One response we hear frequently when asking our friends about going electric is that EV technology isn’t “there” yet. But what does “there” mean? More often than not, this hesitation is about the limits of EV range and the speed at which range can be replenished. No way around it: we definitely have a way to go before every EV can drive 400 miles on a charge and then fully recharge in under 5 minutes. 

But, by the numbers, 400 miles of range isn’t a requirement for the average driver.

So, how much EV range do you really need?

It’s tempting to frame an EV purchase in the context of a 1:1 replacement for a gas car. After all, a new technology should be an improvement over its predecessor, right? Alas, this revolutionary technology has some tradeoffs in its current, early stage. A silver bullet EV that matches a gas car’s range and fueling speed may not exist yet, but consider how you actually use your car and how a replacement might save you money. 

Think about yourself, your friends and your family. How many people do you know that regularly fill up their gas tank more than once a week? How many households do you know with two cars where both cars spend 100+ miles a day on the road? Statistically, these are rare.

Let’s frame the purchasing decision around everyday needs: The average American drives somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 miles per day, or around 13,000 miles annually. If you’re able to charge at home or work, like most EV drivers, you can refresh your range while you sleep. If you have to charge publicly, you’re looking for a car that gives you 245-280 miles, assuming you can only recharge once a week. 

A car driving alone on a country road through trees and fields

Can most electric cars accommodate?

In 2023, the average EV can drive somewhere between 220 and 300 miles on a single charge. As long as you’re charging at home for your daily needs, you’ll spend less time plugging in and unplugging than you will standing at a gas pump. We can help you determine whether your living situation may be conducive to EV ownership.

The next factor is cost. The price of an EV is often driven by its battery capacity. Ultra-high-capacity (400 mi+) EVs tend to cost far more than average EVs; lower-range EVs tend to cost less still (and may even qualify for a tax credit). Therefore, it pays to take an accurate accounting of your mileage needs. You may be able to get by with a much less expensive EV than you thought!

But, make sure to pad your range budget

If you drive the national average, 39 miles a day, five days a week, it may be tempting to assume that 200 miles of range a week is totally sufficient. You may plan to find an EV that has an EPA range of 250 miles and charge it once a week while you go food shopping. However, there are additional considerations that should go into your calculations. 

More battery helps maintain optimal charge levels

Due to the science of lithium-ion batteries and the way that EVs charge, most drivers try to keep their car somewhere in the 20-80% state of charge (SoC) range. Unless you’re driving a car with a LFP battery, keeping it in this range will give you the longest battery life possible. But, it also means not using more than 60% of the battery’s capacity on a regular basis. With a battery that gives you 300 miles of range, you’re really only using 180 miles most of the time. If you can only charge once a week, you may need to opt for a larger battery. Or, you can look for creative home charging solutions that will allow you to make a smaller battery work. For instance, you may not need a fancy home charger set up to get 40 miles a day: a standard plug in your driveway or garage may be just fine.   

More range combats temporary range loss

Another reason to pad your range estimates is temporary range loss from weather and terrain. If you do a lot of cold weather road trips, such as skiing trips, or if you drive uphill a lot, you will see lower average efficiency in your car. Ditto if you plan to tow with your electric car.

A truck hooked up to a trailer

This translates to fewer miles available to you. If you’re looking at that 300 mile range vehicle, figure that for daily driving, this means 180 miles of usable range, and possibly as few as 125 miles in freezing weather. It’s fine to take your EV out of the 20-80% range for occasional ski trips, too – just not as a regular habit, if you plan to preserve long-term battery health.  

Aside from weekend exploration, most drivers in the US really only need 40 miles a day and are able to plug in at night.

This means that almost any EV on the road can work for them, even the inexpensive, low-range ones.

Take, for instance, an older Nissan LEAF. On a bargain, you may find one one that gets 80 or 100 miles of range. Say you also have a 120V outlet in your garage and only drive 20 miles a day. Congrats: you can say goodbye to gas.

As I’ve written in other articles, fear not the prospect of rentals! You may be able to get away with a sub-$25k EV with 200 miles of range – and save buckets on fuel – and still come out ahead renting an SUV a few times a year for road trips. 

In my years of EV ownership – including a 120-mile range Volkswagen e-Golf without DC Fast Charging – there’s nothing a little flexibility hasn’t been able to solve. As EV offerings improve and cost per battery kWh comes down, it’ll only get better from here!