By David Morgan, Plug-In NCW Newsletter
We just completed a 5-week, 8,300-mile family road trip to the Canadian Maritimes and back again. Although we’ve been driving electric cars since 2014 and have logged almost 200,000 EV miles, including several multi-day road trips in our 2018 Bolt EV, this trip was unlike any we’d done before. We learned some things worth sharing, and hope this account will show that you can go pretty much anywhere without using gas, without taking noticeably longer, and you’ll spend less on fuel.
We used a combination of regular electrical outlets (very slow), 240-volt outlets (good for overnight), and fast chargers (get back on the road asap). Our new Tesla has the advantage of the proprietary Supercharger network, which is not currently useable by other brands, though that will soon change.
The network of fast chargers is growing very rapidly. During out trip we also considered what it would have been like to take this trip in a non-Tesla EV. During the trip we saw several long-range EVs from Chevy, Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Mercedes, Porsche, Rivian, and Volvo. The short answer is, other than Superchargers, the original fast chargers used by all other brands have much lower power output (50 kW), which is not nearly as fast. However, in many places there were new, faster chargers available for all brands, some of which approach Tesla-like speed (up to 250 kW) and simplicity.
We had many 600-mile days, same as we would have planned in a gas car. We left each morning with a full battery, drove 2 to 4 hours, and made our first of typically three Supercharging stops. By that time, we needed a bathroom and were ready for lunch. We ate food from home and stretched our legs. Sometimes we had to hurry because the navigation system, knowing we wanted to minimize travel time, not to mention where all the Superchargers ahead of us were located, told us at each stop that we had typically 5 to 30 minutes before it was time to go. People often ask “how long does it take to fill the battery?” This is generally not important on a long road trip, because you don’t need a full battery to reach the next fast charger, and you save time overall by not waiting for a full battery, which charges much faster when it is closer to empty than full. The navigation system optimizes for you, and you can ignore or modify itineraries on the fly. It also considers terrain, wind, speed limits, and weather, and adds a small margin of error. We did what it told us, and almost always arrived with close to what it predicted. We realized the limiting factor for how far we could go was bladder capacity, not battery.
Nearly every night we charged and filled the battery to 100% for free. Except for one B&B with no outdoor electrical outlet, and two hotels where we had to pay to charge, it was easy to find and book accommodations in the areas we wanted to stop with 240-volt car chargers for guests, or free public chargers nearby. Plugshare.com is great for this. The 240-volt machines are best and widely available. But a regular outlet was fine at a hotel in Minneapolis where we stayed for 3 nights, as it was at the tiny house in the Magdalene Islands where we stayed for 2 weeks. Our favorite creative and free solution was the guy around the block from our friends in Quebec City that we found on PlugShare. Merci Beauchamp!
We paid $519 to cover 8300 miles. In a Prius it would have cost roughly $900. In nearly any other combustion car it would’ve been a lot more. In our eight years of EV experience, >90% of our annual charging has been at home, where electricity costs less than one penny per mile of range. Which is so cheap it probably doesn’t mean anything to anyone with a gas car. Think of it this way: if a Prius gets 50 miles to the gallon, if gas costs $5 per gallon, that’s 10 cents per mile. Fast chargers are the most expensive kind of electric fuel, we used them extensively on this trip because we prioritized speed and convenience, and a lot of the time the speed limits were 80 mph, so we used more electrons than normal. Overall, we paid 6 cents per mile. Even if we had paid for all the overnight charging, we still would have come out ahead.
Other things to consider
- Whenever we fast charge in our older car, the Bolt EV, we use an app or scan an RFID card to confirm our billing info. It can take a few minutes and does not always work as smoothly as using a credit card at a gas station. In a Tesla, you just plug in, it instantaneously begins charging, and automatically bills your credit card. Faster than starting a gas pump. Having used the other EV charging systems for 8 years, it would be hard to overstate how much better this is.
- Most Supercharger locations are very close to the main road, but some require a few extra minutes to get to (navigation flawlessly knows where to go every time), compared to gas stations at nearly every exit. On the plus side, the ones that aren’t right off the highway tend to be at a nearby mall, casino, hotel, or franchise restaurant with reliably clean, available bathrooms. In contrast, when we were desperate to pee and stopped at roadside gas stations, we often had to wait.
- We saw more electric cars than expected in hotel parking lots not plugged in. Maybe the drivers figure Supercharging is so simple they don’t really care about filling up while they sleep.
- Canada seemed to have a lot more charging stations per capita than the US, and there appears be some effort to place them in particularly desirable locations. Private companies, businesses, governments seem to have embraced the future. BC Hydro has machines set up in New Brunswick. Now that is really walking the talk about what’s best for the most for the longest!
- We stopped at 39 Superchargers. Only a few were repeats on the way home. Only once did we need to wait briefly to plug in because all 4 stalls were occupied. It was one of the older locations. Almost all newer locations had 6, 8, or more stalls. There were only a handful of times we were the only car. The navigation alerted us a few times that our next Supercharger was moderately busy, and offered to reroute to nearby alternatives, but we declined without incident.
- Our average charge time was roughly 20 minutes. Several times it was 5 to 10 minutes. We had a handful of 30-minute stops and one that was 45 at an older Supercharger in South Dakota with an unusually long gap before the next location, 80 mph speed limit, and an anticipated very strong headwind.
- All the newer Superchargers have higher power output (250 kW) and even if all stalls are in use while you are plugged in, each car gets full power. These are so fast it doesn’t seem much different than gassing up. At the older locations you share power 50:50 with the car next to you, which means it takes longer until your neighbor is finished. The navigation system tells you which kind it is, so you know whether it makes a difference to park next to another car or not.
- Traveling with kids it was nice to have three decent breaks on the long days. We had a routine with our own lunch and snacks, and occasionally had a few minutes to spare to look for unusual chocolate candy. We ate out less and felt less tired at the end of the day.
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