One of the first questions many people ask when shopping for an EV is, “What’s the range?”

Because of the time involved with charging and the sometimes difficult process of finding an open one, EV range is a number worth scrutinizing more than horsepower, 0-60 mph times, and styling. What does that range number mean, and how will it impact your ownership experience?

We’re here to help with this overview of range and some of the electrified terms you should know about. Let’s get going.

What Is Range?

An electric vehicle’s range is the distance it can travel between charges, and while that might not sound all that exciting, the range estimate is one of the most important specs on the EV’s window sticker. Estimates are calculated based on a fully charged battery, the EPA (in the U.S.) tests vehicles across a broad range of driving situations. It evaluates EVs on highways, city streets, and in hot and cold weather. The range numbers from each scenario are then weighted to approximate average vehicle use.

Range estimates have climbed significantly over the years, with some exceeding 500 miles per charge. That said, the EPA found that the median EV range landed at 270 miles last year. At the top of the spectrum is the Lucid Air, which offers up to 516 miles on a single charge, while models like the Mazda MX-30 with 100 miles of range and the Mini Cooper SE with 114 miles of range bring up the rear of the pack.

WLTP Versus EPA Estimates

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates EV range and creates an estimate based on its testing. The EPA’s range estimates are based on a full battery and are completed in a laboratory on a dyno to simulate real-world driving conditions. That said, it’s important to note that the tests can’t truly capture real driving situations because they are conducted at room temperature in a controlled environment. Additionally, dyno testing with one person in the car doesn’t account for other passengers, cargo, and other variables.

Because so many automakers sell the same or very similar models in Europe and the U.S., it’s common to see WLTP range estimates, especially if the vehicle was released in Europe first. Short for Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure, WLTP evaluations are run at higher speeds.

See the two linked articles above for detailed discussions about EPA and WLTP range.

What Impacts Range

EV range can be a fickle thing, varying wildly from one situation to the next. One of the things that impacts the most is the driver’s behavior. Overall driving speed, hard acceleration, and other aggressive driving can have a significant negative impact on an EV’s range. Similarly, hill driving can drain the range, and using an EV to tow can cut its range by up to half, depending on the load.

The outside temperature also impacts range, and using the vehicle’s climate control system can amplify the effect. Cold weather slows the chemical reactions within the battery and can impact its ability to hold a charge. It can also slow charging, though many vehicles have conditioning systems that heat the battery to the ideal temperature.

Batteries lose capacity over time, though the rate is quite slow – around two percent per year. This degradation applies even to vehicles that are only lightly driven. That said, all EVs in the U.S. come with an eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty, and most experts advise that the vehicles last at least 100,000 miles before showing signs of significant battery degradation.

Fast charging and regularly charging the battery to 100 percent can also accelerate battery degradation. EVs have battery management systems that limit charging speeds and capacity to help protect them from wear, but in most cases, it’s best to charge to around 80 percent instead of always charging to the maximum. DC fast charging, which can add a significant amount of range in a short period, should also be used sparingly, as it can contribute to premature battery wear.

Adding Range By Charging

Electric vehicle range concerns, affectionately known as “range anxiety,” aren’t nearly the “sky is falling” issue it was in the early days, as charging speeds have rightfully taken over the conversation. There are currently three levels of charging available, Level 1 charging is done using a standard household outlet and is the slowest of the three. At Level 1 speeds, an EV can take two or more days to charge completely, though PHEVs charge in considerably less time.

Level 2 chargers run at 240 volts, like the outlets clothes dryers use. They are commonly used as “destination” or end-point chargers because they are compact and relatively inexpensive to install. Depending on the model, EVs can usually charge to 80 percent in less than ten hours, and PHEVs can get a meaningful charge in an hour or two.

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, offer a significantly faster charging experience for vehicles that can accept the technology. Some models can charge to 80 percent in as little as 20 minutes, and it’s much faster to charge using Level 3 fully. These chargers are large, loud, and exceptionally expensive, making them impractical for home users and small businesses.

For more basic EV information, check out our EV 101 series of articles here.

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