A common argument against electric vehicles is that they’re “unreliable” or “too limited in range.” Ten years ago, these critics may have been right. But today, electric vehicles represent the future of the auto industry. In 2020, electric car manufacturer Tesla overtook Toyota to become the world’s most valuable carmaker. Other auto companies have been quick to follow, from luxury brands like Audi, BMW, and Jaguar to more affordable options like Chevy or Nissan now boasting new EV options. This trend is driven by scientific advancements in batteries and charging that allow you to travel farther and recharge quicker than ever before. But what does travel with an EV look like today? Is a road trip really viable? Let’s take a look.
What charging options are out there?
Although modern electric vehicles have an impressive range (reaching as high as 136 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, or MPGe), you’ll need to recharge at some point. Most EV owners charge their vehicles at home and save huge amounts of time and money by doing so. But if you’re considering a road trip, you should keep an eye out for these three types of charging stations along your journey:
Level 2 Chargers
Level 2 chargers deliver 10-60 miles of range per hour of charging. These are compatible with most EVs, and are the kind that you most likely have at home if you own an EV.
DC Fast Chargers
DC Fast Chargers, also known as Level 3 chargers, can deliver 60-100 miles of range in a stunning 20 minutes. On the downside, not all EVs are compatible with this type of charger, so make sure to check beforehand to see if they will work for you.
Tesla Superchargers are capable of fully charging a Tesla battery in roughly 30 minutes. These work great if you’re a Tesla owner, but unfortunately are only compatible with Tesla vehicles.
What is MPGe?
When EV companies talk about miles per gallon (MPG), they aren’t referring to the classic definition of MPG (since EVs don’t run on gallons of gasoline). Rather, they use the metric MPGe, or “miles per gallon equivalent” to put a value on the distance an electric vehicle can travel on the electricity equivalent of one gallon of gasoline (~33.7 kilowatt-hours). This metric is particularly useful for not only comparing the driving ranges from one EV to the next, but also evaluating the cost to charge an EV against the cost to fuel a traditional gasoline car. Higher MPGe ratings correlate to higher vehicle efficiency, and thus lower electricity usage.
Where can you find EV charging stations?
According to GreenCarCongress, there are over 68,800 Level 2 and DC Fast charging stations around the U.S. Tools like EV Trip Planner can be extremely helpful in planning your route to ensure you encounter these recharging stations along your way.
Additionally, many EVs have built-in navigation systems that show the locations of nearby charging stations and recommended stops so you never run out of charge. Tesla’s charging network includes over 14,000 Superchargers in over 1,600 unique locations (and counting!) nationwide.
Here is Tesla’s 2020 map of Superchargers for reference:
Strategies to optimize your trip
As a traveling EV owner, what can you do to optimize the time and money you spend charging your car? Here are a few tips and tricks to help:
Take advantage of perks
If you own an EV, you have a number of perks available to you. For example, some stores and shopping centers have designated parking spaces right up front for electric vehicles. These are extremely convenient, and often come with free charging stations so you can charge while you shop.
Are you taking an overnight trip? Many hotels also offer free charging, priority spaces, and sometimes even complimentary valet for EVs. Perks like these can be found at a few major hotel chains, such as Marriott, Best Western, and Holiday Inn.
Finally, depending on your state, you could be eligible for a carpool lane sticker, based purely on the fact that you own an EV. These allow you to travel in carpool lanes even when you’re alone, and can help cut down on your travel time substantially.
Stay close to cities
Cities have a great deal of built infrastructure, including a high concentration of charging stations. Staying close to cities will ensure that a charging station is always nearby.
Drive smart and effective
The single most important factor affecting your car’s range is driving speed. The faster you drive, the more wind resistance will become a factor. Slowing down and limiting top speed can hugely increase your range. Accelerating slowly and drafting behind other vehicles are also solid techniques to improve efficiency.
Additionally, you should always leave a buffer of about 10-15 miles left in your battery to avoid getting stranded. Even though your battery might read that it has a few miles left, this reading can be affected by the battery’s age, health, and calibration, among other factors.
What happens if your EV runs out of battery?
Hopefully this never happens, but if it does, your first move should be to call roadside assistance. Fortunately, depending on the kind of EV you own, some companies like AAA offer roadside charging services so you can make it to the nearest charging station. As a last resort, your car can be towed to the closest location with an EV charger.
The final takeaway
While the electric vehicle of years ago may have been a dubious choice, its modern cousin is safe, reliable, and road-trip ready. Companies like Tesla have shown that EVs are as good, if not better than traditional gasoline vehicles by winning awards like MotorTrend’s Car of the Year. Other carmakers are following at a rapid pace, which indicates that EVs are ready for the broader market. As an EV owner, you enjoy numerous perks alongside vast savings of time and money. If the open road calls to you, your electric vehicle has you in good hands.