While most people drive an average of 40 miles a day, most of us buy a car that can be used for any kind of trip, like the once-a-year cross-country trip to see grandparents, or your kids seasonal sports tournaments, or the once-in-a-blue-moon beach getaway with your girlfriends. You may be concerned that buying an all-electric vehicle will be too difficult and inconvenient for these types of road trips, but it is definitely possible with a little extra planning.
In my experience recharging hasn’t been that dissimilar from routine pit stops. Personally, I can’t go more than 2-3 hours (about 150-225 miles) without a restroom break or a chance to stretch my legs. While I am taking the 20 minutes for the break, my car is recharging and is ready to go by the time we all pile back inside. In my Tesla, I can also watch streaming video content while waiting, which gives me a chance to decompress a bit before hitting the road again.
It’s always good to plan ahead for your charging stops and know what your car will need and what it can do. For example, how much range does it have and is it capable of DC fast charging for a quick refuel on the highway? While my first generation Nissan LEAF is compatible for a fast-charger, I would never take it on a long road trip because it can only has about 80 miles range (the newer LEAF’s can go much further). That would be too impractical for most longer trips. However, battery technology has progressed over the last few years, meaning quite a few EV models have a range greater than 200 miles on a full charge with some long range models upwards of 300 miles.
The amount of time you need to recharge will depend on your car and what type of charger you are using. If you aren’t sure which charging stations are compatible with your car or how fast your car can recharge, Chargeway’s mobile app provides an easy-to-use number and color system based on the type of car you have. The higher the kilowatt (kW), the faster the charge. For example, my Tesla Model Y will charge to 80% in about 15 minutes using a 250kW charger – a Red 5 charger based on Chargeway’s system.
There are an incredible number of fast chargers along the interstate highways already, and new stations are being opened every day. For example, the Tesla Supercharger Network (currently only available to Tesla’s) and Electrify America’s network chargers (available to everyone else) are strategically spread out along most major interstate corridors. Some manufacturers, like Tesla, will help you map out where you need to charge along your route and will even prep your battery for fast charging before you arrive. They also have a reservation system so you don’t need to wait too long if there are other cars using the charging stalls.
Keep in mind that your range is a dynamic number. Accelerating quickly, driving at high speeds, cranking the AC, driving in extreme conditions, or traversing hilly terrain all factor in and can impact your range (not unlike a traditional vehicle). Some charging apps, like PlugShare, provide more car trip insights for these variables, like altitude changes on your planned route. They also help you pick out hotels with free charging!
More and more hotels are now offering EV charging for their customers and you can search for EV-friendly places through travel sites like Expedia. If the hotel doesn’t offer EV charging, don’t be afraid to call ahead and ask if there’s a regular outlet that you could use for your own charging plug during your stay that night. Many hotels are able to accommodate a request with advance notice.
As for charging at home rentals like VRBO or Airbnb, unfortunately neither site currently provides a way to search for locations with EV charging as an amenity. However, this extension on Google Chrome helps search Airbnb listings for EV charging. Make sure to confirm with the host in advance and also pack your own extension cord (rated for the outdoors!) and cordset in case the host’s equipment isn’t working.
Finally, if you’re planning on doing some hardcore roadtripping, it’s a good idea to have general roadside assistance, like AAA, regardless of the type of car you’re driving. For EV drivers experiencing challenges, there are products and offerings hitting the marketplace for roadside assistance. “Emergency mobile charging” is available in select markets and companies such as Blink are launching a personal portable generator (which is gas powered) that can be used to get you those last few miles to power if you’re stranded.
If you’re looking for more first-hand accounts of what it’s like to take an EV road trip, especially if venturing off the interstate is your thing, here are a few additional articles that discuss the benefits and real-life challenges of all-electric. Happy travels!