Your electric car may look suave and get the environmental seal of approval but is it realistic to take an epic road trip in the car? Can you navigate backroads of North America relying solely on electric charging stations? Some adventurers have done it and here’s what they found.
The popularity of electric cars has only really taken off in the last few years and whilst they serve well for commuting in the city, pulling off a road trip might not be as straightforward as you think. It requires forethought, planning and sometimes sheer luck, but it is more than possible.
1.The mileage capabilities and why a ‘mile’ isn’t necessarily a ‘mile’
Whatever electric vehicle you are considering taking on the road trip, it is important to look at the mileage capabilities of the car. Many EVs on the market only have a sub-100-mile range and whilst this may suffice for city living, it will become problematic for long-distances. Tesla has the best mileage with some models, such as the Model S, which has a 370-mile range (that’s nearly from New York to Virginia without needing charge). If you’re not keen on the Tesla, a couple of good alternatives are the BMW i3 94ah which has a 153-mile electric range and the Chevrolet Bolt which has over 200 miles. One thing to bear in mind is that an electric mile isn’t necessarily a legitimate mile. The mileage capability of your EV depends on how fast you drive, elevation change and acceleration. If you love going off the beaten track then splurging on more battery range is worthwhile (although take heed because ‘splurge’ means several thousand dollars).
2.Plan well: where to find charging points
Another factor to consider is the amount of charging points available on your route. Tesla provides 1000 Supercharger Stations dotted along well-traveled routes, which can recharge your car in roughly an hour. This means whether you are in New Mexico or downtown LA, you should be able to find a fast charging station nearby. Electrify America, a competitor to Tesla developed by Volkswagen, have also set up a bunch of charging stations every 70 miles on a route from LA to Washington DC. Unlike Tesla’s stations, their chargers are compatible with all electric cars.
3.Into the wild: is nature accessible in an electric car?
Many road trippers want a good ol’ dose of nature on their journey and if that’s you, then traveling in a Tesla is your best bet because they’ve conveniently placed charging stations near most of the popular national parks such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. If you want to avoid the crowds and explore lesser-known national parks such as Big Bend and Great Basin, then you’ll have to take a gas car as these remote areas aren’t yet serviced by charging stations. Apps such as ChargePoint allow you to check the charging point locations so you can plan your journey accordingly.
4.How long does it takes to charge your car
Juicing an EV can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 12 hours depending on the size of the charging battery and how much you’ve depleted the juice. The general rule of thumb is that the more remote you go, the slower the chargers tend to be and it will therefore take longer to charge your vehicle. But with careful planning all these “hurdles” can be easily jumped. Hook your car up and take a hike or a nap while you wait, who needs to be in a rush?
5. Pipped to the post: what to do if the charger is already in use
Sometimes even when you do find a charging station it’s already in use. Andrew Moseman faced this during his big US road trip when he arrived at his accommodation in Bryce Canyon and found “two Teslas occupied the only available charging stalls, a fear that had lingered in the back of my mind during our drive”. He slept the night and woke early to plug his car in when the other Teslas had left but this little mishap put him behind schedule. Perhaps it’s potential disruptions like this that make the good old gas-guzzler more appealing to you instead. A way around this is by getting a hybrid car which is a mix between electric battery and gas tanks. This way you can do your part for the planet by using the electric battery some of the time but swap to gas if need be. Another option is range-extended electric cars which are completely electric vehicles with a tiny gas motor. The function of the gas motor is to charge the car which can boost your mileage on road trips if you cannot find a charging station.
Sticking to the main highways is more than doable in an electric car but pulling off a backcountry road trip is more challenging. Your journey might not always be simple and bump-free, but isn’t that the whole point of an adventure anyway?