How much range do you really need?
This might seem like a simple question, but when you dive into it a little bit you realize that it gets complicated quickly. Most of what we're going to share with you now is a result of the experience gained by owning electric vehicles and years of situations that taught us what we needed... and what we didn't need when it came to vehicle range.
While there are no universal rules for this, we understand that many readers might want a quick answer. And, while this isn’t a perfect answer, it is a quick one:
Buy an EV with at least double the rated range compared to your expected daily needs.
What is range exactly? Well, if you think about a gas or diesel vehicle, its range is determined by the size of the fuel tank, and how efficiently the vehicle uses that fuel when traveling down the road.
An EV isn't any different. Range is the distance the vehicle can travel based on how much energy will fit inside the battery pack it is and how efficiently the vehicle uses that energy.
Now, before we answer the question of how much range you really need, let's dive into the details that, as we mentioned, make figuring that out complicated. There are many different variables that can affect the real world distance you can travel, however three variables more than any affect the efficiency of electric vehicles:
temperature, terrain, and throttle control.
These are the three biggest factors and therefore the ones on which we'll focus.
When it comes to affecting the efficiency of an electric vehicle (and therefore how far you can travel), cold temperature is easily one of the most significant variables. Granted, cold weather affects every vehicle in significant ways, but this is about EVs after all so we'll just pretend like internal combustion engine vehicles don't exist for a bit. The point here is that some of these things aren't new or specifically unique to EVs.
First, colder air is denser and therefore harder to push out of the way. This is especially noticeable at higher speeds where aerodynamic efficiency plays a larger role. Air is a fluid, not "nothingness", and driving a vehicle through colder air will require more energy usage (than in warmer temperatures) and negatively affect how far you can travel with a limited amount of energy.
Additionally, because the the air is more dense, your tire pressures will be lower. Lower tire pressure means that more surface area of the tire will be in contact with the road and cause more rolling resistance. This also will use more energy and negatively affect range.
The topography of your drive also plays a large role in your efficiency. If you are traveling through hills and mountains, or even a gradual uphill slope, expect to have your vehicle be driving less efficiently than if you were on a flat surface. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with and fighting against it is energy consuming!
Every EV driver has a choice when they start their drive: go far, or go fast. There is limit to the amount of energy in the battery pack (even if it is a larger one) and as a result, the way that energy is used ultimately means that you can either choose to drive efficiently and maximize the distance traveled, or you can drive fast and accelerate quickly.
Aggressive driving styles aside, one of the most fun aspects of driving an EV is feeling the acceleration. So just keep your own driving preference in mind when you are choosing an EV. If you like to go fast and accelerate quickly, you may want to choose a vehicle with a larger rated range.
Figuring Out Your Needed Range
As you can probably guess, the actual answer to this question is going to change from person to person. So to make it simple, we'll look at US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration's They say that the average person in the U.S. travels just under 40 miles a day or a total of 14,500 miles in a year.
These daily trips are for commuting to and from work, running errands, and social visits. Naturally, daily mileage changes depending on where you live. People living in rural areas tend to drive much more than those living in urban cities. The significant point we're trying to drive home here is that you probably need a lot less range than you think you do.
Assuming that you can charge your car overnight and only travel 40 miles per day, nearly every single electric vehicle on the market (new and used) would fit your needs for the most part. In fact, 90% of the daily travel needs for most people could be handled by nearly any electric car... assuming it was able to perform according to its mileage rating.
The problem is that most EVs will not hit their EPA rating because of the variables we listed. So we'll end by giving a few recommendations. To figure out how much range you'll need in an EV, keep an eye on how many miles you drive per day. Track this for a week or more to get a basic understanding of your driving habits. Then, look up where charging is around where you live, work, and play. If you ever need a public charger in a pinch, it's good to know where they are located. Web sites like plugshare.com are a great resource.
Next, think about your edge case trips, maybe how many times you drive longer distances out of town or on road trips. If you do this one or two times per year, like many people, then perhaps a rental car for those trips would be a good idea and an EV for all of your other trips would make the most sense.
You probably don't need as much range as you think you do, but keep in mind that having more range isn't going to hurt.
Keeping Real World Range In Mind
While there’s too much to write about on this for this article, be sure to check out our other article about real world range. It’s often below the range the EPA estimates. Things like steep hill climbs, poor weather, and higher travel speeds can all add up to reduced range.
Whatever you do, don’t assume that an EV with 220 miles of rated range will really go 220 miles in all circumstances. Be sure to read some of our other articles to learn more on this!