How to plan an EV road trip this summer

The summer road trip season is here, and — with some careful planning — drivers of electric vehicles don’t have to be left behind.

Road trips are one of the main obstacles for Americans considering buying an EV. Drivers worry about electric cars’ battery range and the stress of finding a charger, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

“Road trips occupy so much space in the mind of a prospective EV purchaser because … people really don’t want to get stuck somewhere,” said Albert Gore, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, an industry group that promotes EVs. “The good news is, there’s a lot more charging out there than people generally realize.”

If you’re an EV driver planning a road trip this summer, Gore says it’ll probably be easier than you think — but he has some advice on how to make the trip go as smoothly as possible.

Plan your route around charging

Many EV models now come with built-in navigation systems that can help you find a charging station along the road on the fly. But for the most stress-free trip, it pays to plan your charging stops ahead of time.

While U.S. charging infrastructure has been growing steadily, the number of EVs on the road has been growing even faster. That means there’s more competition than ever for charging ports, so you won’t always be able to plug in at the first charging station you see.

There are plenty of apps that can help you find chargers along your planned route and keep you updated with real-time information about how many ports are available as you approach. You might try PlugShare, ChargePoint, EVgo or Google Maps.

It helps to build in a buffer and a backup plan, according to Gore. Don’t plan a charging stop at the absolute limit of your car’s range — have a Plan A that you can comfortably reach, and a Plan B farther down the road just in case the first charger is full or not working.

Make the most of charging stops

If you plan ahead, you can time your charging stops to line up with meals, bathroom breaks or scenic stops so that you’re not just waiting around while your battery fills up.

Gore says he’s taken electric vehicles on trips up and down Interstate 95, where there are often fast chargers at service plazas that can recharge most of his battery in less than half an hour. “I usually go in and get a bite to eat, use the restroom, grab a cup of coffee and by the time I come back to my car it’s been 20 minutes and I’m ready to get on the road,” he said.

That approach only works with direct current fast chargers, not level 1 or level 2 chargers that would take several hours to fill a battery.

There are also charging spots next to parks and hiking trails, including 140 chargers in and around U.S. national parks, meaning that you could take a break to stretch your legs or let your kids run around while your car charges.

Stay in hotels that have EV chargers

If you’re within 200 or 300 miles of the place you’ll be staying for the night, you may not have to stop to charge at all. Charging apps such as PlugShare and hotel booking websites including Expedia can help you find hotels with chargers, so you can just leave your car plugged in overnight and wake up to a full battery.

“That’s the best way to do it,” said Gore. “I get there in one shot, park, and when it’s time to go I have a full battery.”

Check the weather forecast

Extreme temperatures can seriously limit EV range. In cold weather, batteries lose their efficiency and drivers tend to crank up the heat, a combination that can cut range 41 percent in temperatures below 20 degrees, according to AAA. Hot weather can also limit range, although not as much, according to Kelley Blue Book. Both extremes can slow down charging.

Check the weather forecast before you leave to see if extreme temperatures might affect your trip. If it’s hot or cold out, you should “precondition” your battery before charging, a process that warms or cools the battery to its ideal temperature range and helps it charge faster and last longer. Depending on your car, you may be able to do this manually, or the car may take care of it automatically if you plug a charging station into the built-in navigation system.

You can eke out a few more miles of range by driving more efficiently. That doesn’t mean making major changes to the way you drive, according to Gore. It could be as simple as using cruise control to hold a steady speed, taking advantage of regenerative breaking, or putting your car in “eco mode,” which will stretch battery life by limiting acceleration and climate control.

“If you don’t need to absolutely torch anybody off the line at a stoplight, then eco mode will probably not be noticeable to you,” said Gore.


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