I have one of the worst EVs ever made—a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Despite its low range and funky looks, I’ve found it to be a remarkably useful around-town shuttle. Long road trips are where electric vehicles struggle—the charging infrastructure still sucks—but the challenge is not insurmountable. Well, at least if your EV’s not as cashed out as mine. I put about 1,200 miles on a 2022 Chevy Bolt EUV to learn how to make the most of a long haul in an electric car and have come back with insight and intel.
Ohio to D.C. and Back
The trip was at least 400 miles each way, depending on which route I chose to take. I’d be driving from my house in northeast Columbus, Ohio, to the heart of Washington, D.C, for the Out Motorsports Hot Girl Summer Road Rally, a weekend road rally full of gays, cars, and shenanigans in the DC area. I’ve done this route several times before in a gas car, it should take seven hours or so, usually requiring at least one fill-up and bathroom break along the journey. The Bolt EUV is rated for 247 miles, so I’d need to charge at least once during my trip.
But, where would I charge? Outside of a lone Electrify America station in Cambridge, Ohio (about 30 miles from Columbus), my most familiar route via the I-70/I-79 corridor is a complete charging dead zone. There are zero DC fast charging options for the cities of Washington, PA, Wheeling, WV, or Morgantown, WV.
When calibrating my new route, I noticed that from my front door to the tip of Western Maryland, sat a DC fast charger, in a state park in the tiny town of Friendsville, Maryland. The distance was just over 240 miles, in theory, right within the range of the Bolt EUV’s 247 miles. On paper, that was feasible, but that route didn’t consider the effects terrain, and speed would have. I would be driving through the Appalachian hills, at freeway speeds. There’s no guarantee that the charger would be working, unoccupied. Heck, the charger only existed according to Plugshare, a user-sourced, user-maintained website. Plugshare has led me to non-existent charging options before; relying on Plugshare could have very well led me to my demise. I would be stranded, with a nearly dead car with not enough range to drive to a working charger.
Friendsville was out. My new route would take me from Columbus, through Wheeling, WV. Then when I reached Washington, PA, I would instead go north into Pittsburgh’s southern border, to an EVGo-branded DC fast charger in one of the city’s southern neighborhoods. From there, I’d be able to get most of the way to DC, before I needed to charge again. Granted, I’ve written before about Pittsburgh’s terrible DC fast charging infrastructure, but “terrible” in this instance is superior to “nonexistent”. Thankfully, multiple apps showed plenty of DC fast charging options within 50 miles of the capital’s outskirts.
Nothing Went to Plan
I left Columbus at around 7 a.m., reaching the Southwest Pittsburgh suburb of Bethel Park, at around 10 a.m. My calculations told me that a full recharge via DC fast charging should take about an hour and a half, including the post 80% charging speed slowdown that most electric cars do while DC fast charging to protect the battery. That’s the perfect amount of time to call an Uber and have breakfast at a restaurant I hadn’t been to in nearly a decade, Dor-Stop Cafe. By the time I’d finished my Guy Fieri-recommended flapjacks, the Bolt EUV would be ready for another leg of the trip. The EVGo station at the Village Square mall in Bethel Park, PA, was listed as working in both Plugshare and the EVGo app.
Both apps were wrong. The charging station was broken.
I hadn’t driven to the last electron to get there. I still had about 23% of battery life left, enough range to try a few more DC fast chargers, but I knew I’d have to be selective because none were all that close. I drove about 30 minutes further north, deeper into Pittsburgh, further off route, to another EVGo charger situated in the parking lot of a Shop n Save and Dunkin Donuts.
This one worked, but the charging speed never passed 34 kW. Whatever. I was hangry, and not in the mood to negotiate customer service with another EVGo rep, so I ditched the Bolt and got some Guy Fieri-recommended flapjacks.
I was only focused on eating my apple cinnamon pancakes, not caring or monitoring the Bolt’s state of charge. As I got my check, I got a notification from EVGo—the Bolt EUV had finished charging. “Uh, that seems sus, but maybe the charging speed dramatically increased since I left,” I thought. I couldn’t tell straight away from my EVGo invoice how much power the Bolt EUV had used.
I arrived at a Chevrolet Bolt EUV that only had 147 miles of range after a so-called full charge. A Reddit search informed me that, EVGo DC fast chargers have a time limit, of one hour, unless you’ve paid to subscribe. I pulled into the charging station with 9% and left with 63%. I was off route and had added at least 30 miles to my journey, I didn’t have enough range to make it to DC. I was livid.
Frustrated, tired, and ready to give up, I unplugged the Bolt EUV and raced to the nearest Electrify America station. It was also way off route, and in the middle of nowhere; two reasons why I avoided that particular station. But, I knew that it was my best shot at getting a reliably fast, full charge. I left home at 7 a.m. and arrived at my first DC fast charging stop at 10:30 a.m. Charging issues added more than two hours to my journey. I didn’t leave the Pittsburgh area until after 2 p.m. Eventually, I did make it to Washington D.C., at 6:45 p.m., 11 hours and 30 minutes after I left my home in Ohio. More than four hours on top of a normally seven-hour drive.
But, what did I learn?
Tips for EV Road Tripping in 2022
- Consider the maximum charging speed of the vehicle you're in and the charging speed of the charger. For example, the Chevrolet Bolt EUV can only charge at a max rate of 55 kW, which means a high-powered fast charger rated at say, 350 kW, won’t charge the vehicle any faster. Commonly, lots of older DC fast chargers operate at a speed of 50 kW, only slightly slower than what the Bolt EUV can handle. On the other hand, a 50 kW fast charger might be agonizingly slow for someone in say, a GMC Hummer EV, which has a battery at least double the size and can handle more than twice the speeds of the Bolt EUV. There may be no point in navigating to a hyper-fast charger if your vehicle can’t handle it.
- Remember that EV charging is boring. Sure, cars like the Mustang Mach-E and Tesla’s line of vehicles have some apps to pass the time, but in my experience, they get boring fast. Craning my neck to play Witcher 3 or watch Netflix on a centrally mounted screen isn’t my idea of a good time. Also, we’re all human, with the need for bathroom breaks, food, and fresh air. Rather than complain that an EV can’t recharge as fast as a gas car can refuel, I find that EV charging is the perfect time to take care of one’s human needs and recuperate for the rest of the drive. If possible, pick a charger near at least a handful of things to do, the very least being near a bathroom.
- It’s smart to pick a charger that’s within a reasonable distance of other chargers, if possible. Our charging network is piecemeal, with landlords, charging companies, and utility service providers all playing hot potato when it comes to the question of “who maintains this charger?” You’ll probably encounter a broken charger during your travel and may need to drive to the next nearest working charger.
- Your car will likely not get the advertised range. Unlike gas-powered cars, which do better on the freeway at constant speeds, electric vehicle range is directly proportional to power consumption. Generally, EVs use more power at higher speeds than at lower speeds. Add in the extra power consumption behind dealing with terrain, accessories, lights, air conditioning, or heat, and the range will be a percentage lower than advertised, sometimes half as far. For example, when I drove through Wheeling, WV in the wintertime in the Volkswagen ID.4, power consumption sometimes dipped lower than 1 mile per kW/h.
- Assure that your destination has access to Level 2 charging. Level 2 is cheaper to both build and use, and generally can recharge an EV from flat to full, overnight. Starting with a freshly full battery in the morning is far less stressful than taking a chance with a public DC fast charger.
I’m Still Optimistic About an Electric Future
Right now, EV charging infrastructure is crap, there are plenty of pitfalls, some of which I fell into, despite having a seemingly airtight plan. But, EV road-tripping is possible, provided you stay flexible and keep your wits about you. I still think that better things are on the horizon.
After the road rally and camaraderie, I left Front Royal, VA, stopping to recharge in Frostburg, MD. Frostburg’s charger was flawless, rocketing to 55 kW, and remaining there until the car dropped down to around 25 kW at 80%, protecting its battery. I spent not quite an hour in a small town, enjoying lunch and coffee. From there, I drove to Cambridge, Ohio, where a 10-minute recharge and bathroom break at an Electrify America station gave me enough range to get home. It was simple, easy, and painless. How it should be, but often isn’t because of bad infrastructure.
A short while ago, the electric car internet launched itself in a tizzy over a Wall Street Journal article in which a journalist drove an electric car over a very long road trip, remarking that she spent more time charging, than sleeping. Now, Electric car twitter isn’t real life, but the author’s piece set bruised a lot of egos. Words flew around, and it seemed like more than a few EV enthusiasts set out to prove her wrong.
In the immortal words of Hannibal Buress, Why are you booing (her)? (She’s) right.
Charging infrastructure woes nearly doubled my travel time, and it’s not even the car’s fault. The Bolt EUV is impressive in so many metrics. In just ten years we’ve gone from hastily converted kei cars that can barely do 60 miles in ideal conditions, to cars that can sail well past 200 miles when driven like a normal person. Articles like mine or hers shouldn’t exist, EV charging should be as ubiquitous as gas, but it isn’t.
Until it is, articles and tip lists like this will continue to be written. EV road tripping is possible, even with crap infrastructure. Stay smart, stay flexible, and I promise, things are only going to get better for EV drivers from here on out.