often show an estimated level of remaining battery charge when the vehicle arrives at a destination.

    For daily use, even this is becoming far less of a concern as the range increases with newer models. There are hardly any new EVs that have less than a 250-mile range. (See CR’s full list of the range for today’s EVs.)

    If range anxiety is preventing you from considering an EV, another good option is a plug-in hybrid. You can use electric around town, usually for 25 to 35 miles, and gasoline for longer trips. The gas engine also serves as a safety net for those who are worried about being stranded in an EV. These effectively split the difference between a regular hybrid and a pure electric vehicle.

    This article has been adapted from an episode of Talking Cars.