My electric car ran out of electricity!

electric car turtle mode
Are you thinking of buying a used electric car? If so, the first thing you should check is the condition of the battery. My faithful electric car is almost eight years old and – let’s not beat around the bush – it has lost a fair chunk of its battery capacity since it rolled off the factory line in the Autumn of 2011.

When it was new, its 16 kWh battery pack allowed the car to travel up to 160 kilometres (99 miles) with careful driving, but that was many, many moons ago. Let’s face it, you’d be surprised if your laptop or cellphone battery lasted beyond six years, so eight years (and still going strong!) is a remarkable feat.

But how much battery capacity does my ageing electric car have? This picture tells all:
old electric car battery capacity
Well, according to the EVBattMon smartphone application, my car’s battery now has 36.3 Ah of capacity. When it was brand new in the factory it would have been around 46 Ah, give or take (although officially these cars were listed as 50 Ah). This means I’ve lost around 9.7 Ah in eight years, or 2 percent every year on average. Put into plain English, my eight year old battery has lost 21 percent of its total capacity over the last eight years.

But what does it mean? Is an older, used electric car still useful?

Vychodna

I got to see a lot of Slovakia on the journey.


To find out, I decided to see how far I could drive my eight year old battery pack on one charge. I decided to replicate my daily commute from my house to the city and back as many times as I could before I ran out of electricity.

The result was 122.4 kilometres (69 miles) of relatively easy driving in warm weather. I could have achieved more if I “hypermiled” and maintained a slower, more constant speed, but I wanted to recreate normal driving conditions.

I managed three commuting trips to the city and then back to the suburbs, returning with 1 bar of battery remaining on the battery gauge. Then, I decided to really push my little city car to its true limit; driving around the neighbourhood until “Turtle mode” was activated.

turtle mode after distance test Kiwi EV

Uh oh, it’s “Turtle mode”!


With Turtle mode on, the car became more and more sluggish the further I drove. At first the power was just lowered, but as the battery capacity ran out, the car limited the power to the motor very intensely. Fortunately I was very close to home, so I turned down my street… only to have it run out of power 100 metres from the gate!
electric car charging on street

A very malnourished and hungry electric car.


Fortunately I was able to coast down to my house and stopped within extension cable distance! I’ve run out of gas a few times over the last couple of decades, but this was the first time I’ve ever run out of electricity in more than four years of driving electric cars – and it was kind-of intentional. :)

To see this fascinating test of my old car’s limitations, click on the video below:

Winter!

Rangitoto Island in Auckland City

Well… that’s the opposite of winter

To be fair, the above picture isn’t actually winter. It was taken while Veronika and I enjoyed a trip to New Zealand in December 2015 in order to experience Christmas time in the summer once again – the way Christmas should be.

BMW i3

The BMW i3: just like my car – but with an engine

I also had the opportunity to test-drive a brand new BMW i3 with a range-extended petrol engine built in. It was a comfortable if unremarkable electric car, but it sure has some good acceleration. I wouldn’t mind one if they were more realistically priced and if they came with a bigger battery instead of an old-fashioned internal combustion engine installed. I guess BMW aren’t ready to follow Tesla just yet.

Before long, it was time to leave the warmth and sunshine and head back to Slovakia, which meant learning to drive my electric car in winter.

electric car in the snow

My electric car recharging in the snow.

The cold winter weather meant that I had to effectively learn the characteristics of my car all over again. There wasn’t that much of a difference to be honest, but I’d be lying if I said there was no difference at all. I learned that the car gave me less range in the colder temperatures, though not a huge reduction.

I quickly learned however that using the heater takes a massive chunk out of the range. I mean that little electric heater uses heaps of electricity. So much so, that I think next winter I’ll copy the brilliant idea from Ben Nelson, and install a tiny fuel-sipping “parking heater”. He did a really tidy, professional install of an tap-in heating system which costs almost nothing to run yet heats the cabin of the car brilliantly while using no more electricity than just running the fan. Cool huh?

Another idea to create more space under the tiny hood in the Peugeot iOn / Mitsubishi iMiEV / Citroen C-Zero in order to install a parking heater system is to move the big lead-acid “starter” battery to a different location. And, while you’re at it, get rid of it and put a lightweight lithium battery in it’s place, as Jarkko Santala did here! He also installed a fuel heater in his electric car, along with heaps of other modifications. Both the aforementioned blogs are great reading with lots of pictures. If you like tinkering, then grap a cuppa and check them out!

electric car

Get the cameras ready! It’s time to make a video!

There are endless blogs and research info on the internet about winter affecting electric cars, but as we all know, the best way to learn is through hands-on experience. So I did a few warm weather versus cold weather comparisons which I included in the video at the bottom of this page.

electric assist bike

I’ve wanted one of these for YEARS!

As you can see in the above picture, I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a plug-in hybrid (secret code for an electric-assist bicycle) which is something I wanted for years. Thank you, Christmas bonus!

electric bike

A brand new e-bike!

The only problem was that it was the middle of winter so I couldn’t exactly take it for a spin.

Well, thanks to a planet full of gas cars and coal power stations I only had to wait a couple of days for winter to temporarily end as a freak mid-winter heatwave arrived.

electric bike speedo

Thankfully, our ruined climate meant I could take it for a mid-winter ride!

This meant I was able to go for a nice long ride in a sunny 11°C (52°F) when it should have been -11°C (12°F). Very, very strange indeed.

On one hand I loved being able to ride my bike in the middle of the Slovak winter, but on the other it made me sad because we all know this shouldn’t be happening. We’re really pulling our delicate climate apart.

On a more positive note, I noticed my electric bike’s battery comes with a USB socket. This means I can charge my phone on the go. Kinda cool.

battery with USB plug

My bike’s battery has a USB port!

Overall it’s been a real adventure this winter, learning the eccentricities of my little city electric car, but I’ve had no unpleasant surprises because the range difference wasn’t staggering (as long as you don’t touch the heater).

Another thing I discovered about my electric car was the button that turned off the stability and traction control. This meant that when the snow began falling, I was able to use this button to devolve into a fully-grown manchild, sliding my electric car around an empty street!

doing donuts electric car snow

Clean fun: electric car doughnuts are smarter doughnuts.

I experienced and learned a lot more than what I’ve just explained in text however, so to see the rest, including cold weather comparisons, my brief TV appearance, and even a cameo by Hitler wearing ridiculous socks, click on the video below!

Drive safe, and of course, drive electric!