Tesla Roadster

As if range anxiety wasn’t enough, do I also have to remember to keep my car charged — even when I am not driving it? The answer is yes, but since I drive a Leaf, it’s not quite as serious as owning a Tesla. A recent blog about Tesla’s cars turning into “immovable bricks” if the battery ever becomes completely discharged, has set off a firestorm in the blogosphere. The claims say some Tesla owners have left their cars for as little as a few weeks and found their EVs could not be re-charged.

Tesla has been applauded for having some of the most advanced battery technology but it seems that there is one design flaw that can cause serious problems. If the charge in a Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries is fully depleted, the batteries are essentially destroyed and the car is left immobilized. The repair can be costly, some estimates say around $40,000 dollars for a new battery.

Tesla is downplaying the issue. In a statement released this week the company doesn’t deny that the “brick problem” could happen but says its unlikely because they offer several safeguards against it including low charge warnings. “All automobiles require some level of owner care. For example, combustion vehicles require regular oil changes or the engine will be destroyed. Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time. However, Tesla avoids this problem in virtually all instances with numerous counter-measures.” Tesla says its cars can be unplugged for weeks without reaching zero charge. But now who wants to test that claim?

Nissan Leaf

Good news for Nissan Leaf drivers, the company says the battery shuts down completely before it fully drains. GM says its Volt plug-in hybrid has a buffer at the lower end of the state of charge to prevent it from being fully depleted. Right now the problem seems specific to Tesla. However, from what I have learned, keeping an electric car charged is not only part of good maintenance but also part of keeping a battery warranty valid. Nissan recommends charging up to eighty percent for better battery life. To prevent damage to the battery the company also says owners must not leave the car parked for more than 14 days where the battery available charge gauge reaches a zero or near zero state of charge.

See other posts from this series.

  • Anonymous

    The Tesla Model S actually has better technology than the Nissan Leaf. It can be driven to a zero charge and can fully recover as long as its plugged in within 30 days, not 14! Also, the Tesla Model S can sit for up to 1 year with a 50% charge before losing all of its charge.

    Read more about it here:
    Tesla Motors, Batteries, and the Truth

    You can read more about the economics of owning a Tesla Model S also.


Andrea Kissack

Andrea has nearly three decades of experience working as a reporter, anchor, producer and editor for public radio, large market television news and CBS radio. In her current role as KQED’s Sr. Science Editor, Andrea helps lead a talented team covering science, technology, health and the environment for broadcast and digital platforms. Most recently she helped KQED launch a new, multimedia initiative covering the intersection of technology, health and medical science. She has earned a number of accolades for her work including awards from the Radio and Television News Directors Association, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Associated Press. Her work can be seen, and heard, on a number of networks, Including NPR, PBS, CBS and the BBC.

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