Modern electric vehicles (EVs) are chipping away at range anxiety, but long-distance trips still feel difficult to many considering a switch to electric. With better batteries and increased charging infrastructure, is it finally possible to take a real road trip in an electric car?
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What to Do When Planning an Electric Car Road Trip
If you want to drive cross-country in your EV, it will take a bit of planning beforehand. You’ll need to make sure you have access to charging infrastructure — and a backup plan if the ones you find don’t work out.
Find Charging Stations Before You Go
As travel publication Roadtrippers demonstrates in a short and sweet video on the topic, apps like ChargeHub and PlugShare will help you find stations along your trip route. Depending on how advanced your EV’s navigation system is, you can then make those stations stops on your route. Even Google Maps will tell you the most efficient route for traveling in an EV now.
Most of these apps also tell you if the charging station you’re looking at is out of order and have user-contributed photos. If you see that stations are down or people complain about the chargers being broken a lot in the comments, it might be best to pick another spot.
When plotting your route, it makes the most sense to pick areas where you’ll already be doing something else to stop and charge. Restaurants, shopping centers, and sometimes even places like gyms will let you plug in while you run a few errands or stock up on supplies. For quicker stops, look for DC fast charging (DCFC) stations. Tesla drivers have the Supercharger network, and non-Tesla vehicles can plug in it at level 3 DCFC stations. It’s very simple to filter by the level of charging station you want using the apps listed above.
If you’re stopping at hotels along the way, their websites should list charging stations as an amenity, so make sure you book a room with one on-site. To be extra careful you can double-check by calling the hotel and looking them up on your app of choice.
Want to camp instead? RV parks are your friend. They’ll be equipped with outlets that provide the same level of power as a level 2 charging station since heavier power is needed to run the big vehicles that usually stop at RV campgrounds. Nightly rates are also usually reasonable, cheaper than a hotel, and don’t limit how many hours you can charge. National parks like Yosemite often have charging stations in and around the park you can use to plug in while you hike or swim. (Check before you go, though, as it’s probably not true for every national park).
Whichever route you choose, avoid letting the battery get too low. 20-80% is usually the optimal range to keep an EV’s battery working in, so don’t let it dip down to 5% before you start looking for a station — you might end up getting towed to one.
Know Your Range
Of course, before doing any of that you need to be familiar with your EV’s range. Different models will have different capabilities, and knowing what yours is will help you build a buffer between charging stations so you can hit the next one before your battery gets too low.
If longer trips are important to you, it’s probably best to get an electric car with a range of 200 miles per charge or more. You don’t need to drive a Tesla to get a decent amount of range out of your EV, either. While some longer-range electric cars are expensive, plenty are within the price range of a typical modern gas car. Kia and Hyundai, for example, make EVs with a roughly 300-mile range. The 2021 Chevy Bolt can travel over 250 miles on a single charge.
If you’re on the fence, consider renting an EV for a few days and taking a road trip to try it out. If it’s within your budget, it can be a great way to find out what EV is right (or wrong) for you.
Mind the Weather
As many have noted, cold weather is not friendly to electric cars. While they do better these days than in the past, you’re going to see a decrease in your range when the temperature drops too low.
If you can still make the trip driving shorter distances between stations then chances are you’ll be fine, but you don’t want to get stuck in a far-flung area with spotty charging infrastructure in the middle of winter. If you do decide to road trip in colder weather, warming the car’s cabin and battery before unplugging from the charging station each time will do a lot to lighten the load on your battery and mitigate range loss.
Extremely hot weather can decrease EV range too, so you’ll want to take steps to keep the car cool on summer road trips. Parking in the shade, using the car’s battery management system while plugged in, and keeping the battery topped up all help.
Have a Backup Plan
Roadtrippers editor-in-chief Sanna Boman said it best in her article detailing her own EV road trip experience: “If there’s one thing I learned during my trip, it’s that the key to a successful EV road trip is planning, planning, and more planning.”
DCFC stations are great, but get hard to find once you leave major cities and suburbs behind. If you know you’ll be heading through a more rural area and have the opportunity to top up before things get sparse, do it.
Even if you do find a station, all the ports could be occupied by other vehicles. Some or all of the stations could also be broken or down for maintenance. Or, as happened with Boman’s Chevy Bolt once, the station could just be unable to communicate with your car. If any of those things happen, you’ll want to be prepared to wait a little longer or have enough power to travel to the next station.
If you know people in the areas you’ll be traveling through that can let you use their garage to plug in and get some juice, that’s a great option to have in your back pocket as well. And always know where the charging stations are before you leave.
RELATED: Electric Vehicles: How Easy Is It to Find a Charging Station?
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