Can You Push an Electric Car if it Breaks Down?


Even electric cars sometimes break down. When they do, it can be harder to know exactly how you should handle the situation since they’re a relatively new technology. If your electric car should break down can you get out and push it or is it better to call a towing service? Are there any other options available to you?

If your electric car breaks down, you should call a towing service, with flatbed tow trucks, instead of trying to push it yourself. This is important because in electric cars movement of the wheels affects the engine, whether it is set in neutral or not.

If you’re looking to have a plan in place in case your electric car breaks down or you’re currently stranded trying to figure out what your next move should be, we’ve got you covered. In the following sections we will discuss why it’s not a good idea to push your electric car and alternatives you can use to get it back home.

Is It a Good Idea To Push a Broken Down Electric Car?

While it is possible to push an electric car in much the same way that you would push a gas powered one, it’s not the best idea in the world because it can damage your engine. The construction of a gas powered car and how it moves, just isn’t well suited for pushing the way a gas powered car is.

In a standard gas powered car, the wheels can roll on their own when you put it in neutral without really affecting the engine. In an electric car on the other hand, the wheels are directly linked to the engine even if you have the car in the neutral “gear.”

At the end of the day, the real difference comes down to the fact that neutral means something else for electric cars than it means in reference to gas powered ones. This is something we will explore in more detail in the following section.

What’s Different About Neutral in an Electric Car

Though there is a neutral setting in an electric car, you’ll still hear people say things like, “electric cars don’t have neutral.”  Usually what they mean is that electric cars don’t have an actual neutral gear the way gas powered cars do. So why exactly is this?

Well, in a standard gas powered car, your transmission is what shifts the gears and builds torque so that the wheels can pick up speed. When you put your car into neutral there is a shift that allows the wheels to turn without really affecting the motor. 

In an electric car on the other hand, there is no transmission to shift those gears. The torque instead is sent out via electric currents directly to the wheels. You can therefore pick up speed almost instantaneously.

Unfortunately, this also means that the wheels never disengage with the motor. There are many parts, both mechanical and electrical, that can be damaged if one tries to continue to roll the car forward the same way they would with a gas powered vehicle.

Should You Have Your Electric Car Towed if It Breaks Down?

Towing your electric car in the traditional way where it is attached to a tow cable, will lead to the same kinds of problems that pushing it will. This is because the tires are still linked to the engine and pulling is putting the same kind of strain on it. In fact it could damage it more because the speed and power of a tow truck is far greater than a few people pushing.

That said, you can specifically request a flatbed tow truck and it is in fact a safe way to tow your electric car. Instead of being dragged behind the truck, it will now sit in position on the bed of the truck. You won’t have to worry about the wheels messing up the engine if they aren’t moving. 

If your car has broken down because it ran out of power, you could also request that the tow company send out a charging truck. With a charging truck you can just address the problem right there where you broke down, without any need of moving the car.

Just keep in mind that not every towing service has charging trucks available. You may have to try a few places before you settle on one that does. If you can’t find one however, you can see if there is a charging station close by and have your car brought there to save some money. 

The Most Common Reasons an Electric Car Breaks Down

There’s a myth that electric cars never break down. While it’s true that they break down far less often than their gas powered counterparts–EVs have been found to save an average of $4,600 in repairs in their lifespan–they do break down. If you know the most common reasons, you can hopefully prevent it from happening to you or at least be ready when it does.

The following are the most common reasons why electric cars break down, alongside a brief description of how to prepare for, or repair them:

  • The car ran out of charge: This is perhaps the most common and avoidable reason for an electric vehicle to break down on the highway. To combat this you merely need to make sure you pay attention to the notices your car gives you that it’s about out of power. Even if you think you can make it, it’s better to air on the side of caution. 
  • The battery needs replacement: If you’ve had your electric car for nearly a decade, there’s a good chance the battery will need to be replaced soon. On average electric car batteries only last around ten years. Keep in mind that ten years is under normal driving conditions. If you drive a lot for work it may need to be sooner rather than later. 
  • Flat tires: Even electric cars haven’t yet managed to escape the age-old problem of flat tires. You can keep a spare or be prepared to have your car towed to a repair shop if you don’t feel comfortable fixing it yourself. We should point out here that car manufactures like Tesla have stopped including spares since most people throw them out.

The old phrase an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, couldn’t apply more when it comes to electric cars. If you want to avoid breaking down in the first place, make sure that you pay attention to the notices your car sends you about your battery. For the rest of the car you should be taking the same protective measures you would with any other vehicle. 

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is you can push your electric car if it breaks down but you probably shouldn’t. If you do decide to push your car you risk damaging the engine. This is because it is linked directly to the tires, whether the vehicle is in neutral or not. For the same reason it’s really not a good idea to get towed by a traditional tow truck (one with a tow cable).

All that said, if you do break down in your electric car, you have some options. Ideally you could call around to your local towing services and find one that has a charging truck. They would come out, charge your car a little and send you on your way. If none of your local services offer charging, it’s best to request a flatbed tow truck to keep your engine protected. 

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