Range Anxiety–Not Just for Drivers of EVs

By Paul Gipe

Surprise. Surprise. Range anxiety isn’t the sole province of EVs and their drivers. This hadn’t occurred to me before this weekend, but should have. I nearly ran out of gas in the middle of South Dakota—at night—once some fifty years ago driving a VW bug. I still remember the experience vividly to this day.

My wife, Nancy Nies, never has range anxiety—in either a gasser or an EV. She looks at the range indicator on our Bolt (the notorious Guess-O-Meter or GOM) on occasion and may ask, “How we doing?” but that’s about it. Then again, Nancy ran out of gas in urban Bakersfield once thirty years ago. I remember that experience too.

Field Trip to the San Andreas Fault

Why this came up is we were on a geology field trip to the San Andreas Fault. (Yes, that fault, the one that razed San Francisco in 1906.) The start of the trip began a good two hours from Bakersfield and ended about the same. This trip ran from the north at Parkfield—California’s Earthquake Capitol–south to Carrizo Plains National Monument where the surface expression of the fault is strikingly visible. The entire trip was in the middle of nowhere. There were no towns, no cell phone service; often not even a farm house was visible.

As you would expect most of the vehicles were big SUVs with a smattering of Prius for seasoning. We had the only EV and its bright “Oasis” blue stood out from the white and gray fleet. We were conspicuous to say the least.

Before we even left on the tour, a woman came up to me and asked how far we were going? “I may need gas,” she said. (I’d already been mistaken for the tour leader because I looked “professorial” said Nancy.) So I asked all the questions you’d expect: which car is yours, how big a gas tank, and so on. She had one of the SUVs, didn’t know how big a tank nor what her mileage was, but she had a quarter-tank of gas left. I told her I thought she should make it and if in doubt cut the trip short and head over the mountains to the I-5 corridor where there are gas stations galore. She mounted her rig, turned the engine on and announced that the “miles left” indicator said she had plenty. That’s what I thought too.

Range Limited Bolt

If anyone should have had range anxiety it was me. I was driving a capacity restricted Bolt and I was not a happy camper. I’d been planning this trip for months and needed all of the Bolt’s traction battery capacity at my disposal. I would still need to charge on the return but I knew where to go and how much I needed. Somehow, in the weeks preceding the tour, my Bolt’s range was cut 20% to 200 miles on a full charge. (See Has GM Used Over-the-Air Updates on Chevy Bolt Safety Recall?)

Worse, A Better Routeplanner wasn’t performing up-to-snuff because of whatever weird was going in our Bolt’s battery. I just didn’t know if I could trust ABRP.

To do the tour without needing a tow, I’d planned a charge stop on the way over and on the way back. I’d cut the trip short towards the end of the day if I had any doubts. In other words, I had a plan.


The first charge stop at an Electrify America station went as planned, but we encountered a strong head wind on the second leg to Parkfield. I drove conservatively but I didn’t try to hypermile it. We arrived in Parkfield on time but had consumed 5 kWh more than the planned 12 kWh and when you’re working with only 46 kWh to begin with that’s a big hit. That upped my range anxiety a notch. I’d be monitoring the GOM and my efficiency the rest of the day now.

The grain of California’s topography is north to south. There are few roads that cross the coast range in this part of the state. We came over on Hwy 46 and would return on Hwy 58 to the south about 50 miles. If I was concerned, I could drop Carrizo Plains from the tour and simply take Hwy 58 over the Temblors to I-5 interchange at Buttonwillow where there are three ChargePoint Tritium chargers.

When we were well into the tour and surrounded by an uninhabited vista, the astronomy professor at Bakersfield College, Nick Strobel, approached me and asked, “Are you driving the EV?” When I said yes, he asked the first question you often hear, “What’s your range?” (He was driving a Prius.) I explained the situation: the official range, and my restricted range. He had that knowing look of someone who can do the numbers in his head. I added that I knew I was at the limit of my range and that I may leave the tour when we reached Hwy 58.

Gassers Peel Off

Shortly after talking to Strobel two drivers of the SUVs began to panic about not having enough gas to “make it.” Gregg Wilkerson, the geologist leading the tour patiently pointed out that they could reach Hwy 58 and head over the mountains to Bakersfield from there. Or they could turn around and take the Bitterwater road to Blackwell’s Corner where there’s gas.

The two drivers were in full-on panic mode, turned around then and there, and headed out.

We were less than 20 miles from Hwy 58 and only a few miles from some of the best physical expressions of the fault seen during the entire day.

Hwy 58 and Home

We decided not to chance it and peeled off the tour at Hwy 58 and headed for home.

Neither Google nor ABRP work on the Carrizo Plains because there’s no cell phone service. I had a good idea the distance remaining but I wanted to know for sure so I pulled up my GPS app using downloaded maps. It gave me the distance to the Buttonwillow service complex without any complications. I drove the route watching the miles remaining on the mapping app and the minimum miles remaining on the GOM. I knew that once we crested the summit I would gain efficiency and miles remaining on the GOM going down the 4,000 feet to the valley floor.

Once on the valley floor I breathed easier. It was obvious we would make it. Though the GOM was flashing the orange warning “charge soon” when we arrived there was 14.5% charge remaining. There was nothing to worry about. We probably could have taken in the Carrizo Plain tour after all, though I didn’t know for sure at the time.


Shout out to ChargePoint to fix their hardware. All three kiosks were problematic. Two wouldn’t charge at all and the third kept tripping off. I was desperate at this point and pressed the emergency stop button. I then reset the kiosk, and started charging again. Even Nancy was getting anxious at this point. It had been a long day and we had no desire to spend the night in Buttonwillow.

Once the GOM said we had enough to get home, we unplugged and headed out.  We arrived home again with 14.5% charge remaining.

Range Anxiety Tally

Out of the dozen vehicles on the tour, two gassers panicked and left the tour midway. The one driver of an EV had range anxiety, but drove his plan, and left the tour when he planned.

The bottom line? Drivers of EVs have no monopoly on range anxiety.