AAA Electric Car Recharging Trucks Seldom Used


At the start of the electric car revolution in 2011, AAA decided it would be a good idea to have some roadside assistance vehicles capable of giving electric car drivers a boost if they ran out of electrons while on the road. AAA currently has about 54,000,000 members. Each year, it gets over 32 million calls to help stranded motorists — half of them from drivers who have run out of gas. It seemed likely to AAA management that drivers of electric cars would need a similar service from time to time.

It decided to add service trucks to areas where electric cars are most popular — Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, and Orlando. Each truck has an onboard generator capable of recharging any electric car. Each has plugs and adapters for CHAdeMO, CSS, or Tesla Supercharger standards.

Much to the surprise of AAA, however, the trucks have been used less often than anticipated. Electric car drivers, it seems, are far more conscious of how far then can drive without running out of battery charge than drivers of conventional cars are about how much fuel is left in the tank. Greg Brannon, AAA director of automotive engineering and industry relations says, “Our feeling is that they keep a pretty close eye on it and manage their drive accordingly—much more so than a driver of a gasoline vehicle.”

It seems that electric car owners automatically leave themselves about a 20% reserve, probably because they don’t want to get stuck with the bill for getting towed home if they run out of electricity. “It seems that folks who drive an electric vehicle are very aware of the range of that electric vehicle,” says Brannon.  He says the number of service calls AAA has gotten because of electric cars running out of charge are “in the thousands, but not tens of thousands, of incidents.”

With 250,000 electric vehicles on the roads now and more expected soon, AAA is considering whether it should expand its roadside recharging service to other cities. But Brannon calls nationwide demand for such services “fairly low.” According to research from Thomas Franke of Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, most electric car owners soon learn what he calls “stress buffering behaviors” to reduce the risk of running out of charge. They mentally calculate a minimum of the available range they are comfortable and won’t go below it before heading home or searching out an available charger.

Manufacturers are also helping drivers to avoid running out of electricity. They are including low charge warnings that are more aggressive than the simple “low fuel” warning lights found in conventional cars. They often include chimes or buzzers that become more and more persistent as battery charge drops below certain limits. The Kia Soul Electric chimes every 60 seconds once range drops below 10%. Other manufacturers reduce power, forcing drivers to limp slowly to the nearest charger.

AAA’s Brannon says, “EVs are the future. It’s just a question of how quickly and how many.” He thinks that today’s electric car early adopters are more aware of the limits of their cars. As electrics go more mainstream, he thinks the number of people who get caught low on battery charge while driving may increase. If so, it’s comforting to know AAA will be nearby to help, because that’s what they do.

Source: Car and Driver  Photo credit: AAA

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I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • RobSez

    AAA has EV recharging trucks? For real? I didn’t know AAA still existed. I seriously doubt anyone under the age of 50 has ever heard of AAA. Okay, correct me if I’m wrong, but there aren’t any electric Buicks or Lincolns, are there? I don’t know about other car makers, but Tesla and Nissan both have roadside assistance that will pick up your dead vehicle and take you to a charger. Is there even a need for this? I don’t think the folks at AAA thought this through.

    • Steve Hanley

      AAA says they have 54 million members. ALL of them can’t drive Buicks and Lincolns, can they? ; – )

  • Harold Thiers

    It’s a clear case of EV drivers being prepared and informed. We know the limitations and as such don’t run out of juice. I’ve several times run down to -1 1/2 miles in my focus EV but never been stranded. The car tells you readily what you are doing with respect to range etc… EVs requires a degree of planning that people in ICE car don’t think about any more. They rely on the thought that there is a gas station on every corner and when there isn’t one, they run out of gas. We EV driver know there isn’t a charging station on every corner and therefore plan to not run out!
    Once Mass adoption occurs then there will be reason to have these trucks. AAA is ahead of it’s time on this one!

    • Steve Hanley

      Thanks for that input. Yes, driving an EV does require a modicum of planning. For many, they are simply unwilling to make that effort, having grown accustomed to not having to think about their cars at all.

  • neroden


    Given that there are electric outlets everywhere in urban areas, I’d guess an electric-charge truck would be primarily useful for more rural areas. Even there I’d guess they’d need very few.

  • Skepticklish

    They don’t exactly go out of their way to publicize their service to EV owners, or give a better rate to owners of EVs. Other than running out of charge, when would you use their services if you’re a low-maintence EV driver? Roadside service is usually a cheap-add on with most insurance these days. With GPS, who needs their maps anymore? With yelp, and hotel discount sites who needs their travel services? If they did offer a $25 a year or so deal for EV owners for ‘charging services only’ and marketed it right I think they would have quite a few takers.

  • Stephen

    I could have used something like this last July when I was coming home from my first long trip and couldn’t find the charging station. The car ran out of juice. AAA ended up towing me to the charging station. I live in New England and drive a Smart ForTwo Electric. Since then, I’ve found several other charging stations (that weren’t marked on the ChargePoint app) and have gotten better at planning my trips.