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Can I call my breakdown provider if I run out of charge?

Electric cars with dead batteries are an increasingly common callout issue for breakdown providers these days - we discuss whether your policy covers this

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The ‘low battery’ dashboard symbol had been blinking for the last ten miles, but you thought you could squeeze a few more miles out of your car to get home or to the next charging station.

Perhaps you weren’t paying attention, or the last charging station was too far out of the way. Either way, things haven’t gone to plan and you are now out of juice at the side of the road.

This scenario is more common than you might expect, particularly in areas where electric car charging networks are a little sparse, and you rely on your charging port at home to get you from A to B. You can’t exactly walk to a petrol station for fuel (unless you drive a plug-in hybrid), so it’s clear you need to call for roadside assistance. The question is, will your breakdown provider charge you for helping you get on your way?

So, am I covered by my breakdown provider?

In short, if you have an active breakdown cover policy for your electric or plug-in hybrid car, there is no need to worry about any callout charges if you are within ten miles of your destination or a charging station. If you are in an isolated area where recovery will take more than ten miles of travel, you may have to pay an additional fee, depending on your breakdown provider.

Breakdown providers respond to these ‘out of charge’ roadside assistance requests in different ways. If you are a policy holder with the AA or Green Flag for example, the mobile technicians will tow your vehicle to the nearest charging station (or home if it’s nearer) with no additional cost.

However, if the RAC is your breakdown assistance provider, your car will be visited by a patrol van that is dedicated to charging electric cars. The technicians that drive these ‘RAC EV Boost’ vans will hook up your conked-out electric car to a 5kW charger, giving it up to ten extra miles of charge so you can get on the move.

The RAC says that it now has around 200 of these vans on patrol across the UK, which is roughly a fifth of its entire patrol fleet, so wait times shouldn’t be too long.

Contacts for breakdown assistance:

AA: 0800 88 77 66 – technicians will tow your electric car to the nearest charging station or home.

RAC: 03301 598 751 – technicians will give your car up to ten miles of charge, if more is needed there may be an additional cost.

Green Flag: 0800 400600 – technicians will tow your electric car to the nearest charging station or home with a limit of ten miles – longer recovery distances may incur an additional fee, but it says that if running out of juice late at night where nothing is open or somewhere remote, this limit won’t apply.

Start Rescue: 0333 320 0975 – technicians will tow your electric car to the nearest charging station or home with a limit of ten miles – longer recovery distances will incur an additional fee.

Rescue My Car: 01423 535 795 – technicians will tow your electric car to the nearest charging station or home with a limit of ten miles – longer recovery distances will incur an additional fee.

GEM Motoring Rescue: 01342 825 676 – technicians will tow your electric car to the nearest charging station or home – does not clarify whether there is a distance limit.

Contact details correct as of July 2022

Please note that most standard policies do not include roadside recovery for vehicles less than a quarter of mile from your home – this is usually included in more expensive breakdown cover plans.

If you don’t have a breakdown policy with any of these providers, you can still get urgent assistance but for an upfront fee. They will expect you to pay over the phone for the callout, which could end up being rather expensive.

Preventative measures should always be taken in the first place, though. Carefully plan your route and find the nearest charging station as soon as your ‘low battery’ of ‘limited performance’ light comes on.

Charge rescue – other questions to consider

My ‘low battery’ light has just turned on – how far can I go?

If the orange ‘low battery’ light is on, which looks like a petrol pump with a plug-shaped charging cable, this usually means you have only around 8 to 15 miles of battery power remaining, depending on how fast you are driving and other variables (like if climate control is on in the cabin, or how cold it is outside, etc.).

Some electric cars can push on for a few miles when the car’s computer tells you it’s on 0% charge, but it really isn’t wise to test this theory far from home.

I’m nearly out of charge and the car can’t accelerate as fast as normal, what is happening?

Has a little turtle-shaped light illuminated on the dashboard? This means your car is running on limited power, and in turn, your car’s performance is affected as a result.

This is likely to be caused by the car’s being low on charge, but please note that this dashboard light could indicate that there is an electrical fault that is far more serious. If the light is still on after the car has been charged, it’s highly recommended that you immediately take the car to an approved dealer for them to check and fix the issue.

Is it illegal to run out of charge?

Not really – you’re not breaking any UK law by running out of charge. That said, running flat and obstructing the road for other drivers is indeed illegal, and you may receive a £100 fine and three points on your licence. If you are on the motorway, the law cites running out of charge as one of the reasons you’re allowed to use the hard shoulder.

Is running out of charge bad for my car?

Like running out of fuel in a combustion-powered car, running flat in an electric car has the potential to cause some damage. Running completely out of power can lead to the battery deteriorating, reducing its performance and range.

That said, the health of your car should not be your first priority – look after yourself! Being stationary on the roadside can be quite dangerous, particularly if you are parked up on the hard shoulder of a busy motorway. Remember to exit your car from the door furthest from traffic, walk away from the hard shoulder and out of the way of other vehicles.

If you are planning on towing your electric car yourself due to a flat battery, you will need a flatbed truck. Do not tow the car with a rope or a lift, as this can damage the traction motors that power the car through regenerative braking.

Running out of charge has caused a road accident, does my breakdown policy cover my car’s recovery?

While your breakdown policy will cover you if you run out of power, it will not recover your car for free after it has caused accidents attended by emergency services, and your insurance policy will not cover the car’s damage either. If you have caused an accident when running flat or obstructing the road, you could be taken to court, or issued with nine points on your licence and an unlimited fine.

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Sean Rees
Sean Rees
Sean is a content editor at The Car Expert. A enthusiastic fan of motorsport and all things automotive, he is accredited by the Professional Publishers Association, and is now focused on helping those in car-buying need with independent and impartial advice.
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