EV Trip Planning
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Sunday August 6, 2023 – EV Trip planning - One of
the biggest difficulties faced by the driver of an electric vehicle is the
current state of charging infrastructure. It can make it very difficult for
someone who is not able to charge at home. Long road trips are possible with
electric vehicles, people have been doing them since the days of the EV1, but
long trips currently require careful planning.
I have driven plug-in vehicles for a long time and have dealt with both the above situations so I thought I would share some of my experiences.
In 2012 I was driving a Prius and was involved in an accident and the car was totaled. I wanted to replace it with a plug-in car but at that time I lived in an apartment building and didn’t have access to a charger. I decided that the best choice for me would be a plug-in hybrid which I could charge when possible but if I couldn’t charge it, I would be able to run it on gas, Since a PHEV acts like a conventional hybrid when being driven using the gas engine I would still get great mileage. I ended up with a Prius Plug-in.
Since then, the infrastructure here in Southern California has grown considerable but I still run across situations where the chargers are all in use or are not working. I rarely see chargers Iced anymore but do sometimes see an EV parked at a charge but not plugged in. While some people without access to home charging have managed to drive BEV, I would still recommend that people who don’t have the ability to plug-in at home go the PHEV route.
In 2019 I moved into a house and I can now plug in at home. Being able to have a full charge every morning meant that the Prius plug-in ran mostly on electric and I would only need to go the gas station every couple of months. Last year I finally bit the bullet and traded in the Prius plug-in for a Mustang Mach-e.
I am still using the same charger as I did for the Prius Plug-in and still running it at 110V even though it is capable for accepting 220V. My wife and I are now using the Mach-e for just about all of our driving needs and I pretty much only need to charge it once a week unless we are going to travel long distance.
We did take the Mach-e on a 500 mile plus road trip to Laughlin, NV and I wrote about that in a previous blog. I found that careful planning along with a decent back-up plan worked well for travelling longer distances. I won’t go back over the details of this trip but I do want to review the planning that I did along with new things I have learned over the months since my wife and I made this trip.
The first thing to know when you start planning is that your EV range will likely be less than the amount shown on the range meter. This is because it takes a lot more energy to move the car at high speed that it does at moderate speeds. Hot or cold temperatures also impact range, sometimes quite dramatically. If you live in an area where temperatures tend to be mild and you travel to an area where temperatures are much hotter or colder, then you will need to compensate for this. With a full charge my car routinely shows 256 miles of range but, since I drive mostly on surface streets, I usually plan based on 180 miles of range for highway driving. This gives me a much more realistic idea of range when driving at freeway speeds.
For planning a trip, I usually use two web sites, A Better Route Planner, and plugshare.com. Both of these aps have route planning tools and I like to use them both as they may route me to different chargers and I can select the one I feel more comfortable with. Most EV drivers on the Mach-e forum seem to prefer A Better Route Planner so I would probably give more weight to their solution.
Chargers are also subject to issues and plugshare.com has the advantage of allowing drivers to check in so you can see if there are any issues with the chargers. I recently had a second road trip and was thinking of charging solution but found that all but one of the chargers appeared to be out of order and the remaining one was constantly busy. More on this later.
There are also other options. Tesla drivers, for example, can have their NAV system route them to available superchargers along the way. The NAV system on my Mach-E can also do this although I have never tried it. I have read about other drivers on road trips having mixed results with the Ford NAV system.
So here is my recommendation for planning out a long-distance trip in an EV.
First go onto plugshare.com and check for hotels at your destination and any locations where you plan to spend the night on route. On plugshare.com you can filter for lodging. If you find a hotel with chargers check below and see the comments to see if there are any identified issues with the chargers at this hotel. You can also check to see if there are other charging locations nearby in case there are issues or the charger is blocked when you get there.
Clear the filters then scroll down the drop-down menu and click on “Route planning” then select “Plan a new route”. Enter your destination and note what charging stops are recommended
Next check the route on A Better Route Planner. Remember to set the maximum range to the lower number you have decided upon based on travel at freeway speeds. This will make it more likely that you are going to make it to the next charging location. Make a note of the charging stops that are recommended.
Compare the stops recommended by plugshare.com and A Better Route Planner. If they are all the same then you can be much more confident about the routing. If everything was perfect then you would be done but given the status of today’s charging infrastructure, I would recommend a further step.
Go back to plugshare.com and check the charger stops. For each stop review the comments and see if there are issues at that stop. When I did my planning, I had a warning on plugshare.com that the chargers in Bairstow were out of service but recent comments said otherwise. I used plugshare.com to locate another charger nearby that appeared to be working OK as a backup in case the ones I was being routed to were inoperable. It turned out that the comments on plugshare.com were correct and I was able to get a charge. Knowing about alternatives, including possible additional stops when the chargers are a long way apart, is not a bad idea.
During travel we are sometimes presented with unexpected situations. This happened to me last weekend. We were supposed to pick up our grandson for the weekend and had promised to take him to the new Mission Impossible film. He also wanted to go to a couple of his favorite restaurants in our area. Unfortunately, something came up so he couldn’t come to spend the weekend.
I didn’t charge the car on Thursday as planned because I no longer needed the charge to go pick him up. The on Saturday we got a call saying he could come to us on Sunday but only for the day and we would have to drop him back home in the evening. We don’t get to see our grandson very often so I plugged in the car when I got home and hoped for the best.
When it was time to leave the following morning, the car was only at 80% charge. With the amount of driving I would have to do, mostly on freeways, I would be lucky if I had enough charge to make the full trip. We were going to stop in Burbank to see the movie and I knew they had chargers there but a quick check on plugshare.com showed they are mostly out of service and those that were working were pretty much always busy.
We had three alternatives, risk making the trip without charging, stop at the Fast Chargers at Walmart in Anaheim for a quick charge, or take my wife’s ICE car for the trip to take him back home. My wife wasn’t keen on stopping to charge in the evening so our plan was to take my car to pick him up and travel around that pick up her car for his trip back home.
Traffic was surprisingly light on the way down to Anaheim Sunday morning and we made good time with speeds ranging from 55 to 75 mph, mostly 65mph. We had a similar experience on the way back to Burbank and arrived there at about 11:30am. We stopped for lunch at Mam Hong’s, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant then went to buy our cinema tickets. Unfortunately, they only had seats at the very front of the theater so we decided to try a different theater.
We found a convenient showing at the Regal in North Hollywood and drove there. When I drove into the parking lot and had to go up to the second floor. There I found a bunch of Chargepoint level 2 chargers only one of which was in use. I parked at one of the chargers and plugged in the we went to buy our tickets. We had about an hour to kill before the film started and we spent some time in Nordstrom before going back to the cinema. The film was almost 3 hours long and by the time that we got back to the car it
had accumulated 88 miles on the range display. The charge cost me $9.26 which is a nice bit less that it would have cost for the fuel for my wife’s car and gave me plenty of range to make it to dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant in Panorama City before going back to Anaheim and then heading home to Van Nuys.
While travelling long distances fast chargers can make travel almost as easy as travel with an ICE, don’t ignore the range that can be added using level 2 charging. This is especially the case when you stay overnight on your trip. Plugging in at your hotel overnight can mean that you leave the next day with a full charge. Trying to make charging breaks match things like eating lunch and visiting the bathroom can reduce the time you need to sit and wait for the car to charge. Hint: you can filter on dinning and restrooms on plugshare.com.
Most, but not all EVs come with a charger that can be plugged into a 110V outlet. Some, like the one that I have with my Mach-e, can also be plugged into a 220V outlet. I have never used the charger that came with the Mach-e but I do carry it in the car with me. In case of emergencies there are usually some electrical outlet that you can find and plug in to and get enough charge to get you to a public charger.
Most motels have a laundry room with a washer and drier and the drier is usually plugged into a 220V outlet. When not in use overnight these can be repurposed for a charger that will plug in to a 220V outlet. 220V outlets are also common in RV parks and many owners will let an EV driver plug-in for a fee. Other places like restaurants and gas stations have 110V outlets that can be used for a slower charge. Before using any of these remember to get permission and always offer to pay for the electricity you use.
Often, people are afraid about being stranded with a dead battery if they travel long distances. I have seen many examples of people who have successfully taken long road trips with battery electric vehicles. Good planning is a way to make the trip successful. In parting I would like to add that AAA responds to something like 600,000 incidents of people running out of gas each year.
If you want to comment on this topic, email me, but please include your Name, City and State or Country