Should I Charge My Electric Car Every Night?

hand holding car charger near outlet

So, you’re thinking of getting an electric car and are one step closer to eschewing fossil fuels. For potential EV car owners, the empowered feeling can give way to anxiety as they realize they will be driving a very different machine than a gas-powered car.

One of the main questions new EV drivers ask is whether they need to charge their car every night.

The quick answer to this question is no, not necessarily, but read on to understand why, as well as how an EV battery works, along with some helpful tips.

Range Anxiety

This term refers to the feeling that new or potential electric car drivers get about how far they can drive on a single charge, and the subsequent urge to charge their car all the time. It’s a “just in case” attitude, as drivers fear being stranded on the side of the road with a car that has run out of juice.

Electric cars have been around since the 1800s, but have only started to become popular in the early 2000’s. Even with a steady increase in sales and new drivers, the predominant narrative still revolves around how to drive a gas-powered car.

Because they dominate the mainstream, knowledge is more intuitive because of how long they’ve been in our society. You don’t hear about range anxiety when it comes to cars with gas tanks, even though they have their limitations, too, and can leave drivers stranded if they don’t understand how and when to fuel up.

For EV owners, range anxiety can be dispelled easily once someone understands the features of an electric car, how long a charge generally lasts, and why they don’t need to fear running out of a charge any less than they fear running out of gas.

Dashboard Technology and Safety Features

Just as gas cars have signs and gauges on the dashboard to let you know when the tank is getting low, EV’s don’t just run out of battery without giving you lots of notice. Each car will have its own unique display, but all electric cars have the same standard symbols somewhere on the driver’s console.

A low battery symbol will come on when the charge falls between 10-12 percent. At this point, you can switch to eco mode if the car has it, which will reduce power features like propulsion and acceleration to help retain battery life. Just note that performance will be limited.

There will also be an estimated driving distance icon on the dashboard. This estimate depends on a few factors, like how fast you are going, outside temperature, and whether you are city or highway driving. Similar to gas tank mileage estimates, it gives you a good idea of what your parameters are.

Some models also feature technology that will help you find the nearest charging station, and how to get there. New buyers should get a sense of where the nearest local stations are along their regular routes of travel, though, especially when anticipating a long-distance journey.

Map out where power stations are along the way, use reputable apps, and call places to make sure they're available. This will be particularly important in rural and off-grid places.

How Far Can You Get on a Single Charge?

red electric car driving on coastal highway

This answer very much depends on the brand and capability of the electric vehicle itself, as well as driving speed and other conditions, but on average most standard new electric vehicles can go 200-250 miles on a single charge.

The Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf are two of the most popular entry level EV’s, and when tested have a range of around 260 miles per charge. More expensive models from brands like Mercedes and Tesla can offer up to 600 miles per charge.

SUV’s including the Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona get closer to the 300 mile range per charge. Ford’s F-150 Lightning Platinum is the only all-wheel-drive electric truck on the market as of writing this article, and it boasts two battery options capable of 230 and 320 mile ranges, respectively.

Note, that it’s not recommended to charge electric vehicle batteries fully to 100 percent. Once a battery reaches 85-90 percent, charging slows down and can wear out your battery in the long run.

Each vehicle will come with its own specific charging recommendations, but this makes it difficult to come up with a singular answer as to how far an EV can go on a single charge.

How a Battery Is Charged

EV’s can be charged at home with a wall socket or at public charging stations. They all come with a cord that allows you to plug into any standard three-prong electrical outlet.

While this is the slowest way to charge, it’s the most convenient, and means you can find a charging port almost anywhere. On average, one hour of charging gets you around 5 miles of driving with these “level 1” charging ports.

You can install higher capacity 240 volt “level 2” wall chargers at home, much like the ones a dryer uses. One hour of charging gets around 18-30 miles of driving power. These will charge your car faster, and can typically provide a full charge overnight when electricity is cheapest.

Public charging stations offer level 2 or 3 charging and can often be found in public places like grocery stores, hotels, campus parking lots, and airports. Level 3 charging can get you up to 150 miles of driving from one hour of charging.

Some faster charge ports charge a fee, but many of these public stations are free as long as you’re a patron of them. Other public charging ports require a membership depending on the network you are using and what brand of car you drive.

Car manufacturers have been rolling out free charging incentives and programs for new buyers to join their networks, however, so make sure to ask about these when shopping around.

What Affects EV Range?

Interestingly, city driving is more efficient for EV’s when it comes to range. Gas-powered cars almost always perform better on the highway, but electric cars are less efficient the faster they go because of the energy needed to accelerate.

Conversely, EV’s regenerate energy when they break or decelerate, which is why city driving is more efficient. This is important to consider if you are thinking of purchasing an EV and want to know what its range capacity is as highway and city driving will have much different numbers, or EPA.

Cold temperatures also affect how long a battery lasts. Heaters use a lot of electricity, sometimes increasing energy consumption by 30-40 percent, which translates to losing about 50-60 miles of range.

Charging Times

electric car charging at home

The size of the battery pack will ultimately determine charging times, as will the type of charging station being used. Small battery packs are around 30kWh, and larger ones are up to 100kWh.

For easy math, a 100kWh battery can be fully charged in an hour when using a 100kWh charging port. However, there are a few things that affect this calculation.

Your car will have a maximum rate of charge. For instance, if your car is rated at 50kWh, that’s the limit as to the speed of charge it can receive. A 150kWh charger will not exceed 50kWh. However, it won’t hurt the car to plug it into a charger that exceeds its max rate.

Charging is also affected by how full the battery already is, and will slow down as the battery becomes more full. As was mentioned earlier, you don’t necessarily want or need to charge your battery fully, anyway.

Batteries are sensitive to both extreme hot and cold temperatures, and either can affect how fast a battery charges. Some public chargers have a shared port, so if another driver is also charging their vehicle, this may slow down the speed of charging.

EV Efficiency

Gas-powered car efficiency is measured in miles per gallon (mpg), and factors like the size, weight, and engine power of the vehicle will dictate its fuel consumption. EV’s are similarly affected by weight and power, and different electric cars will run longer on a single kWh compared to others.

The main thing that affects efficiency is weight, but not necessarily the power of the battery. Batteries are heavy, so even though larger batteries are more powerful, this doesn’t always translate into being more efficient.

A lighter car with an average battery will generally outperform a larger vehicle with a bigger battery, but to simplify this, look for kWh/ 100-mile ratings to compare.

For example, 35kWh per 100 miles is considered good efficiency for newer vehicles. Technology is rapidly accelerating, however, and performance of EV’s is getting better every year.

Expect to see big changes as the 2023 Lucid Air Pure boasts a whopping 88kWh, and Tesla’s Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor isn’t far behind at 75kWh. Even cheaper models are expected to gain better efficiency toward the 50kWh/100 mile mark.

Tips for Extending Your EV's Battery Life

hand holding car charger

There are a few simple things you can do to maintain the battery over the course of your car’s lifespan.

The main thing is to follow the manufacturer’s specifications on how and when to charge, which mainly insists that you don’t charge your car to 100 percent. This is especially important if your car sits for long periods or is in storage.

Keep it at the “optimum battery state” which is usually between 20 and 80 percent charged. Any more of less will put pressure on the battery to either hold a full charge, or reserve power.

Keep your car out of extreme heat or cold, especially when charging the battery. Your car will use power to maintain its temperature, much like human bodies do. This takes energy and degrades the battery.

Although fast charging may be optimal to use at times, avoid using it regularly. This kind of charging port will put more stress on the battery pack compared to level 1 and 2 charging, and may end up fully charging your car while you shop, for instance, which is not ideal.

Try to only use fast charging when on a road trip, or in an emergency. While it doesn't have a large impact in the short term, it can reduce your car’s battery life by up to 10 percent when used as a regular means of charging. Using the level 1 or 2 charger at home overnight is recommended for almost all electric cars.

Worst-Case Scenario

If you see your battery is low and don’t have enough charge to get to a station, the best thing to do is pull over and call a tow truck. Don't wait for it to completely run out. For peace of mind, subscribe to an annual service like AAA in case you need emergency roadside assistance.

The worst-case scenario is similar to a gas-powered vehicle that has run out of fuel: you have to pull over and wait for a tow truck. Interestingly, triple A had a service where they would bring battery chargers to stranded electric cars, but discontinued the service because of its lack of use.

The same company also did a study and found that electric car owners rarely needed roadside assistance in comparison to gas or diesel-powered car owners. This may be because EV owners have a keen awareness of their battery's charge in the first place, likely due to range anxiety.

The Future of EV Affordability

The most expensive components of EV’s are the batteries. However, the global price has dropped significantly in a ten-year span by 88% from 2010 to 2020, when it went from $1,100/kWh to $130/kWh.

Although supply chain issues in the last two years have changed the forecast and how batteries are being made, the demand is still growing exponentially. This means EV batteries could find an average market price closer to the 100/kWh mark that would finally make the affordability comparable to gas-operated cars.

This is merely the cherry on top of the other things that make EV’s more affordable, like savings on gas and maintenance in comparison to gas and diesel cars. Owning an eco-friendlier vehicle also makes an electric vehicle purchase more advantageous to prospective owners who want to make environmentally conscious choices.

In the end, while you don't necessarily need to charge your car every night, the best way to charge your vehicle is at home on a regular schedule based on driving habits. Dedicated home chargers make it easy to keep an electric vehicle charged and ready to go each night, which can take a lot of the initial worry away from potential EV drivers.

That doesn’t mean you should neglect how an EV car and battery system works, as there are many factors that change how long a battery lasts, but it should help to ease the range anxiety that potential EV drivers might have about making the switch.