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Driving Electric Cars Electric Car Charging

EV Charging Troubles Road on a Long Road Trip

A friend of mine was kind enough to share a road trip where he ran into all kinds of adversity. I hope you find it entertaining and insightful.

the One thing that I do after buying a new car is to take it on a long road trip. So, having recently bought a new electric car (an Audi e-Tron and my first pure BEV), I looked forward to taking it on our annual trip from Southern California to Lake Tahoe, a journey of 470 miles. In preparation for this trip, I planned charging stops using the PlugShare site. To ensure that the trip would go without a hitch (as we would be traveling through sparsely populated areas), I planned for various scenarios several times and even installed the app on my phone. I especially looked forward to this trip as it would allow me to both tests the experience of using an EV for a long drive and the state of the charging infrastructure.

On a hot late-July summer evening my teenage son and I started this trip with about 70% charge. I drove the first leg and our planned first charging stop was about 70 miles away. It went almost as planned and we were able to use the Electrify America station without too much trouble (we did have to switch to a different charger after the first one didn’t work). Twenty minutes later we were on our way. Our next stop was about 2 hours away. My teenage son drove in typical impatient teenager fashion and we were making good time.

By the time we pulled into the Electrify America station, it was around 9 PM and dark already. The desolate station was on an abandoned gas station in the middle of nowhere and the dusty road was only partially paved. As we parked, the red “Charger Unavailable” text on all four chargers made my heart sink.  Using the PlugShare app, I was informed that CalTrans has installed a free charger in the adjacent rest stop (yes!). We drove a few hundred yards to use that high-speed (50 kWh) charger. As we plugged in, the charger would not start. Unplugging and retrying several times yielded the same result. At this point, my stress level was starting to rise.

“Ok, let me call the Electrify America customer service,” I thought to myself.  Luckily someone answered promptly, and a cheerful voice asked how my day was going. After initial pleasantries, I told her the problem with the Electrify America chargers not working, and she helpfully offered to reboot all the chargers. I nervously waited as the machines rebooted through the DOS-like blue screen with white text. A few breathless moments later, the familiar plug-in prompt appeared on the screens. With high hopes, I plugged in as I remained on the phone. Shortly thereafter, the dreaded error screen reappeared, and again and again as I tried all the chargers. After rebooting the machines again and retrying, the service rep told me she didn’t know what the issue was and asked me to look up the closest charger that I could get to with my PlugShare app. I told her that would be about 25 miles of backtrack.  Then she apologized that she couldn’t help me any further and offered a free charging session next time.

So we took the only option left at this point and drove 25 miles back the way we came. This charger belonged to the ChargePoint network and was located in a dimly lit gas station closed for the night, again practically in the middle of nowhere. With a deep sense of dread, I scanned my ChargePoint app, and it prompted me to plugin. Fingers crossed, I plugged in.  Nothing happened: no powering up noise, no charging in progress display. At this point, I was on the verge of panic and about to soil my pants. In one last desperate attempt to charge up, I tried the level 2 charger right next to the 50 kWh charger. After plugging in, I was ecstatic to see the charging in progress display.  That feeling soon dissipated as I realized at this rate, we would need about 8 hours to accumulate enough charge to get to the next planned Electrify America station 123 miles away. But at least we were charging, and stress turned to annoyance.

Let’s try to make the best of this time, we convinced ourselves. Since neither of us was sleepy, we decided to watch Netflix to pass the time (thankfully there was still a reasonable cell signal). After watching our favorite classic sci-fi (Terminator 2) in the arid 90-degree heat, we waxed philosophical and had discussions on different topics for hours (and cheering every time we noticed another 10 miles of range added). I grew drowsy and took a nap as my son watched another movie. Catching glimpses of the near-full moon illuminating thick clouds, I drifted in and out of consciousness as it uncharacteristically drizzled lightly in the high desert.

Slowly but gradually, the sky brightened ever so slightly. Eventually, the eastern expanse turned a drab orange shade, and we went outside to stretch and use the restroom. Two cars pulled into the parking lot, and we chatted with the families—they were on their way camping and decided to stop to let the dogs out for a walk. At a quarter to six, we left the charging station with about an estimated 110 miles of range for our next leg of the trip (I mentally added some miles to the range to compensate for the higher speed my son was driving at as I would be driving now at a slower speed).  Uneventfully we arrived at our next charging stop in exactly the time I thought we would (2 hours), with a 3% charge remaining as we pulled into the charging station.

The chargers didn’t work, but by now we were used to it: a phone call to customer service resolved the issue through a reboot, and we were compensated for our troubles with a free charging session (though the speed never reached the designed 150 kWh/hr rate but at a slower 50 kWh/hr rate).  As this was a bigger town, we went across the street to eat breakfast while the car charged. The next charging stop was also relatively uneventful, and everything just worked at the maximum rate.  Unfortunately, since this was summer fire season, a forest fire blocked our way, and we had to detour an extra 47 miles around. We finally arrived quite exhausted at our destination in the early afternoon. Over the course of our 4-day stay at the hotel, we enjoyed a great benefit of an EV—the free level 2 charging station at the hotel was able to fully replenish the battery every night, and our car was ready to go every morning for a full day of driving around the lake (saving us $120 worth of gas money).

As our vacation ended and on our way home, we did not experience the same traumatic experience with the charging stations. However, none of the charging stops was quite flawless. The first stop took a while to connect due to a volatile cell signal on my phone (which I can’t blame on the charging infrastructure and which could be overcome by using a credit card to pay instead of using the app). The second stop took two tries to find a working charger—but at least we got 150 kWh/hr (which shut off unceremoniously after two minutes, so we tried a second time without any further issues). The third stop was at the station that had given us grief the first night, but now the chargers were working, albeit only at a 30 kWh/hr rate. For the last stop, we also had to try several chargers (entailing moving and reparking the car in different stalls) before finding one that worked, though it said complimentary session (yes!) but only at a 50 kWh/hr rate.

While we were charging, a fellow EV owner came over to ask if everything was OK, and we started chatting about our ownership experience (he owned the same car and was on the first charging stop of his family vacation). He offered the very helpful tip of using the Electrify America app to check the last time someone had used a charger to quickly find a charger that was likely to be working. After that, we arrived home safe and sound.

Audi e-Tron back from long road trip

Reflecting on this experience, I am still a firm believer in EVs. I believe that my experience the first night was probably an outlier and that it was most likely caused by a transformer station somewhere being knocked out by the recent heatwave, therefore, cutting quick charging to chargers belonging to three different networks. Furthermore, we were traveling through a very rural part of the state (that there were no Tesla superchargers for hundreds of miles), and the experience would be different had we traveled through more populated urban centers.  I would still take my EV on another road trip and would not hesitate to buy another EV. The vacation saw a total of 1,600 miles driven, and we averaged 2.7 mi/kWh (or an energy equivalent of 90 mi/gal!) with a very heavy SUV (it weighs over 6,000 pounds with passengers and luggage) through hot California weather requiring the use of AC. The ride quality was exceptionally smooth (no shifting gears) and quiet (no engine noise).  More hotels are now installing free level 2 chargers for their guests, and this amenity really highlights one of EV’s greatest benefits. Ultimately, as with every new experience, driving an EV requires a bit of getting used to and some adaptability.  Additionally, this unique experience afforded me the opportunity to talk to more travelers than I usually would as I speed on my way to my destinations.  Someday far into the future, I hope that my son can look back on this unusual experience and appreciate the time that he got to spend with his dad at the dawn of the EV age and tell this story to his children and their children of how things used to be.

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Driving Electric Cars Electric Car Charging

How to Own an Electric Car and Live in an Apartment

Considering buying an electric car, but Not Sure how to charge an electric car at an apartment?

Living in an apartment certainly presents more challenges with charging an electric vehicle, but don’t be discouraged.  There are many solutions to charge an electric car at an apartment with no charging stations.

It is estimated that nearly 39 million people in the United States call apartments home, and demand for apartments continues to rise across the globe.  But, many apartment complexes still do not offer charging stations for electric vehicles as demand grows and commitment from governments and auto manufacturers to produce more electric vehicles increases.

Now, if you’re really serious about buying an electric vehicle, it’s time to get creative to make your dreams come true.

Charge at Work

If you still work at a physical office and commute to an office, this is the easiest (and one of the cheapest) solutions. More and more companies are providing EV charging for their employees, so if your company provides chargers, you can charge up all day and leave work on a full charge.

If you commute to work, but your office does not provide EV charging, there is still hope. Many companies receive incentives for providing EV charging to their employees.  Why not ask and see if they are open to it? It’s likely you won’t be the first one, so the more interest they have, the more likely they would consider providing this perk to their employees.

Find Public EV Chargers Nearby

Find public charging stations near your home or office or any other place you visit frequently like a mall, restaurant, or gym.  There are many apps like Chargemap, Chargepoint, and Plugshare that show EV charging stations nearby, with photos, reviews, and real-time availability.  Even Google Maps lets you search for “EV charging stations“.

Plug Into a Wall Outlet

With a heavy duty extension cord, it is possible to charge your vehicle by running it from an outlet in your apartment to your vehicle.  This would be considered Level 1 charging where you are plugging the vehicle into a standard 120-volt outlet. If this is an option for you based on your parking, you will generally get a few miles of charge per hour or about 20-50 miles of charge over 10 hours.  If you commute less than 50 miles per day, you could plug your EV in every night and have close to a full charge the next morning.

Ask Your Landlord or Property Manager to Install an EV Charging Station

If you haven’t struck up a conversation yet with your property manager about EV charging stations, now may be a better time than ever.  As more and more people start to consider electric vehicles, apartment complexes will eventually have no choice but to install charging stations.  It is possible that your landlord has been considering this, but is waiting for more tenants to request EV charging.

Installing EV charging for tenants benefits both the tenant and property.  It would allow the apartment to advertise EV charging as an amenity and potentially charge higher rents.  Much of this would depend on the parking situation and the type of complex you live in.  It could be in the best interest of the property to consider this sooner rather than later.

Companies like Chargepoint and EverCharge work with your property to install EV charging stations on site.  ChargePoint even offers a template letter you can send to your landlord.  The apartment may pay for installation, but ask tenants to pay a small monthly maintenance fee.  This is in addition to all usage costs from charging your vehicle.  So, this may not be your best choice.

Look for Apartments Nearby with EV Charging Stations

If all else fails, it might be time to search for apartments in your area with EV charging stations.  If your lease is expiring soon and you were already considering moving, this could be your opportunity.  Find a place that offers EV charging, so that you can finally purchase that electric vehicle you’ve been eying.

Owning an Electric Vehicle while Living in an Apartment

Consider purchasing an electric vehicle with a longer-range battery, even if you don’t plan on taking long road trips.  The extra cost upfront could make up for the time spent charging.

All electric vehicles have different battery ranges, but most use the same charging methods.

Charging Types

  • Level 1 charging uses a standard 120V outlet, the same you’d plug your toaster into.  This gives about 3.5 to 6.5 miles of range per hour or up to 60 miles in 10 hours.
  • Level 2 charging uses a 240-volt outlet, the same you plug your oven or clothes dryer into. This gives about 12 to 35 miles of range per hour or up to 350 miles in 10 hours. Likely a full charge.
  • Level 3 charging, or superchargers (DC fast charging), gives about 90 miles in 30 minutes. These are typically only found in public charging stations.

Understanding the  different types of EV charging may also be helpful so that you can make an informed decision on how best to charge.

Charging electric vehicle

Owning an electric vehicle, even if you live in an apartment with no chargers, doesn’t have to stop you from purchasing your first electric car.  You may need to get creative and use multiple methods of charging listed here, but if you are really set on buying an electric car, you can make it work!

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Driving Electric Cars Electric Car Charging

Electric Car Range in Extreme Heat

 

How far electric cars can travel in extreme heat is a question many people ask. To answer this question, you have to consider several factors. I will go through what factors can impact the distance you can travel on a single charge. I recently took a 495 mile trip from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Orange, California, in our 2018 Tesla Model X in one of the hottest days on record

 

Electric Car Models Impact Range

Your electric car will determine how far you can travel. The model you choose will also determine how many miles per kilowatt you will be able to travel. To get good mileage, you want to select a light vehicle with the biggest battery possible. For example, we were driving an older, heavy Tesla Model X with a 75-kilowatt battery and a 237-mile range on our road trip. Assuming we had normal driving conditions and were not driving fast, our Tesla Model X would be able to travel 3.1 miles per kilowatt of electricity.

 

Extreme Heat Reduce Range

Electric Car range is reduced by extreme heat. Extreme cold or hot temperatures put additional demands on your electric battery resulting in reduced range. For example, the road trip I recently took had us traveling through the Movaje desert in heat over 120 degrees. Due to the extreme heat, we had to blast our air conditioning, resulting in consuming electricity faster than average. According to AAA, extreme temperatures can reduce battery range up to 41%, but this depends on your driving conditions and which electric car you own.

 

Speeds and Driving Uphill Reduce Range

With a gas-powered car, how fast you drive affects how many miles you get per gallon. Electric cars are no different and burn through their electricity faster with high speeds. Since electric vehicles run on electricity, the miles per gallon equivalent is how miles per kilowatt.

With our 2018 Tesla Model X under normal driving conditions, we would get 3.1 miles per kilowatt. Our road trip conditions were far from typical, however. We had our air conditioning blasting to keep the 120-degree heat at bay. My wife was driving 70 to 85 miles per hour, and we had hilly roads. Consequently, due to the driving conditions and heat, the Kingman to Baker portion of my road trip, which was 143 miles ate up 207 miles of my battery. The extreme conditions resulted in an extra 64 miles of electricity to be expended to travel 143 miles. One last point before I move on. My example was not representative of a typical range loss but rather how driving conditions can reduce range.

 

Braking and Downhill Driving Increase Range

At one point in our Kingman to Baker leg of our road trip, the estimated we would arrive at our destination with nine miles to spare. Range anxiety crept in as we did not want to get caught in the Mojave desert with spotty cell phone coverage and 120-degree heat. As a result, we reduced our sped the rest of the way to around 55 miles, and lucky for us, we ran into a few downhill stretches of road.

The result of driving downhill is it allows electric cars the opportunity to create electricity. We ended up benefiting from the downhill driving and got to Baker with 34 miles of charge left in the battery. The lesson here is unlike gas cars which see worse fuel economy with frequent braking, and electric cars’ fuel efficiency improves with braking. Regenerative braking is a technology that takes the friction from braking and converts a portion of that energy into electricity. The result is braking allows you to create some electricity while driving, slightly increasing your range.

 

Getting Home and Road Trip Lessons

Our 495-mile trip took us 10 hours and four stops to charge our batteries along the way. Our electric vehicle handled the heat like a champ. Several cars were on the side of the road overheating, but our electric vehicle had no issues outside of increased electricity use. In case you are wondering, charging an electric car looks like let me provide some detail. First, your electric vehicle will provide you with directions to a charging station.

Our Tesla trip planner charging a course through the Mojave desert in extreme heat.
Here is a picture of our trip planner guiding us to the next charging station.

These charging stations tend to be near the freeway offramps and next to food, restrooms, and shopping. Depending on how many miles you need to replenish, charging can take 20 to 60 minutes. In our case, each stop at the charging station took about 30 to 45 minutes per stop. However, we did not feel the wait because, during each stop, we either had a meal to eat, picked up some snacks, or took a restroom break.

In case you were wondering what it cost to charge our car, we paid nothing. We pay nothing for charging because back in 2018, Tesla offered free lifetime charging. Unfortunately, Tesla phased out lifetime charging in 2020, and it is no longer available. So now you can expect to pay $.40 per kilowatt of electricity when charging away from home.

 We reduced our emissions on our trip, which feels good, saved money, and had a pleasant, trouble-free road trip.

I hope to have shed some light on how extreme heat reduces electric car range. If you are interested in learning more about electric car ranges and how much it costs to drive, visit Electric Driver or visit our guide on selecting the right electric car for you.

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Driving Electric Cars Electric Car Charging Electric Vehicle Charging

How to Take a Road Trip With an Electric Car

 

How to take a road trip with an electric car is something many owners of gas-powered cars ask me. Road trips with an electric car require some planning but, once mastered, can be quite rewarding.

Planning For a Road Trip

Whenever you take a road trip with your electric car, planning needs to occur. I will use our recent trip from Orange, California, to the Grand Canyon in Arizona as an example. My wife promised our son that we would take him to the Grand Canyon. Along the way, we wanted to visit one of our family friends in Mesa, Arizona. While at Mesa, we needed to stay overnight and also charge our electric car. A wise option is to find a hotel that has a destination charger. A destination charger replenishes your battery at a rate of 16 to 40 miles per hour. Most electric cars can replenish their battery overnight, allowing you to resume your trip in the morning. We found a Hampton Inn in Gilbert, Arizona, with three Tesla chargers and two standard chargers.

Use Your Electric Car’s Trip Planner

Once we found our hotel with a destination charger, we needed to figure out how to get to Mesa, Arizona. Our 2018 Tesla Model X gets 237 miles on s single charge, and from Orang to Mesa is 375 miles. So we needed to find what route to  Mesa would allow us to recharge our battery along the way.

We used our Tesla’s Trip planner, which is built into the car’s navigation software, to figure out our route. The trip planner will route a course calculating which charging stations it will need to stop and for how long along the way. In our case, the trip planner told us we would have to stop at Cabazon, Ehrenberg, and Buckeye to charge our electric car. Furthermore, the trip planner estimated we would have to charge for 30 minutes in Cabazon, 50 minutes in Ehrenberg, and 25 minutes in Buckeye to reach Mesa.

Road trips with an electric car starts with using your trip planner
We used our trip planner to figure out what route to take from Orange, California, to Mesa, Arizona. The planner figured out what charging stations to stop and for how long to get us to Mesa.

Fully Charge your Electric Car Battery

You want to start your trip right, so having a fully charged battery is essential. A quick distinction to make on charging your battery is to set it to 100%. For daily driving, electric car owners put their battery to charge at 80% to prolong the life of the car’s battery. However, with a long trip, you want to fully charge your battery so you can get every mile possible.

 

Watch your Driving Speed

Watching your driving speed and use of the air conditioning will affect how much electricity you use. Think about your miles per gallon efficiency while driving your car. If you are driving fast and blasting your air conditioning, you will go through your fuel much quicker than driving closer to the speed limit. The same principles apply to an electric car. Managing your speeds and making sure you don’t overuse your air conditioning can help you get the most miles out of your battery.

In our case, we drove at a quick pace traveling at speeds of 70 to 85 miles per hour. The result of the high speeds was burning through our electricity faster than average. 

Charging on the Road

On extended trips where you will be traveling beyond the range of your electric vehicle, you will need to recharge on the road. For example, on our recent road trip, we left the city of orange around 9 am and, an hour into the trip, stopped at Cabazon to recharge. The Cabazon chargers are next to a series of outlet stores, so we did some window shopping while recharging our batteries. Our battery was down to 40%, and using Tesla’s network of superchargers, within 30 minutes, we recharged our battery back to 80% and were back on the road. If you are curious as to how much it costs to charge an electric car on the road it typically costs twice as much as charging at home but it is still cheaper than gas.

Recharging our Tesla Model X at Buckhead, Arizona
At Buckhead, we recharged our electric car using a Tesla SuperCharger. Having food and restrooms nearby helped make the best use of our pitstop.

Extreme Temperatures Reduce Range

When we left Cabazon, the temperate was about 100 degrees and climbing. About an hour and a half later, we had to stop again to recharge in Ehrenberg, Arizona. Of the eight available Tesla Superchargers, we were the only car there. There was a gas station and a Wendy’s next to us, so we took the opportunity to take a bio break and get some lunch. By the time we got our food and used the restrooms, we were back in the car. We at our lunch and were back on the road with very little time to wait.

 

 

 

 

The temperature at Ehrenberg was 115 degrees and rising. The reason the temperature is of significance is that extreme temperatures will reduce your vehicle’s range. We had to blast the air conditioning to keep the heat at bay. Within 40 minutes, we had recharged and again on the road. For the rest of the trip to Mesa, we had to run our AC to keep cool. Due to the heavy AC use, we had used up 10-20% of our range to stay comfortable, but it was worth it. We also want to point out that driving in the snow also has similar range reductions as the heat.

Arriving at Mesa, Arizona

After one more stop to charge at Buckhead, we were back on the road and headed to our friend’s house in Mesa. Temperates now had reached 120 degrees. Along the way, some cars overheated along the road, but our electric car handled the heat like a champ. We arrived a little later than expected in Mesa due to traffic. 

Reconnecting with Friends

 We got to connect with our friends which we had not seen since COVID. Our kids swam, played, and we had a nice dinner watching the sunset over the city of Phoenix. Since the temperatures were around 120 degrees when we parked our car, we used a feature in our Tesla called the cabin to overheat protection. Since electric cars are essentially computers on wheels, we had to make sure the heat would not damage the electric components in the car. The overheat protection feature kept the car’s cabin cool enough to ensure no component damage due to heat.

Charging Overnight Using the Destination Charger

At the end of the evening, we bid our friends goodbye and drove to our hotel. We had about 30 miles of electricity left in our battery, and the hotel was a 10-minute drive from our friend’s house. So we drove to the Hampstead Inn in Gilbert and plugged into a destination charger where we could recharge overnight.

Destination Charger in a Hampton Inn Hotel in Gilbert Arizona.
While staying at a hotel overnight, we used the hotel’s destination charger to recharge our electric car.

Parting Words for Taking a Road Trip with an Electric Car

While I shared the example of our Mesa trip using our Tesla, the steps I took to apply to any electric car. Planning is vital as the availability of electric charging stations is not as prevalent as gas stations. Watching your speed, completely charging your battery, and using your trip planner are vital in getting to your destination. Taking a road trip with an electric car requires some planning, but in the end, it will save you money and reduce your emissions. Road trips in an electric vehicle can be an environmentally responsible and affordable way to see the country. To learn more about electric cars, visit Electric Driver or visit our EV selection guide.