What is range?

Quite simply, it’s how many miles the car will go, in one full charge.

The official figure given by manufacturers is the WLTP range (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure), which is the method used to test all new cars in Europe. This test was introduced to better replicate real-world driving conditions, in the hope of giving a more accurate range for petrol and diesel and electric vehicles, however in reality this official figure is usually higher than the reality of what most drivers would achieve.

The reason for the disparity is simply because people drive differently, use different amounts of battery, and there are only so many real-world situations that the test can aim to replicate, and in reality, most drivers will start and stop more, and change speeds more, and thus use up a little more juice.

However, it’s still an excellent figure to show what can be achieved, and most importantly, to simply compare one model against another, to see which has the higher range within similar price points.

And if you buy one, just remember that you’re unlikely to have as many miles distance available to you as the offical WLTP range suggests, but the amount of range left in your electric car will always be shown, so you’ll know where you’re at, and be able to top-up if needed on a long journey.

What affects the range of an electric car?

Here are the main things that impact battery range:

  • How fast you accelerate
  • Your average speed
  • The weight of the vehicle
  • How many passengers you carry
  • How much you use the electrics e.g. heating, air con, lights
  • The type of road you drive on
  • The weather conditions
  • The type/condition of tyres you have
  • And if there has been much battery wear

Sometimes when people are new to electric cars they can be horrified that the range would be affected by such factors, but in reality, the same thing happens with petrol and diesel engines. When there is more weight, and systems being used, more energy is required.

Do electric cars lose range over time?

Just like petrol and diesel cars, an electric vehicle’s power source becomes less efficient over time, and this leads to less range.

However, it’s not at all as bad as some people fear. A study on battery range found that a Tesla Model S still had 82% of its battery capacity after 300,000 miles. And given that the average amount of miles driven in the UK each year has been calculated as 7,400 miles, then most electric car drivers will only lose a tiny amount of range over the time they own the car.

An electric car is like a mobile phone, in that it’s electric, battery-powered, and a good idea to charge it overnight. However, the battery degradation in mobile phones is severe, and after two or three years the battery capacity may greatly reduce. This is not the case for electric cars, the decline in the ability to hold charge will be very minimal.

Furthermore, it’s possible to conserve your battery capacity in how you look after, drive, and charge your electric car…

How do I get the most range?

The easiest way to have a high range is to buy an electric car with a bigger battery. This obviously means you’ll have more miles at your disposal, and range will become less of a concern. This is definitely worth doing if you drive very long distances regularly, as you’ll want to avoid topping-up en route as much as possible, because it can take time to top-up (say half an hour) and while some public charging is free, others can be quite expensive (well, more expensive than overnight charging at home).

Do I need a car with a long range?

Probably not. Cars with long ranges can be rather to very expensive, and for most people they just aren’t necessary. If you do an average amount of miles (the UK average is 20 miles a day) then a medium range or low range electric car offers you more than enough.

The majority of modern EVs now offer a range of somewhere between 130-300 miles, while the longest-range electric cars go up to 400 miles. So, for local or mid-distance driving, the lower end of the range scale will have you more than covered for several days to a week. And as it’s best to charge overnight, every night or regularly, many electric car owners now have much more range than they actually really need.

How do I conserve my range?

Regenerative braking

One of the best things about electric cars is their regenerative braking systems. When you brake or take your foot off the accelerator, it powers a generator which replenishes the battery with charge and thus range.

You can usually set the electric car to have regenerative braking on as strong as possible, or to set it to an efficiency driving mode, which is essentially the same thing.

The only thing is that it can take some getting used to, as the resistance it creates means you feel yourself slowing down much faster than you would in a petrol or diesel car, when the regenerative braking is set high. However, a counter benefit to this is that you can get used to one-pedal-driving, where the resistance means you usually won’t need to use the brake, and you can simply control the car’s acceleration and braking with the accelerator pedal, which allows for a more relaxed and easy drive, which also give you more range.

Gentle acceleration and a steady speed

This is another way to conserve range. If you try to hit 60mph as fast as you can, it will drain the battery, as it would for a petrol or diesel car. A more civilised approach to acceleration will help to use less battery charge.

Equally, driving at a reduced speed will help to converse battery. Going from an average speed of 50mph to an average speed of 70mph can increase power usage by 25%. Therefore, steady driving at a modest speed will make a large difference over a long journey, as a single-speed transmission has to work harder to reach and maintain higher speeds. 

Smart charging

Look after your battery and your battery will look after you. The best way to do this, is to usually only charge to 80%, as charging to 100% puts strain on the battery, and if done regularly will lead to degradation.

When you charge at home you’ll be able to set the smart charger to only charge to 80%, which keeps the battery cells nicely relaxed and temperatures cool. Charging to 100% is only necessary if you’re doing a very long journey and you want to use as much of your range as possible before topping-up.

Equally, try to not let the range dip lower than 20%, which also starts to work the battery harder. Between 80% and 20% is the ideal range of charge.

Avoid energy drain where you can

Using the heating and air con will use up battery power, however a smart trick to minimise this is to do it in the last stages of charging (which can be pre-programmed along with the amount of charge and time to be ready, on your home smart charger. For example, to set your car to be 80% charged and nice and warm for 8am when you’ll leave the house in the morning). The electric car then uses less battery power to maintain a warm or cool temperature, than it does to reach it.

Or another option for heating is to add a heat pump, which will minimise drain, as it can take heat generated from the battery pack and channel it into the passenger cabin. And usually electric car heat pumps can also cool as well.

Another trick is to just heat yourself (or just the passengers in the car) and not the whole cabin, by only using the heat vents that you need to, which will reduce the amount of power you use.

And finally, driving on flat or flatter roads also helps to use less battery power. So, if you can avoid driving up steep winding and curving hills, then it will benefit your range. However, if you can’t, don’t worry too much, as going downhill will actually benefit you.

Find the right electric car for you

On our site you can find out the range of every electric car, along with more detailed battery and range information, and compare choices against each other, to help you to decide which one is right for you.

If you’d like a shortlist of options that fit your needs and wants, then just use our ‘Find your electric car’ tool, which is quick and easy tool to help you get a shortlist of electric cars that would suit you.