To continue reading

Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Electric Vehicles

How Long Can an Electric Car Just Sit There?

On the ins and outs of parking an EV for months on end

An EV and spiderwebs.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Cars are meant to be driven. When a typical vehicle sits unused for weeks or months on end, it begins to atrophy in all sorts of ways. Tires slowly lose their air pressure. Car batteries lose charge and might eventually need a jump-start. Oil and other fluids lose their ability to lubricate when they get stale, while gasoline starts to go bad after about a month. Eventually, nature tries to reclaim a vehicle via pest infestation, accumulating bird poop, or meteorological act of God.

This collection of potential misfortune is why collectors make sure to turn on their barely-driven cars every once in a while. It’s why you might ask your friend to drive your car around the block a couple of times a month when you plan to go away for a long stretch.

Are the rules still the same in the era of electric vehicles? Although EVs have neither an engine nor many of the fluids and parts that come with a gas-burning car, it turns out that electric vehicles don’t do well sitting still for long periods of time, either. The technology under the hood is radically different, but the underlying truth is the same: It’s best not to let the car sit undriven for too long.

Electric cars have one untouchable advantage when it comes to long-term storage: You can just leave them plugged in. If you can do this — even by running a ridiculously long extension cord from a standard outlet — then the car will use this trickle of juice to maintain its battery health and keep its systems ship-shape.

If you can’t leave your car plugged in, though, the first thing to worry about is the EV’s main battery going dead. The giant lithium-ion units in today’s electric cars are really good at retaining charge, but they’re not perfect: An EV sitting still will lose a little bit of juice at a slow, steady rate, perhaps a couple of percentage points over the course of a month. You don’t want to leave your car with barely any charge and return from a trip to find out you killed its battery, especially when letting the unit hit zero could potentially damage it.

This concern is enough to make me fill up my EV to at least half before a flying vacation — that way I don’t have to nervously open the Tesla app to check how many miles are left on the car. But as long as you exercise a modicum of common sense, that shouldn’t be enough to get you in trouble. An electric vehicle with at least 50 percent charge could go many, many months before its charge rate dropped to a worrying level. General Motors tells Heatmap that for its current slate of EVs powered by Ultium batteries, it recommends having at least 30 percent charge on the battery before putting the car into long-term storage.

However, an EV’s main battery isn’t its only one. Before electric vehicles went mainstream, the term “car battery” meant the 12-volt box you’d see for sale at Auto Zone or under the hood of any normal vehicle — the one with the two posts where you’d hook on jumper cables. EVs have these smaller batteries, too. They’re there to handle low-power applications such as the doors and windows in case the main battery dies, and they’re one of the principal worries when it comes to leaving an EV sitting still.

Just like with a gas car, the 12-volt battery in an EV doesn’t like to sit dormant while you take a months-long vacation overseas. GM says the car will monitor the health of both batteries and use energy from the big one to keep the small one from dying — up to a point. If the high-voltage battery gets too low, it stops supporting the 12-volt.

It is possible to disconnect the 12-volt battery if you have the electrical know-how, but your car’s user manual will probably tell you not to. Instead, GM recommends that before you store the Chevy Bolt for a long stretch, you attach a trickle charger to the positive and negative poles of the battery under the hood. The trickle charger is a longstanding gadget that can be used to revive a dead car battery, or, in this case, to prevent it from dying while you’re taking the train across Europe. With it attached, the little battery doesn’t need to steal juice from the big one.

Think, too, about where you’re leaving that EV sitting around. Batteries don’t like extreme temperatures, and bitter cold or insufferable heat could not only sap battery life but also potentially damage the unit. Like traditional cars, EVs are safer stored inside a garage if possible — not sitting around the front yard like a project car.

And one more thing before you leave town: Don’t forget to hide the key fob at least 10 feet away from the car, GM says, lest you accidentally leave the vehicle unlocked.


Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles. Read More

Read More

To continue reading

Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


Trump, Haley, and the Climate Primary That Wasn’t

Things could’ve been different in South Carolina.

Nikki Haley and Donald Trump.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Library of Congress

As a climate-concerned citizen, one of the most discouraging things about Donald Trump’s all-but-inevitable confirmation as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee has been thinking about parallel universes.

I don’t just mean the ones where the conservative Supreme Court has a shocking change of heart and disqualifies him from the presidential ballot, or where Nikki Haley, against all odds, manages to win her home state primary on Saturday and carry the momentum forward to clinch the Republican nomination. I’m talking about an even greater fantasy: A world in which Trump doesn’t dominate the news cycle, in which South Carolina conservatives have a real debate about the energy transition, and in which the climate conversation hasn’t been set back years by culture war-mongering and MAGAism.

Keep reading...Show less

Transcript: Is Biden’s Climate Law Actually Working?

The full conversation from Shift Key, episode three.

The Shift Key logo.
Transcript: The Messy Truth of America’s Natural Gas Exports
Heatmap Illustration

This is a transcript of episode three of Shift Key: Is Biden's Climate Law Actually Working?

ROBINSON MEYER: Hi, I'm Rob Meyer. I'm the founding executive editor of Heatmap News and you are listening to Shift Key, a new podcast about climate change and the shift away from fossil fuels from Heatmap. My co-host Jesse Jenkins will join us in a second and we'll get on with the show. But first a word from our sponsor.

Keep reading...Show less

The Ukraine War Blew Up the World’s Energy Economy

And the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act is surprisingly well-designed to deal with the fallout.

An oil derrick, Vladimir Putin, and Ukraine destruction.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It’s an open secret in U.S. climate policy circles that the Inflation Reduction Act got its name for purely political reasons. It’s a climate bill, after all. Calling it “Inflation Reduction Act” was just the marketing term to help sell it to a skeptical public more worried about rising prices than temperatures in August 2022.

Temperatures have only risen since, while inflation is down, and the Inflation Reduction Act had nothing to do with either. But to see why the name was more than appropriate only takes going back a further six months.

Keep reading...Show less
HMN Banner
Get today’s top climate story delivered right to your inbox.

Sign up for our free Heatmap Daily newsletter.