There is a lot of talk about range anxiety with battery-electric cars, but the staff at Cars.com only rarely got nervous in their Nissan Leaf… only a couple of times since they purchased it in February. So, curious to test the experience of a dead battery — and Nissan’s promise of free towing for Leaf EV owners who run “dry” — they intentionally set out to drive till it died. Here’s what happened (highlights in video form here and the real nitty-gritty details — plus some interesting additional EV discoveries — below):
“The drive began with the instrument panel predicting about 16 miles of range. All was normal until the range indicator hit 8 miles, began blinking and a voice announced “Low battery charge.”
Other warnings also went off: The Leaf’s main instrument panel also illuminated a red gas pump icon, the trip computer displayed “Battery level is low,” a general warning icon appeared in the upper-tier instrument panel and the touch-screen navi system had a “Low Battery” flag, which you could press to get a full-screen warning and the option to search for charging stations.
I don’t know what more Nissan could have done to warn us, short of a mild electric shock.
At a range of roughly 4 miles, the voice warned, “Very low battery charge. Would you like to search for a nearby charging station?” The range indicator no longer showed a number at all. We had traveled roughly 16 miles, so we were flying blind. The LCD screen popped up a warning with the option to search for a charging station. We hit “yes” and up came Cars.com multimedia editor Eric Rossi’s house 5.9 miles away. The car automatically stored that location the first time it charged there.
But the goal was to kill it, so we stuck to side roads, not wanting to push it off a highway. Moderate speeds and cool weather kept it going, and we began to wonder if our 6.4-liter Hemi Dodge Challenger chase car would run out of fuel first.
But in 4 miles we reached the final milestone, Leaf’s elusive “turtle mode.” The warning voice said, “Power output is being limited.” The trip computer cycled between “Motor power is limited” and “Battery level is low.” And an orange turtle icon appeared front and center.
The power was indeed limited. The Leaf accelerated at a rate of roughly 1 mph per second, so the fastest I ever got it was 30 mph between stop signs. This mode is intended exclusively to get you to the side of the road, not to continue driving. We continued driving. We got more than another mile, finally coming to rest 21.6 miles since the experiment began. It went into Neutral and wouldn’t go back into Drive or Reverse. The lights and instruments stayed on, and the AC continued blowing.
At 3:45 p.m. I phoned roadside assistance and pressed 1 for “dead battery.” A live operator came on and asked all the relevant questions. She said towing was covered under warranty and we would be towed to a Nissan dealer. I asked if we could instead be dropped at Eric’s house 2 miles away. She said yes, anything less than 50 miles is allowed. With my permission, she used my cellphone to pinpoint our location within feet (creepy) and said I’d get a confirmation call soon. Eight minutes had passed since I dialed. At 4 o’ clock a robo-call said the tow truck was an hour away. It actually arrived at 4:40 p.m., installed the Leaf’s front bumper tow hook and winched it onboard. The driver dropped the car off at Eric’s and was gone by 5:27.
From the time we ground to a halt around 3:40 p.m., less than two hours had passed. It was a drag, but it was free and otherwise painless. We think 2 miles short of our destination was a realistic scenario for a driver who misjudges his EV’s range. And it underscored how attractive a roadside recharge would be. With that option, we could have quickly added enough juice to get home. The car never would have been loaded onto the truck, and we’d have shaved another 30 minutes off the experience.
It could have been worse, though. If we weren’t so close to Eric’s house, we would have had to go to a dealer or other Level 2 charging point where the car would have had to remain for a few hours or even overnight. That would have been more inconvenient than any conventional dead battery or empty fuel tank.
A final note: Though we went 21.6 miles at the end, following an estimate of 16 miles, the full range from the previous day’s full charge was 72 actual miles after the car had estimated 108 miles. Some of that driving was on the highway, not the easy lower-speed driving we did during the test, but the weather was close to optimal.
Having definitively tested the actual range as opposed to the Leaf’s estimates, it seems like the EPA-rated range of 73 miles is much closer to reality than is Nissan’s marketing claim of “up to” 100 miles. This has been our suspicion all along. Another interesting side note: After being charged for three hours at Level 1 — the 120-volt charging cord that usually adds up to 5 miles of range per hour — the Leaf estimated only 4 miles, not 15. We must have really run that thing down.”
Article adapted from a post at cars.com. Watch their video!