Renewable Journal

How much range do you get on a single charge? – Renewable Journal for 9/27/2014

The way I drive my Nissan Leaf I get about 90 miles on a single charge, but it varies.

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FAQ #2: How much range do you get out of a single charge?

Since I bought my 2014 Nissan Leaf in June I’ve got about 90 miles per charge. But as with driving most gas or diesel-fueled cars, my range can vary quite a bit depending on the way I drive and the weather outside.

For example, jackrabbit starts reduce range. So does driving over about 50 or 60 MPH. But both things reduce the range on a petroleum-fueled car too. The same laws of physics – overcoming inertia and overcoming wind resistance – apply to any vehicle. The difference is that, when you have a car that goes 300 miles on a single tank of gas, you notice that reduced range less than you do when you’re in a car that goes 90 miles on a single charge.

And Nissan spent a lot of effort reducing the curb weight, lowering the rolling resistance of the tires, and sculpting the body of the Leaf in order to increase the range as much as possible, given the available battery technology.

Running the AC and the heat reduces the Leaf’s range too. In the case of a petroleum car the AC reduces range (power is pulled from the engine to run the compressor), although there is plentiful heat in a petroleum engine to run the heater without affecting range. In the Leaf, the heat and the AC are the only two non-drive systems that run on the main propulsion battery instead of the 12V battery, and so using either will reduce range. Thankfully, your new range is recalculated immediately upon turning on (or off) either the AC or the heater, so you know how much your range drops right away and you can choose to turn it off or turn it down if you want to. And there’s a way to avoid using the heater – heated seats and a heated steering wheel that run of the 12V battery instead.

Other things that affect the Leaf’s range is driving in traffic and on flat vs. hilly terrain. Traffic tends to keep your speed down, so you lose less electricity to wind resistance and you get a lot of regenerative braking. In addition, you can put the Leaf into what Nissan calls “Eco” mode. This mode limits the responsiveness of the electric motor in order to essentially smooth out and slow your starts. It essentially makes a jackrabbit start impossible, which is where the Leaf seems to lose most of its range. I suspect that other electric cars have similar features, but I have to admit I don’t know that for sure.

As for the terrain, going up a hill uses a lot of charge, but being able to coast down the hill with the brakes regenerating charge the whole way recovers a lot. So at the moment hillier terrain seems to be friendlier to my Leaf’s range than flat terrain. There have been a couple of points where I was going down a steep enough hill that I gained six miles of range by the time I’d gone one mile because I was regenerating the whole way down.

Finally, I like to drive in “Brake” mode, which maximizes regenerative braking over standard “Drive” mode. It’s led to a few interesting moments on the highway between home and work when I took my foot off the accelerator and started slowing as if I was braking (the car was, but my brake pedal was not) but without the brake lights lighting up. I could see the risk of being rear-ended going up slightly in Brake mode vs. Drive mode, so I’m a bit more careful about it on the highway than I used to be. I haven’t seen the same issue in traffic, though – drivers seem to expect that cars in front of them can slow down without the brakes lights turning on.