I just saw a TV show where the characters ran out of charge on a Tesla. That got me thinking… with common fuel one can go out and return with a small can, and roadside assistence dispatches can bring you some.

Is there an equivilent remedy for an electric car, other than having it towed?

Sure it’s possible… are there standard things, plans, or existing features on roadside assistance vehicles that would actually do that?

  • For this reason I much prefer a hybrid, I haven't used gas for over 3 weeks in my volt, I will probably use a trivial amount tonight because I didn't get a full charge last night. If nothing else you'd think someone would come out with a tiny gas engine that gives an electric car enough to limp at 35mph indefinitely (or, if started at the beginning of a long trip, extend your 150mi range to 250 or so).
    – Bill K
    Apr 28, 2017 at 18:15

6 Answers 6


Roadside assistance vehicles for EVs exist, AAA has had trucks with Level 2 / Level 3 fast chargers on them since 2011: AAA.

Apparently they've received thousands of service calls for them since their inception.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with AAA or any other roadside assistance or related organization.


When the Top Gear (The Grand Tour) boys built an electric car and it ran out of juice, they knocked on peoples' doors until someone answered and sweet talked them into allowing them to plug it in there.

I suppose in some sense, a mains extension charging cable is the "gas can" of electric cars. I suppose it is fairly common to borrow a friend's phone charger if you're out and about and your phone runs low. Presumably that'll be the case with an electric vehicle.

If you run out of power somewhere there are no power sockets, I guess the "gas can" would be a real gas can in combination with a diesel generator, or something like a server's UPS. However I wouldn't like to carry either of those things particularly far.


Is there an equivalent remedy for an electric car, other than having it towed?

No, not for a pure electric car (as opposed to a hybrid).

I recall some early ideas for electric cars involved fast-change battery-packs but so far as I know, no production electric-vehicles have these and the facilities were fixed rather than mobile.

The equivalent to having roadside assistance bring fuel is

  • the car's navigation system alerting you when range remaining is soon going to be greater than range to nearest charger. (my conventional car never does that)
  • The car putting itself into increasingly economical modes.
  • roadside assistance towing you to a supercharger.

This is a problem faced by all pilots of conventionally-powered aircraft. They can't run out of fuel mid-air, they have to plan for refuelling stops en-route, and continuously monitor fuel remaining against range to nearest airport with refuelling facilities.

Teslapedia: What if you completely run out of charge?

Long before you actually run out, the car will start warning you. The navigation system will give a warning when you get too far from known charging places, and the green bar ‘fuel gauge’ under the speedometer will turn first yellow and then, at about 5% remaining, red. A dotted line will appear on the power display, indicating that maximum power is limited, although the car will still drive normally – it is just maximum acceleration that is not available.

If you ignore these warnings and carry on driving, when the gauge reaches zero it is replaced by a red notice saying ‘Charge Now!’. After that, the maximum power limit is gradually reduced and the car’s performance will become noticeably sluggish, although it can still maintain 60+ mph. Eventually, power is lost altogether and the car gives a warning chime and a notice to ‘pull over safely’. All of the car’s safety systems are powered by a separate small battery so that the brakes, power steering, lights, instruments etc. will still work normally after the main battery has run out and switched itself off.

Having pulled off the road, you should now call Tesla Roadside Assistance for help. Usually, their response will be to arrange for your car to be transported to the nearest sensible charging facility – a Supercharger if one is nearby, or another public charging facility. Alternatively, they can arrange for your car to be taken to your home or your original destination, although you may have to pay for the cost of this if it is significantly further. Check the Roadside Assistance document or the Teslapedia article for coverage limits.

If you are a member of one of the standard motoring support organizations (AA, RAC, AAA, CAA etc), most of these now include towing of EVs within their standard policies. Occasionally they may be able to offer a faster response than Tesla’s towing contractors, so it is worth checking your coverage.

  • In the TV show, the in-dash system didn’t show a map, and they couldn’t download the phone app because there was no coverage.
    – JDługosz
    Dec 15, 2016 at 7:01

Yes, carry a large generator and sufficient fuel... The next question will be : "does this defeat the object of having an electric car?"


I guess I would look at a roll-up solar panel, roll it out on top the car connect to the batteries, then just time and sun will get you enough to get to the fast plugin charging station.
You would need to add a connection point past the AC to DC built in charger.

  • Solar panels might just barely be sufficient to get you going again, at least in some situations. This was looked at some in Zero Emission Tanks on Worldbuilding. At least Cem Kalyoncu and myself specifically considered solar panels for charging, and my answer has some specific numbers that can provide a starting point for determining whether this approach can be workable.
    – user
    Dec 13, 2016 at 16:04
  • If you look at the question in that your just looking for an emergency splash of fuel to make it to a near station for fill up then 600-800watts for solar could be a solution. But as any solution there are caveats for example it would not be much good in Alaska in January (but an electric car would not be that great either). But in Arizona any time it would be a good possibility. It would beat a pedal power generator or a portable wind generator. Which would be my next choices or additions. Dec 13, 2016 at 16:25
  • Well, this was at night. I was thinking a dispatched assistence truck might have a generator (or eventually, batteries). Once flexible solar blankets get to that point, be great to keep one.
    – JDługosz
    Dec 13, 2016 at 17:07

The real question here, I think, is what do you mean by "gas can" – is it "get me going again real soon" or is it "some way, any way, to get me to someplace where I can plug in and recharge." Which of those it is will have a lot of impact on what the answer looks like.

For the former the best option that I can think of would be to do something like the reserve fuel valve in the old VW Beetles. If you could partition the battery pack into a main and a reserve, then you could isolate the reserve and switch to it only if you run low.

For the later it could be roll up solar cell and a good book :-)

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