The open road, a new playlist, convenience store snacks. You’re ready for a road trip adventure, but you’re nervous to set off in your EV. What if you run out of juice in the middle of nowhere? Don’t fret. With a little planning and prep work, your EV road trip will be a success. You will, however, have to let go of some spontaneity, since charging your electric vehicle is a priority and may have to dictate some of your plans.
Many EV owners find charging isn’t disruptive to their road trip at all, and they even enjoy the breaks. Charge at a rest stop over lunch or a coffee, or at a business in a small town where you can walk around. Some EV owners find charging breaks are a great chance to catch up on some reading or Netflix shows.
Consider the following EV road trip tips before setting off on your adventure:
As you’re planning your route and charging stations, think about how far your vehicle can go on a charge. Do your research well ahead of time. Depending on where you are and where you’re going, you could have some great options when it comes to routes. Across the country, certain highways are being marketed as EV friendly, with plenty of charging stations along the way. The West Coast Electric Highway, for example, is an extensive network of DC fast charging stations that sit every 25 to 50 miles along Interstate 5 and other major roadways in the Pacific Northwest. It’s easier to stick to routes such as these instead of traveling on unknown roads.
Take the time to sit down with a map and EV apps (see below) and plot out your course based on how often you think you’ll need to charge your vehicle. Your charging needs will be based on your EV’s make and model, and what conditions (terrain, traffic) will look like along the way. Also, look at the amenities in the area around the charging station. Are there nearby stores, a park? You may want to pick a station in the middle of a quaint town rather than one at a rest stop with nothing else around.
Also consider picking stations located not too far from another station; it’s nice to have a backup plan in case the charger you pick is broken or there’s a long line. Focus on routes with fast charging stations if you can; it’ll save you time. Fast chargers can provide almost a full battery charge in 15-30 minutes, depending on the make and model of your EV. If this all sounds like a lot of work, consider checking out EVTripping, a new service that helps EV owners create a detailed road trip plan.
Think about where you’ll stay. Are you planning to stay in hotels? Call ahead to find out whether they have an EV charger on site. Or maybe you have a friend, along your journey that has an available EV charger at their home. If you’re outdoorsy, campsites can be a great spot to plug in while you explore a national or state park.
Do yourself a favor, and download and test every app you think you might use along your journey before leaving. You don’t want to be in panic-mode trying to downloads apps in a low service area when your EV battery is close to drained. Apps will tell you where the chargers are, their level and if they’re currently free. You can filter for type of charger, so you can search for just fast chargers. Also, make sure your phone is always adequately charged.
Every EV owner should have the ChargePoint app. ChargePoint is the world’s largest electric vehicle charging network, serving 35,192 total charging spots, including workplaces, multifamily dwellings, homes, retailers and parking garages. Its app shows ChargePoint stations in addition to other network and public stations through a real-time map that lets you filter by type of charger, price and network. Other key apps include PlugShare, Open Charge Map and ChargeHub.
Right before you leave on your road trip, look at the notes and details on your app’s live map to read what EV owners are currently reporting about the stations. Maybe one station you selected weeks ago when planning your trip is now out of commission. Read more about must-have apps for EV owners here.
Drive slow. It’s counter-intuitive, but going slower on your road trip will actually save you more time. Electric vehicles work more efficiently at slower speeds. By driving slower, using gentle acceleration and moving at a more consistent speed, you’ll conserve range and you’ll be able to charge your EV faster when you stop. If driving quickly is tempting, stick with the slower traffic and set your cruise control to help maintain your speed.
Build in a buffer when you’re planning your route and when you’re on the road. Don’t let your battery dip below a certain level before you charge. Many EV road trippers stay above 15 miles of range, or about 20% battery range on a 2017 Nissan LEAF. It helps to speed your recharging rate if you’re low on battery, but it’s better for your stress level not to let it fall too far. In a LEAF, when you drop under 10 miles, you get a vocal warning to charge that continuously repeats. Not the anxiety you need on a road trip!Make sure to factor in things like hills—they tax your battery more—and extreme weather—heat can also wear on your battery. Traffic also drains batteries. Consider as well that when you pull up to a station there may be a line and you might have to wait to charge. If you’ve picked a station that isn’t working, don’t give up on it right away. Sometimes you just need to tinker with the equipment a bit, unplug and plug back in or move to the next spot over. If you’re in a real pinch, sometimes there’s a phone number at the charging station you can call for assistance.
Pack smart. Take and bring with you handwritten notes on where each charging station along your route is located and exactly how to find it. You’ll thank yourself for this backup if something happens to your phone or you find yourself in a dead zone. Also make sure to bring a car phone charger and, if you have one, a portable cell phone charger. Make sure you fully charge your phone and charger before starting the trip.
Before you set out on a long-distance drive, spend some time getting to know your EV and its capabilities. For example, if you rarely take your electric vehicle on the highway, take a Saturday day trip out of town to see how your battery handles the highway. This can help you can estimate how often you’ll need to recharge on a longer highway trip.
It’s true, long road tips with an EV require more planning than with a gas-powered car. But it’s totally doable if you follow our planning tips. Here’s one story about a EV owner who took his Nissan LEAF on a 48-state, 26,000 mile road trip. Many more public charging stations are also expected to be built across the U.S., and EV range to increase, which will only make road trips even easier in the near future.
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