Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My first real taste of range anxiety

The first thing you realize once you begin life with an EV is the simple fact that the vehicle has a limit on how far you can drive before the need to "refuel" or recharge. "Of course it does," you say. "I know how 100% electric cars work. You charge the batteries and you can drive until they have no power left to move the car, everybody knows that!" Yeah you're right, it is that simple. But until you actually drive an EV and you watch the battery charge gauge steadily go down as you drive you really don't know what it is to have only a set distance you can go. You don't know what "range anxiety" is unless you look at your gauge and it tells you you can only go 20 more miles but you're 30 miles from your home. Then it hits you, "Oh crap, I'm not going to make it!" In regular cars, when the tank is low, it's no problem. Just stop at a gas station and fill up and you're good to go. Until there are public charging stations readily available in convenient locations, EVs will have a difficult time gaining widespread acceptance until they greatly extend the range the cars can go on a single charge. My MINI can travel up to 130 miles on a single charge but 100 to 110 miles is a more realistic range with a mix of city and highway driving. 100 miles a charge is more than enough for the majority of the population for their usual everyday use. But how about when you want to take a day trip? Remember, if the range is 100 miles you can only go 50 miles from your starting point because you still have to get back home. Personally, I believe that a range of 175 to 200 is necessary for many people to consider buying an EV. That's not to say that I think if tomorrow a four seat sedan with a 100 mile range came out that it wouldn't sell, because I think it would. However, most of the purchasers would have at least one other car in the family so they could use the EV for most of the daily commuting and errands, but still have the other car for long drives.

That brings us to last night and my first real range anxiety. If you read my last entry, you know my wall charger failed the electrical inspection because of a lack of UL approval, so I'm stuck using a 110V, 12amp "emergency" charger. The problem with this is the 110V charger is very slow and takes over 30 hours to fully charge the car as compared to about 4 hours for the wall charger.  That means, nstead of leaving in the morning with the car 100% charged, it's only at 60 or 70% which limits how far I can drive that day. I could just use the car every other day and then it would be 100% when I left in the morning, but after driving it for the past two months, I want to drive it every day.  That means I have to plan my day to make sure I'm not going to have to drive further than it will go. So yesterday, I left with 74% charge which should get me about 80 miles tops because much of my driving was going to be highway driving. I was only going to have to go about 63 miles which is round trip from my home in Chester to my business in Montclair, so I should have no problem. However, during the day there was a problem at a building in Oradell that I am a partner and I had to go there. The building is about 18 miles from Montclair so I just added 36 miles to my daily total which would bring me to about 100 miles, twenty more than I could probably make. Not the end of the world though because I still have the 110v charger and I can plug in anywhere the cable will reach so my plan was to go to Oradell and back, and then plug in for seven or eight hours and I'd have just enough to make it home. Ah, the best laid plans of mice & men... I needed to stay in Oradell for much longer than I thought I would have to and I got back to Montclair at 5:00, so I had only five hours to charge up since we close at 10:00 and I really didn't want to have to stay later just to wait to charge up. At 10:00, I checked the charge gauge and I was at 27%, just about enough to make it home if I drove carefully, didn't use the A/C and didn't speed. Since I didn't want to wait, I started out on my journey. I decided to take an alternate route home, one that doesn't have much highway driving as opposed to my usual route that is about 60% highway driving. It was late and the roads were empty, so I could drive slowly which really extends the range. As I began my journey, the charge meter went down much faster than I expected it to. After only 5 miles, with 26 miles to go, I was down to 16% which could take me about 20 miles. The problem with the charge meter is sometimes if you check your charge level when you just unplug, it may give you a slightly higher reading than what you really have and I should have waited a little before checking it. So now the range anxiety really kicked it, and for the first time I really didn't think I would make it. Luckily the roads were empty and I was able to drive really slowly, averaging only 35mph. When I was about 6 miles from home the range and battery charge meter both hit zero and I figured any second the car would just shut off and I'd be calling my wife to come and pick me up. She already thinks I'm crazy, this would confirm it. As luck would have it I was able to drive the final 6 miles on "empty" and limp into my garage, plug in and go to sleep. Just another day of zero emission driving.

I have to admit, it wasn't fun at the end. I had that feeling at the pit of my stomach that you get when you know something bad is about to happen and you can't stop it. I got lucky and made it but I learned a few things. First, MINI must have known that there would be idiots like me pushing the car further than they should so they must have designed the batteries to go for some miles even after the gauge reads zero, kind of like a reserve tank. Second, until I have my wall charger functional and leave the house with 100% charge, I cannot push it like I did last night. I'll just take my other car that day. (Poor me, I'll have to drive the Porsche!) And lastly, the best thing I learned was how amazingly quiet and peaceful the car is to drive. While I was driving at night, with the roads empty and the windows open, all I could hear was crickets as I drove. I knew the car was quiet, I've been driving it for two months now, but this is the first time I drove it with no other cars on the road at all. Usually, I have the radio on and the windows open so I get the wind noise plus the sounds of the other cars engines so it really isn't much quieter than driving an internal combustion engine vehicle. This was different. Driving slowly, 30 to 40mph with the windows open you don't get much wind noise and without the other cars it was so peaceful, almost surreal. It was like the recent Will Smith movie where everyone was gone and he was the last survivor walking around a quiet New York City alone. It's hard to explain, but as I was driving I had really good feeling knowing I was doing my part to help bring zero emission vehicles like the MINI-E to mass production, at least until the range anxiety kicked in...


  1. Tom, when you get the time take a drive through Jockey Hollow Park. Roll down the windows and as you silently crusie at 15mph enjoy the sound of nature - wonderful

    By the way - welcome back to the 110 club ;)


  2. Thanks for the welcome Chris, but I hope you understand when I say that I don't want to remain a member for long.

  3. Tom,

    The 240, 36 amp charger will change your world. I have to admit that I am a bit envious because your 12 month lease does not start until your are good to go with the fast charger.

    Anyway, Mini-E 183 with 2900 miles, every day is groundhog day in the sense that I wake up and there is 100% SOC ready to go :)

    Thanks for writing!


  4. Yes, Peder these first two months have been free so I can keep it at least 14 months if I want. I do suspect that Mini will offer extended leases for some of us that want to keep it longer anyway so you may have that opportunity also. Thanks for checking in here.


  5. When you are trying to get every mile out of your battery, even at 35 mph, you would go a lot further with the windows up! Sorry to snark, thanks for the story.

  6. Tom - great post.I had a similar experience the very first day with my Mini E, as it turned out I had a faulty PEU (which has since been replaced and everything is fine now), and #156 refused to take a charge when I got here home the first time from the dealer. The next day it looked like I had plenty of charge, but at that time I didn't know how quirky the charge/range indicator could be, or how FAST you drain juice on the freeway. By the time I got to the dealer, i was firmly in the "-----" zone - drove it that way for 3 miles. I've read some posts that esimate the reserve range is something like 10 miles, but the last few miles would be limited to 10 mph (which is suicide in SoCal). Needless to say I won't be testing those limits . . .