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2021 Tesla Model Y Picture

What Happens When Your Tesla Model 3 or Tesla Model Y Dies?

We ran the battery dead on three Tesla vehicles to find out

  • We drove two Tesla Model 3s and a Tesla Model Y until their batteries were completely drained
  • The results reveal a lot about EV behavior and just how far you can drive before the battery is empty

The number of electric vehicles on the road grows by the day, but there are still some unknowns, even for those familiar with the technology. Every EV driver will naturally wonder: "How far can I really drive before I need to recharge?" And then there's the inevitable follow-up question:

"What happens if my car's battery runs out of juice?"

If you run out of gas, you might be stuck for a bit, but adding fuel to the tank will get you back on the road quickly. That's not the case with EVs. A dead EV must be transported to a charging station, so the stakes are a lot higher.

To find out just what happens when the battery goes dead, we drove a trio of Teslas — two Model 3s and our own 2020 Tesla Model Y — at a steady 65 mph until they stopped. Here's how it went.

What happens when my Tesla's battery dies?

The range and battery meter is located in the top left corner of Tesla's large touchscreen display, right near the speedometer. The color of the little battery icon will change from green to yellow to red as the battery gets down to its last bit of juice. Think of it like a low-fuel light on a gasoline car — or the battery indicator on your phone. Additionally, Tesla's vehicles give you plenty of warning as the end draws nigh, with multiple notifications popping up to tell you that the battery is getting low and needs to be recharged soon. When it gets really low, your Tesla will suggest charging locations like the nearest Supercharger and let you know when you're getting out of range of the nearest one.

2020 Tesla Model Y - Battery Level.

2020 Tesla Model Y - Battery Level.

If you're unable to get to a charging station before the remaining range creeps down to zero, you're not doomed. In our testing of three Teslas, we found they were able to maintain 65 mph for roughly 10 to 20 miles after the range indicator hit zero miles. Should you count on that extra range in normal use? Absolutely not. But it's nice to know that there's at least something in reserve.

2020 Tesla Model Y - Center Console.

2020 Tesla Model Y - Center Console.

That something is called a buffer, and once it runs out, your Tesla will no longer be able to maintain a constant highway speed. In our testing, all three Teslas slowed down gently from 65 mph. The drop-off is gradual enough that there's ample time to change lanes and pull off to the side of the road.

When the car can no longer maintain more than 15 mph (even with the pedal to the floor), a warning pops up that says the vehicle will be unable to drive soon. Finally, the vehicle rolls to a halt and puts itself into park.

We also tested on city streets, and the story was similar, though the most notable warning sign was sluggish acceleration where the car struggled to get up to even 25 mph.

2020 Tesla Model Y.

2020 Tesla Model Y.

What should I do if my Tesla dies during a drive?

First off, don't panic. The vehicle isn't broken. Being stuck on the side of the road is never fun, but, as with running out of gas or getting a flat tire, help is only a phone call away. Unfortunately, getting back on the road isn't as simple as adding a bit of fuel or putting on a spare tire.

You will need to call a flatbed tow truck, not just a tow truck that lifts one set of wheels. Tesla says you could seriously damage the vehicle if it's not on a flatbed. If you have a AAA membership or if your car insurance policy includes towing, we suggest requesting assistance through them. If that's not an option, the best bet is to search online for a local tow truck for assistance.

2020 Tesla Model Y - Towing.

2020 Tesla Model Y - Towing.

Once the tow truck has arrived, you need to put the Tesla into Transport Mode, which is basically a setting that puts the vehicle in neutral so it can be pulled up on the tow truck. The setting is located in the Service menu in the touchscreen. At that point, we recommend having the Tesla towed to the most convenient charging station, be it your home or a Tesla Supercharger.

Edmunds says

Running the battery empty in a Tesla is more troublesome than running out of gas, but there's enough warning and range built in that you can safely pull over and call for help. Just don't count on any miles beyond zero under normal circumstances. The best policy is always to charge your Tesla up with plenty of miles remaining.