Thinking of planning a roadtrip in your electric vehicle but not sure where to start?
Fresh from an 1800 mile road trip from LA to San Francisco to Redwood National & State Parks to Sacramento and then home, I have advice I hope will help you.
Right now, EVs are not as easy to roadtrip as a gas car. That’s just a fact. Maybe you are reading this in the future and things have changed and you’re laughing at my post. But you’re more likely reading this in a time of 20-45 minute charges on the open road.
Planning ahead is easier than you think, thanks to all the apps available. You will need to know the range of your vehicle, how long it takes to charge and how much stuff you’re bringing. Speaking from experience, a solo drive uses less energy than a car with four passengers, five nights of luggage and a dog.
Apps To Help Plan
Fear not the planning! There’s an app for that. But realize, there’s more than one app and none of them are perfect. And don’t worry about trying to sign up for every company and get their app; almost every single Big Brand charger takes credit cards and doesn’t require you to sign up (although most offer some benefit if you do).
My favorite app might not be for everyone. It is called A Better Route Planner and it can do a TON of planning. But it can be complex.
You can enter in all kinds of variables and it will even do real-time calculations while you drive to compensate for hills, wind, heat, cold, your driving style. It will economic your time at chargers based on settings so you’re not overcharging and wasting time.
Plug Share is trying to be your one-stop place to find all chargers. A lot of apps are doing this, even the ones put out by charger companies (that obviously show their chargers, but also their competition).
I like that I can filter by speed of the charger, such as 50kW or 70kW (my car peaks at 75kW, so I like to go with faster chargers if I can). It has a nice feature to open the map program of your choice to navigate you to where you want to be. And it can help you plan and save trips or legs of a trip.
And it has a comments section for each charger that, so far, is really useful in learning what past visitors have to say. I have found out more than once that three out of four chargers at a stop are not working and thus, I skipped it in favor of another.
It will also list the number of chargers, adapters they use and other vital info. Plus user-supplied photos.
I like Charge Point chargers, although I dislike their touch screen covers. That being said, I like that I can add their electronic card to my phone and watch’s wallets and pay for power very easily.
Their app will show competitors in the map view when searching, which is nice. And they have a nice screen that shows how many chargers at a location are working, in use, or broken.
Another charger company that is pretty big is Electrify America. Their app is similar to Charge Point an on my 1800 mile road trip, I used these two companies the most, so it made sense to have their apps.
Roadside America – Not Just For An Electric Vehicle!
If you’re roadtripping and you like distractions and odd attractions, you want this app.
If you’re in a hurry, don’t roadtrip with an EV. In 2022. Or 2023. Maybe for a few years.
Patience aplenty will help you through the minor challenges of finding a working charger, or waiting your turn at the only charger for miles around.
You’re going to get frustrated at some point. But don’t let that stop you (and name me a time you went on a multi-day roadtrip and never became frustrated with something) from going.
If you have kids, make sure you pack games and distractions for those unexpected waits. Heck, even a movie on an tablet will help everyone be patient with the process of trying something new, like a roadtrip in an electric car.
Bring A Charger If You Have It
I bought a portable charger when we got our Hyundai Kona because it didn’t come with one. Oh, it had that 110V charger that plugs into any old outlet, but that can only put in about 5 miles in an hour. Max.
What it was missing was something like this.
These chargers can plug into what’s known as a 14-50 outlet, something that is typically reserved for RVs, and deliver 30-50amps of power. It’s called a Level 2 charger. That 110V regular wall outlet is known as a Level 1 charger. Level 3 are the fast chargers found on the open road most often.
This Level 2 charger is best for at home use and a lot of people get one installed or the special wall outlet they use. Ours plugs in at home and gets used weekly to top off the car. It can power up at about 22 miles per hour.
Why bring it when you plan to be using fast cahrgers? You just never know when it might come in handy. In our case, we rented an AirB&B and the owner had a detached garage/shop on the property that had the 14-50 plug on the outside! A lot of people that own RVs will install these to plug in a RV at home.
We texted the owners and offered some money to use the plug and our range anxiety for the Redwoods, at over 80 miles long North to South, disappeared. We charged as if we were at home and had a full battery for each day’s adventure.
Plus, these adapters can often be used at RV parks. It sounds odd, but if you are car camping at an RV park on a roadtrip, you can plug in your car at the campsite!
If that’s what you plan to do, I’d suggest a 14-50 to 14-30 adapter to cover all your bases. This will allow you to plug in to a standard electric clothes dryer outlet.
Grab A Tesla Adapter
These things, again, aren’t cheap if you get a quality unit. But with the 35,000 Tesla Destination Chargers out there, it’s worthwhile. I got one because we were staying with relatives who had a Destination Charger that was hardwired in, meaning I couldn’t use my charging cable with a 14-50 outlet.
But with this adapter, presto! Charging with ease.
This Lectron Tesla to J1227 adapter does NOT allow you to use the Superchargers you see on the open road. The big ones with the red and white hoop. Just the little boxes pictured here. But with the apps above you can search for theses additional chargers quite easily.
I’d say most hotels that advertise Tesla charging use at least a few of the smaller Destination Chargers. Ask if you’re unsure and search with an app. They are great for places where you’re stopping overnight or for a few hours (restaurants, amusement parks, tourist spots, movie theater, etc…).
Give Yourself A 70 Mile Buffer
If you are driving in anything other than perfect conditions and don’t need to run AC or heat, you’ll want to add in a buffer.
My real world experience showed that driving 77MPH in 105°F heat knocked off about 50 miles from my range by the time I stopped for a charge. This is probably the upper limit of what you’ll experience.
Speed, heat/cold and weight will work against range, so, until you’re super comfortable with actual range on a roadtrip, give yourself a healthy buffer when starting out. You can adjust this as you go. Just be aware that driving around town and driving fast on the freeway will yield different (lesser) results.
Use Cruise Control & Moderate Speeds
Speed will drain your battery the most and it is one thing you often have the most control over.
I like to go fast and roadtrips are no exception. But I learned that 77MPH consumes quite a bit more power than 70MPH (the speed limit on a lot of open roads).
Slow down when you can, especially if you have a long stretch between stops.
Use the cruise control almost all electric cars have. Especially if your car has the fancy adaptive cruise control. That stuff makes life on the road so much easier and I will now pay extra to make sure all my future cars have it.
Be aware that pulling out to pass someone while accelerating will knock off 1-2 miles of range each time. Going steady is better than bursts of speed (which are WAY more fun in an EV).
Schedule Your Breaks
You’re going to be stopping on a roadtrip, right? Bathrooms, meals, snacks, attractions.
Plan those stops and enjoy a slower pace. Getting out of the car every two hours or so has many benefits, not least of which is keeping the driver awake and attentive!
On our leg from the Redwoods to Sacramento we left around 10am so that our first stop would be around noon and a good time for a snack. Then we planned the second/last stop for a Black Bear Diner, a favorite diner of ours that handily had three chargers!
Have a Navigator Who ‘Gets It’
This one might not be much of an option. Navigating and looking for reliable chargers isn’t as easy as finding a gas station, so it will help if you have a navigator in the passenger seat (or backseat, especially if your kids have phones, put them to work!) who has an interest in not running out of juice.
Involve the kids too so it becomes normal to them. They are faster at processing information anyway, so let them find secondary options as a backup.
Expect The Unexpected
On our trip we had a stop planned at a free Charge Point charger at a rest stop. Convenient, right!?
Not when it was closed. The rest stop itself had cones in front with a sign stating it was closed. There was little chance of us making it to the next fast charger (although I did have a couple of slower Level 2 options up the road), so we skirted the cones and drove to the chargers, which thankfully were still on.
But even then, I had read on Plug Share that the screens on these Charge Point chargers (two of them) were not functioning, but they were in fact working chargers.
So I pulled up and used my watch’s Wallet feature to activate the charger without being able to see what I was doing. Since this was about our fifth Charge Point fill up, I knew the process and had no trouble getting things going.
This location also had crappy cell coverage, so if I was not aware of the issue, it would have been almost impossible to get ahold of Charge Point customer service.
Check In With Your Electric Vehicle Charge
Above I noted stopping at a Black Bear Diner and charging while we ate. I kept the app (EVGo in this case) open and on the table and it’s a good thing I did.
About 30 minutes after we plugged in, got seated, ordered and were eating, I noticed the car was not charging. We still weren’t done with lunch so I went out to investigate.
Sure enough, that charger was having an issue. Restarting it didn’t help, so I moved to the charger next to it and all was better.
If I hadn’t noticed, we would have about 100 miles less range than we hoped and would have had to stop again before we got to Sacramento.
Keep an eye on your charge and don’t expect it to be as mindless as gasoline. Not yet, anyway (I can foresee car manufacturers putting in an alarm on the app if charging is stalled like this).
An 1800 mile or 3000 mile cross country roadtrip is entirely possible with today’s cars and chargers. It is not as super-easy as gasoline, but it is better for everyone on the planet that needs to breath. It takes planning made easy by apps, patience, time and attention.
If you love to roadtrip, grab an EV and hit the road!