Search This Blog

Monday, July 9, 2012


This adds new meaning to "Have it your way at Burger King"
Thirty months and 73,000 miles of driving and I never once ran out of charge driving my MINI-E. Actually I only came close to running out about 5 times during that whole time. So why is it that in less than six months of driving the ActiveE I have managed to come up short of making it home twice!

Am I getting dumber with age? Maybe. Am I taking more risks than I did when I was new to driving EVs? Perhaps. Is the range meter on the ActiveE less accurate than it was on the MINI-E? No, it's actually much more accurate than the MINI-E's gauge was.

So why do I think it's now happened to me twice? We'll the first time was definitely forgivable and at the very least understandable. It was actually the day I picked up the car from BMW HQ. Yep, my first day with the car. I was driving all over that day, showing off the car to everybody and I wasn't really paying as close attention to the range as I should. Plus, one of the things that was cool about the MINI-E was it had a huge reserve. Once the remaining range meter hit zero, the car could still go anywhere from 10 to 20 miles! It was something that I loved and used frequently. The furthest I personally ever drove it passed zero was 18 miles. I assumed the ActiveE would have some kind of similar reserve, so when I set out home on that first day I knew I'd be cutting it close and would probably hit zero when I still had 2-3 miles to go, but I figured the car had to have at least 3 miles of reserve since the MINI-E had about seven times that. Anyway, it was a very cold night back on January 13th, about 25 degrees. I had the heater on and was driving normally figuring I'd just dip into the reserve to make the last few miles. Well when I was about six miles from home, I hit zero and about a half mile later a got the large yellow battery icon meaning the car was going to go into reduced power mode. Yikes! On the MINI-E I wouldn't see that warning until I drove at least ten miles passed zero, I didn't even drive a mile now! Then, less than a mile later, the car slowed down to a crawl. I thought I was doomed and would be calling a tow truck, but it made it over the top of a hill I was climbing and I was able to coast down the other side and into a gas station parking lot. It was about 1:00am so they were closed and I saw they had an outdoor vending machine. That was just what I needed because behind it there was an outlet I could use. I plugged in the 120v convenience charger and sat there for about an hour. I got it up to 5% which was enough to barely make it home.

So I really don't blame myself for that time. I had just got the car and was so used to the MINI-E huge reserve I just figured BMW would do something similar with the ActiveE. They didn't. I think there is about  one kWh of usable energy once you hit zero and that will take you anywhere from a little over a mile to about 4 miles depending on driving conditions. Now this time when I ran out was different. I knew the limit, but pushed it anyway. I was at home and the car had about 25% charge. I needed to go somewhere that was about 13 miles away. Going there was mostly downhill and coming back would obviously be uphill. I knew I'd only use about 7% or 8% to get there so I figured while I'd be cutting it close, I'd make it home. It wasn't to be. Since I really thought I'd make it, I wasn't really paying attention to the state of charge until I happened to glance down on my way back and saw 3%. Crap. I still needed to go about 4 miles uphill before I could drive on level ground and even downhill for the final 2 miles. At that point I knew I wouldn't make it. I started driving very slowly and made it about two miles before I went into reduced power mode and about 3/4 of a mile later the car again slowed to a crawl but this time I was going up a steeper grade. I managed to make it to the front of a shopping center where there was a Burger King before it stopped and I then pushed it to the front door which was about 400 feet away. The manager was nice enough to let me plug into an outlet inside and run my extension cord out to the car. At that point I was only about 3 miles from my house and the last mile was downhill so I only needed to charge for about 35-40 minutes and I was able to drive home.

When I ran out back in January I was surprised that BMW didn't leave a similar 'reserve' like they did with the MINI-E. I even considered writing the EV program mangers to suggest they revisit that for the i3, perhaps adding more of a reserve as an added safety net. Maybe they could have a switch you activate if you run out that has a 5 mile reserve or something like that. However once I started really thinking about it, I changed my mind. I don't want to keep a portion of the battery that I could use all the time hidden for the rare times I might need it. The battery is the most expensive part of an EV and I want to be able to use all of the usable portion of it! Many people are afraid to drive their EV even close to zero, so they would never realize the car's full range potential if the car had saved 5 or 10 miles for its reserve. Instead, I now believe zero should mean zero, just like it does on the ActiveE. If you are on flat ground you may be able to push it a few miles, but that's it. I would also like as part of the sales process to see the BMW i client advisers thoroughly explain this to potential customers. Make sure they know that zero means zero before they 'test the waters' like I did when I first got the car. I take the blame 100% for this latest misadventure though. I knew the car's limits but I pushed it anyway, and I paid the price. Even the healthiest golden retrievers need to be taken to the vet now and then.

I guess all I can say is...


  1. Oh I have so been there....

    You're an Honest man Mr. Tom!


  2. Very interesting Tom!

    I documented the similar behavior of the Chevy Volt. Of course, with the Volt you have the gasoline engine backup, so what we were documenting is what happens when you then run out of gas!

    Short version: enough power for highway driving for about 3.5 miles, then a rapidly depleting amount of power, enough to pull off the road and that's it.

    Details are here:

  3. Funny you didn't even mention range anxiety. Were you sweating bullets when you looked down and realized you wouldn't make it?

    1. No I wasn't Jeremy. By the time I realized, it was too late to worry, I knew I wasn't going to make it. I was just trying to think of a plan. My biggest dilemma was should I turn down a residential side street and ring somebody's doorbell and ask if I could plug into their house or try to make it to the top of the hill where the shopping center was. Range anxiety is worrying you will make your destination. I knew I wasn't going to.
      By the way, I don't really ever have range anxiety, I prefer to call it 'range awareness'. I always know where I need to go in relation to my charge percent, and 99.99% of the time I don't have a problem. This was the exception

  4. How long is the extension cord that I assume you carry around with you in your trunk?

  5. It's 50 feet Dave. Never leave home without one! Make sure it's 12 gauge or lower though. You could get away with 14ga but I don't recommend it, the cable will get very hot especially if you leave it charging for a while.

  6. I enjoyed your post, and it inspired me to go to Home Depot and buy a 50-ft 12 gauge extension cord. In fact, they were on sale, so I bought a two-pack. I really hope I'll never need them. But they are in the trunk just in case I do. Thanks for suggesting it!

    1. Dave: If it does come to it, you'll be thanking me!

  7. Hi Tom, I am a big fan of your blogs, just recently found them and read them all ! Thanks for doing them. In many of your posts you talk about buying a meal when you let people charge at your restaurant . So I have to ask did you buy a burger while you charged ? :)

  8. Hi Eddie,

    Yeah, there's a story about that. I actually was coming home from a restaurant and really couldn't eat anything else. I felt guilty not buying anything after getting the OK to plug in from the manager so I bought a burger, fries and a drink. I drank the soda but threw away the food in the garbage can you can see in the picture above.

  9. Tom,

    Great post, as always. I just wanted to let you know that about a month ago I picked up my brand new Chevy Volt, and I have you to thank for it! I have been following your blogs for a few years now, and I could totally see the virtues of an electric car. I went back and forth between the Leaf and the Volt, but I finally chose the Volt due to range issues. The nearest Nissan dealer is about 85 miles away from where I live in Tillamook, OR, and that would just be cutting it a little to close for comfort. With the Volt, I drive in electric mode 99% of the time, but it is nice to have that gas engine there when I want to take it on a road trip.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks! The world has another electric car convert because of you!

    1. Hey Tyler!

      Thank you for the acknowledgement and thank you for supporting plug in cars. About a month ago a got a similar email from someone that told me they put a deposit on a Tesla Model S as a direct result of reading my blogs. That's the greatest compliment anyone could give me and I really appreciate it. I know a lot of people read my blogs, I can see the analytics, but it's hard to tell what people get out of reading until I get a message like this and it really inspires me to keep going and do an even better job. Thank you again and I hope you really enjoy your volt.
      Now it's your turn to spread the word.... :)