Feb 21, 2023 - Technology

7 key lessons I learned on my 1,500-mile electric car road trip

Charging our EV at night, in the green glow of Electrify America

Charging at night at Electrify America north of Charleston, S.C. Photo: Bill Rapai

My recent 1,500-mile road trip in an electric car taught me some valuable lessons — how to get over our initial range anxiety, for example, and how to find the best charging spots.

  • It also demanded a change in attitude. You're going to be disappointed; just accept it and plan accordingly.

Maybe some day charging away from home will be as seamless as filling up a gas tank. But that's not true today.

  • Still, a long road trip is indeed possible in an electric car. My husband and I did it (in a press-loaned Kia EV6), and so can you.

Here's what we learned...

Chargers aren't where you expect them. Only two of the chargers we came across were located at traditional highway rest stops. More often than not, they're in the parking lot of a Walmart, shopping mall or tourist trap.

  • Most EVs will show you charging stations on the car's navigation system. A few, like those from Tesla and Mercedes, will even advise when you should charge along your planned route.
  • We used route-planning apps like PlugShare, A Better Route Planner and Chargeway.
  • There are no signs along the highway for EV charging stations — but there should be.

Don't expect lots of amenities near chargers. You can usually walk to a bathroom or restaurant, but there are no trash bins or other conveniences nearby.

  • Nor is there cover from the elements, as we discovered one rainy day. You can sit in the car while it charges, but you're already wet from futzing with the charger.

Safety could be a concern. The chargers are lit up at night, but not enough to make you feel secure. I sat in the car and locked the doors while charging after dark.

  • There was a security camera mounted on a pole at one charging spot in a Target parking lot, but the light on top of the pole was out.
  • At another station, in a Walmart lot, I felt uneasy with three or four idling semi-trucks nearby.

Not all "fast" chargers are the same. A bank of chargers typically offers an array of power levels, ranging from 50 kW to 350 kW. If you know how fast your car can accept electricity, you should select the appropriate charger.

  • Beggars can't be choosers, though, and sometimes you take whatever charger is available.

Fast-charging is slower than expected. We charged mostly at Electrify America or EVGo fast-chargers, and always sought out the fastest plug available (usually 350 kW) because Kia's 800-volt EV6 is capable of gulping power faster than most other cars.

  • Even so, the charging speed would ramp up to a maximum of around 200 kW, and then slow down.
  • After 80%, charging always slows down to a trickle in any EV — just like a gas pump slows when the tank is almost full.
  • Our fastest time to charge from 20% to 80% was about 20 minutes at a 350-kW charger. Our slowest: 55 minutes at a 50-kW charger.

Charging away from home is expensive. Electricity at home costs a national average of 16 cents per kilowatt-hour. On the road, we paid anywhere from 30 cents to 43 cents.

  • Total cost for charging was around $162. We figure the same trip would have cost about $184 in a gasoline-powered Kia Sportage SUV, which gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
  • There's a time cost, too. We figure charging added a total of about 4 hours to our trip.

You meet the nicest people while charging. Everyone is eager to compare notes, share tips and check out each other's ride.

What to watch: Charging convenience is set to improve, in part because the federal government is putting $7.5 billion behind a national charger network.

  • Tesla, whose Superchargers can be found pretty much coast-to-coast, plans to double the size of its network and make some chargers available to drivers of other brands.
  • Other players, such as Electrify America, EVGo and ChargePoint, are beefing up their networks, too.

Go deeper: The future of America's EV charging network takes shape

Go deeper