Electric car range: how being efficient can maximise your range

Constantly concerned about running out of charge in an electric car? Follow these tips to maximise how far you can travel between plugs

James Wilson
Jul 27, 2021

Have your sights set on an electric car? You'll have no doubt heard many of the pros and cons that come with plug-in motoring, including question marks over electric car range. It's true, electric cars can't travel as far after a full charge as typical petrol or diesel cars can with a full tank, and while that could be a genuine concern if you're covering hundreds of miles per day, anyone covering less than 100 miles a day shouldn't have too many issues - especially if you know all the tricks to maximise your car's electric range. 

The problem of range anxiety is slowly being addressed, as there are increasing numbers high-range electric cars available now including the Jaguar I-Pace and Hyundai Kona Electric that claim to be able to reach almost 300 miles on one charge, according to official figures - although you can expect closer to 250 miles on real roads. The fact is, electric cars are gradually becoming more capable with each new release as manufacturers innevitably get to grips with this new technology.

You don't have to spend big money to give your mileage a boost though, we are talking about increasing your real-world range by changing the way you drive, not only making the electricity you pay for go further and reducing your charging bills, but you'll spend less time charging your car in the first place.

There is a raft of techniques and technologies that can help increase how long your battery lasts, ranging from the latest high-tech battery-maximising kit to relocating to warmer climes - tongue firmly in cheek, but the warmer temperatures would genuinely help you to get more miles per charge from your battery.

If you're interested in stretching out those electric miles, read on for our expert tips to help increase your electric car's range.

Electric car range: driving style

Intelligent braking

Electric cars come with something called regenerative braking, where the electric motor is used to slow a car down, recharging its battery a little in the process. It's a little bit like selecting a lower gear and having the engine hold you back. However, electric cars also come with traditional braking systems using normal brake pads pressing against brake discs to slow you down –  wasting energy as heat due to the friction involved that could otherwise be recycled by the battery.

Most electric cars use regenerative braking as much as possible for the greatest efficiency, but will also use the traditional brakes under heavy braking. If you want to recapture as much energy as possible you should avoid pressing too often and too hard on the brake pedal and rely on that regeneration whenever you can - unless you have to avoid an unexpected obstacle of course.

To do this, look as far ahead as possible when driving and plan your slowing down so you pump as much energy back into the batteries by not mashing on the brake pedal every time you need to slow down a little. In practice this means lifting off the throttle a little earlier than normal when approaching a roundabout, for instance, or easing off the accelerator ahead of time when approaching a lower speed limit zone, so you don't have to stomp on the brakes to get the car down to the right speed.

Stop stopping

This doesn’t mean flying across every T-junction and ignoring red lights. It means trying to avoid coming to a complete standstill as much as possible, because getting an electric motor turning from rest puts more strain on the batteries than picking up speed from 5mph, for instance. In reality this means keeping the car moving if you're approaching a roundabout and can see no one is coming or keeping moving when joining another road - provided you can see no other cars are there - rather than stopping on a slope and having to do a hill start.

Relaxed acceleration also helps. If you do need to stop at any stage, it's much better to try and pull away gently, reducing the demand it will put on the batteries and getting the absolute most out of your electricy. So when safe to do so, take a more leisurely approach to setting off. Rather than blasting onto a motorway slip road so that you're up to 70mph halfway along, building speed progressively, so that you reach 70mph when you join the main carriageway should use less energy.

Live the slip-stream dream

When driving along, your car is faced by a wall of air which, depending on speed, can cause a fair bit of resistance that your car has to fight through - massively limiting your range. However, when driving on motorways, if you can sit in the wake of another vehicle (preferably a larger one) - albeit far enough back that you can have enough space to slow down if that vehicle slams on the brakes - you can let the vehicle in front do all the hard work, by pushing stationary air out of the way.

This leaves you with ‘clean’ air which is much easier to drive through, therefore helping boost your range, as you car faces less wind resistance.

Electric car range: behaviour

Put your car on a diet

While slimming yourself and/or your passengers down would undoubtedly help maximise your range - as your car has less weight to shift - forcing them to complete a pre-journey workout might be a tad extreme. What you can do though, is make sure you are only carrying around the necessities and not lugging a load of extra stuff you don't need.

Those four pairs of shoes, five sets of charging cables and supersized bottles of washer fluid that have been rattling around in your boot are dead weight just dragging down your range. Keep the things you don't need at home and you should be able to travel a little further on each charge.

Windows up

Aerodynamics are a large influencer in how efficient a car is at turning energy into miles. Leaving the windows down is a sure-fire way of ruining aerodynamics by turning your car into a rolling parachute, with more energy needed to keep the car moving. So for maximum range, keep those windows up.

Having the windows down at speed is especially inefficient, so if you need to cool the cabin down, put the air-conditioning on for a few minutes. This also drains the battery though, so once the cabin is at a comfortable temperature switching it off again should ensure you don't waste any excessive charge.

On the other hand, if you're stuck in traffic and barely moving, wind resistance will make very little difference to your range, while leaving the air-conditioning on could notably reduce your range. This means a good general rule to boost your range is to drop the windows down at low speeds to cool down and use the air-conditioning briefly at higher speeds.

Consistency is key

Erratic driving is one of the fastest ways to slash your range. If you're constantly zooming away from junctions, slamming on the brakes and screeching around corners you're likely to deplete your battery charge far faster than if you accelerate smoothly, ease off the throttle early and brake gently where needed.

Electric car range: electronics

Optional extras

The sole power source for an electric car is its battery pack, which means the more equipment your car comes with, the more bits of technology there will be to sap charge from the battery. Equipment such as heated seats, climate control and sound systems can shave precious miles off your range, so think about how often you use them.

At the same time, there is no point lugging around equipment you are never going to use, so make sure you only choose the tech you want – this will also save you money on the purchase price. Going for a heavy glass roof and weighty 19-inch alloy wheels instead of the standard 17-inch ones, for example, is likely to slash how far you can travel per charge as these heavy bits of kit require more energy to haul them around.

Electric car range: external

Move to Spain and avoid Iceland

Temperature has a massive impact on electric car range. For example, a 2019 Renault ZOE R110 is claimed to be capable of travelling around 163 miles per charge in a typical summer temperature of 20 degrees celsius.

This falls to around 135 miles when driving in winter in temperatures of -5 degrees celsius. While you cannot control the weather, it becomes all the more important to adjust your driving style for maximising range when outside temperatures plummet.

There are a couple of reasons temperature has such a big impact on range. For one, when it is cold there's more need to use heaters to defrost windscreens and keep the cabin toasty.

The batteries themselves will work less efficiently in cold conditions too as their capacity is reduced. It is for this reason electric cars have systems in place to keep batteries at just the right temperature in colder temperatures. These systems require power as well though, so their impact on actual range is debatable.

Routine maintenance

Tyre pressures are the unsung hero of the motoring world. Keep them at the right level and your car will offer maximum grip and improved economy compared with lower pressures.

Fail to keep an eye on your tyre pressures, though, and you can expect them to drop over time, increasing the amount of friction when driving, which in turn means the car requires more energy to travel at a set speed and returns reduced range - if you've ever ridden a bycicle with flat tyres, you'll know how much effort you need to put in to keep those wheels turning.

Underinflated tyres make it harder for your wheels to turn and therefore require more electricity to get moving. At the same time, underinflated front tyres put more strain on steering components, which in electric cars are electrically assisted. This means more energy will be used to steer the front wheels, again contributing to a reduced range.

There are other important areas to check on your electric car to make sure range isn’t hampered. Chief of which is the brakes. If these are binding (stuck on when they shouldn’t be) a chunk of your battery capacity will be wasted on overcoming the extra braking force.

Electric car range: navigation and efficiency

Spend a little and save a lot (or probably more like a little)

There are a growing number of cars available with intelligent sat-nav and driver assistance technology which is designed to help motorists achieve the best economy.

This includes features such as traffic sign recognition which can then suggest the optimal time to lift off the accelerator so your car can naturally slow down to the new speed limit without having to use the brakes and those that score your driving and show how efficiently you're driving, highlighting any areas for improvement.

At the same time, there are sat-nav systems which work in tandem with a range of cameras and sensors (often adaptive cruise control as well) to analyse the road ahead and ensure that your car is driving in the most efficient manner.

Electric car range: charge whenever possible

Recharge whenever you can

While charging your car seems a little obvious for increasing range, it is nonetheless the most effective way of doing so - especially if you can build this into your routine. If you go to the supermarket, try to find a space which comes with a charge point as many retail areas now offer charging spaces to help entice electric car owners to their shops.

Furthermore, electric cars charge fastest when the battery is neither nearly empty nor nearly full. That means that charging for half an hour every 100 miles or so should add more charge back to the battery for a car capable of covering 250 miles per charge than charging for an hour every 200 miles.

While all the above may make it sound like getting the most from an electric car is a chore, it is no more so than trying to do the same in a petrol or diesel car. In fact, thanks to the lack of engine noise and automatic gearbox that comes with all plug-in cars, driving an electric car is arguably more relaxed, so lends itself to efficient driving.


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