Ah, the quintessential American road trip. Whether you want to spend a few days with the girls exploring antique shops in Virginia or pack up the family in search of the ultimate pie in Texas, planning a trip is exciting. These days, though, traveling in an electric car may lead to a few more pre-trip questions and a bit more coordination. Although these vehicles can save money, renting or using your own electric vehicle (EV) doesn't have the same familiarity as using a gas-powered car. From finding charging stations to flawlessly navigating your route, here are tips from the experts on what to consider before traveling in an electric vehicle.
Map it Out
There are two types of road trippers: Those who like to plan ahead and those who let their mood dictate where they wander. However, with an EV, you don't necessarily have the luxury of leaving without a route.
"Electric vehicle drivers need to take the time to plan before hitting the road for a long trip," recommends Andrew Sachs, president of Harbor Park Garage in Baltimore, Maryland. Unfortunately, he learned that lesson the hard way when he didn't plan the route for his first electric vehicle trip. "Failure to do so can cost you a lot of wasted time," he adds.
Sachs also suggests using an app like PlugShare to schedule a trip with plenty of charging stations. "PlugShare aggregates all the charging companies and have mapping features that can be quite valuable for trip planning," he advises. "As a BEV [battery electric vehicle] driver, I find the service very useful."
Know Your Range
If you own an EV, you're probably used to short rides to and from work or running errands around town. The length of charge daily driving may not be an issue. However, one of the first things you must consider for a multi-day trip is how long your car will stay charged. Keep in mind that the terrain you're driving on can significantly impact that number.
"Know the range of your car and understand that higher speeds, less regenerative braking, and steep inclines can negatively impact the range you might be used to for day-to-day city driving," suggests Sachs. He also cautions against driving the battery too far down before recharging. "If you do nothing else when on a road trip, always plan to recharge before you get below 50 miles of range," he says. That way, you will be covered if a charging station is out of order or otherwise not accessible.
There's actually a term coined specifically for the stress caused by the need to find a charging station: range anxiety. "Avoid the dreaded range anxiety by planning stops before your electric charge is on empty," suggests Hooman Shahidi, co-founder of EV Passport. He also recommends that you pull over when you have at least 20 percent battery left. "This will eliminate the panic some feel when the charge starts to dip too low," he adds. This can also give you a buffer if there's a hefty queue at the charging station.
Consider Charging Time
Planning your stops around charging allows you to book a hotel, eat a meal, or sightsee while your car returns to full capacity. Knowing the time it takes is helpful, as not all charging stations are equal. "There is a notable difference in time between a 50 kW [kilowatt] charger and a 350 kW," says Sachs. Although it's a bit technical, understanding both the vehicle and the charger will help you plan your stops and how long you ideally should spend at each one.
Shahidi encourages making these charging stops fun and part of the overall road trip experience. "EV charging is all about the multi-task, so you'll want to charge while you dine at a restaurant, shop, or visit a monument," he notes. "If you plan your charging stops around activities, you will not find yourself sitting in a parking lot waiting and waiting." Instead, the time goes by quickly as you occupy your time doing something interesting.
Stay Near Charging Stations
One of the most straightforward and sensible things to do on an EV road trip is to allow your car to recharge while you do too. Plan to stay at hotels offering charging stations, and confirm that they are present and functioning before securing accommodations. "Call before you book to ensure they have charging stations at the hotel," recommends Shahidi, noting that this is a much better option than making a separate stop to recharge.
Another alternative is to select a parking garage that offers EV stations. For example, Sachs' parking garage offers charging as a complimentary service included in the parking fee and also partners with local hotels to provide parking services. Even if you don't plan to use a parking garage overnight, finding one that offers stations allows you to park and refuel while visitng a museum or walking the city.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Sometimes stops take a bit longer than planned, or something unfortunate happens, so it's best to prepare. Part of the fun of a road trip is taking goodies along, so don't skip out on that step. "Pack some water and snacks, just in case—particularly if you're bringing kids on the trip," Shahidi advises. "The last thing you want is a hangry teenager in the car while you're charging up for a little while at a rest stop."
However, hungry kids pales in comparison with having car issues. Since electric cars are somewhat new, problems arise, and you may have to think on the go. "When things go awry—and you can assume they will because the new normal is being figured out in real-time—the key is being patient," says Sachs.
One of the most frustrating things for the EV community is non-functioning charging stations. "The biggest complaint from BEV drivers is broken charging equipment," reveals Sachs. Unfortunately, many of the charging stations aren't manned, so equipment may take a while to fix. "It can take a while for broken cords or malfunctioning chargers to get reported and repaired."
Contribute to the EV Community
Instead of simply being irked, be part of the solution and report any problems you encounter. "When you spot an issue, report it. If you are having trouble, call the help desk," advises Sachs. Most charging stations have 24-hour service numbers, which means that you can get an operator right away, and hopefully, the station will be back online quickly so that other EV drivers will arrive at a working charger.