However, knowing how much range is left as you zip from one charger to the next is still an indispensable bit of information to ensure an uneventful adventure. That’s where the range display on your car’s dash comes in. It’s not always spot-on, but you wouldn’t want to travel without it.
On a 2022 trip from Florida to Nebraska with his wife Sally, Rodney Smith reported that the range estimates on his Tesla Model Y stayed reasonably accurate, “but that’s only when we drove at the recommended speeds,” he said. “I tend to stay with the flow of traffic, and the projected range was a little off at the (higher) speeds in Texas.” Despite that discrepancy, the charging stops that the car recommended did not change, and the Smiths were never in danger of being stranded.
“At my last Supercharger in Kansas we charged to 90% instead of the car’s recommended 85%. From that charger to my sister’s house [in Nebraska] was over 250 miles, with no Tesla chargers between us and her,” Smith said. “We arrived with about 40 miles of range left on the car. That was very close to the estimate.”
While modern EVs, like most gas-powered cars, display the remaining range in miles or kilometers, seasoned EV owners like the Smiths understand that what you see is not always what you get. This is why that gauge has earned the moniker “guess-o-meter.”
Many first time EV buyers are turning their attention to the preowned market, where bargain priced electric cars can be found. If you’re shopping for a used EV, we have recommendations. First, try our VIN search to find data on a specific vehicle.
Then, if possible, take the car for a drive and determine if the dashboard range seems reasonable. It’s possible to “game” the on-board gauge to make the range seem higher than it really is, so it's a good idea to see if the displayed range reflects the miles you’re driving.
If you’re new to EVs, you may not be sure what to look for during a test drive. Below, we walk you through a few examples. And remember: multiple factors influence range numbers – who drove it last, how they drove it, what the weather is like, etc. Each car maker will use these data points in different ways to calculate the remaining range, but the two big short-term range killers are:
1. Cold weather
2. Highway or aggressive driving
2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV
The Bolt EV is aware that the guess-o-meter is only an estimate, and it offers useful flexibility with its range predictions. The primary projected-range is flanked by two secondary readouts: a best-case maximum range estimate on top and a worst-case minimum range on the bottom. In the accompanying photo, you can see that this particular Bolt is forecasting 210 miles of remaining range. But it’s also telling you that less ideal conditions could deliver as few as 172 miles. Flat roads, a stout tailwind and maybe a pinch of fairy dust might serve up 247 miles, according to the Bolt’s gauge.
Tesla Model 3
The Tesla Model 3 is the best selling EV worldwide, so it's worth sharing some images. The one below is a photo of the center infotainment panel, which shows the remaining range and battery charge percentage above and to the right of the car image. This car has 142 miles of range at its current level of charge. You can toggle the display to see that the battery charge percent is 79%.
It is fairly well known that the Tesla range displayed above is calculated using a fixed efficiency rate, so it does not reflect how things like temperature and driving style affect available range. But, Teslas have an “Energy” screen that you can navigate to, which continuously calculates your range based on real-time driving behavior and external conditions like wind direction and temperature. It typically shows a projected range number that’s different from what’s displayed on the adjacent guess-o-meter. The Energy feature also plots a graph line showing the originally predicted state of charge throughout your trip versus a second graph line that’s based on your actual consumption. It also suggests ways to boost range, from tweaking your cabin temperature settings to accelerating less aggressively.
2019 Volkswagen e-Golf
The Volkswagen e-Golf, produced for model years 2015-2019, takes a more conventional approach to range projection with a combination of analog and digital readouts. With the exception of a few important details, the gauge cluster is nearly identical to that of conventional, gas-powered Golfs of the same generation. Range is displayed digitally in the center of the dash (98 miles) while the battery’s charging status is indicated by the conventional needle sweeping across a graduated green stripe on the upper left. A smaller analog gauge on the right hand side shows charge percent (in this case, around 80% charged).
It’s more of an old-school approach, but it works!
2014 and 2015 Nissan LEAF
Among the most popular early EVs, the first-generation Nissan Leaf features a digital projected-range readout embedded in a graphic stack of 12 light bars indicating the battery’s health. Twelve illuminated bars describe a very healthy battery, as can be seen in the two images above. As the years go by, progressively fewer illuminated bars mean the battery’s capacity is diminishing and the car’s overall maximum range is eroding. In the pictures above, you can also see the state of charge on the outermost right hand side next to the charger icon, and the remaining range at that charge percent.
The current generation of Leaf takes a more mainstream approach with its gauges, but still includes a battery-health readout that can be brought up easily by reconfiguring the instrument display.
2012 Chevrolet Volt
The dash display in plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt are much like those in pure EVs, but with the addition of a gas gauge and an estimated, combined gas and electric range - in this case, 160 miles of combined range, and 30 miles all electric. The miles-per-gallon readout on PHEVs is often an astronomical number because it factors in the time the car spends running on electricity alone.
The problem with the guess-o-meter is that it must take into account a blizzard of ever-changing factors as it attempts to calculate available range. And it can’t read your mind. If you're planning on burying the accelerator and driving 90 mph for the last half of your trip, the car has no way of anticipating that.
More realistically, if your car starts the day by referencing yesterday’s in-town driving behavior, but today’s driving involves a long highway trip, beware: the guess-o-meter almost certainly will provide you with an overly optimistic range forecast, at least at first.
But it will adjust. And then you can trust. Mostly. Happy trails!