Mar 8, 2023 - Technology

Cold weather nearly wrecked our 2,500-mile electric car adventure

Illustration of a road sign with a lightning bolt in the middle in a snowstorm

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Just when we thought we'd figured out how to master a long road trip in an electric vehicle (EV), Mother Nature imparted one final lesson.

Why it matters: We almost ruined our 2,500-mile electric adventure from Michigan to Florida and back because we were overconfident in our car's driving range.

  • As we approached home in metro Detroit, a quick drop in temperature, along with snow and sleet, gave us range anxiety all over again.

We blame Ohio. The state bills itself as a growing hub for battery and electric vehicle manufacturing, and yet the stretch of I-75 from Cincinnati to Toledo is pretty much a charging desert when it comes to DC fast-charging — the kind you want on a road trip.

Catch up fast: My husband and I drove from Michigan to Florida last month in a Kia EV6 on loan from the carmaker's press fleet.

  • We took four days to get there — not due to the car's limitations, but because we planned stops in Washington, D.C.; Wake Forest, North Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina.
  • After three weeks working remotely in the Sunshine State, we headed north along a different route, with a planned stop in Nashville.

We used route planning apps like PlugShare, A Better Routeplanner and Chargeway to figure out when and where to charge.

  • A built-in route planner (like Teslas have) would have been better, but our ad hoc system worked just fine.
  • It was a remarkably stress-free trip for the most part — until we hit Ohio.

Details: We were hungry and tired as we left Kentucky and crossed the Ohio River into Cincinnati around dusk on Sunday.

  • We could have been home by midnight if we were driving a gas car, even if we stopped for dinner.
  • But since we had to add time for charging — and there were limited options down the road — we decided to get a hotel room for the night.

Yes, but: Our charging options didn't look any better in the daylight.

  • We had to choose between going slightly out of our way to find a DC ultra-fast-charger or waiting around at a much slower charging station at a car dealership or an adult education center.
  • The Kia's 800-volt charging system is the fastest in the industry, so we opted to stick with Electrify America and EVGo's fast-chargers, even if it meant taking a couple little detours.
  • We had to get off I-75, for example, and head east on I-70 for about five miles to reach an Electrify America station in a Walmart parking lot in Huber Heights, east of Dayton.
  • We charged to 96%, good for 249 miles of range. Home was 215 miles away, so we figured we'd arrive with about 34 miles, or 15%, left on the battery.

What happened: By the time we got to a highway rest stop in Bowling Green, the temperature dropped into the low 40s.

  • When we crossed into Michigan, the sleet and snow started falling, and so did our range. We watched nervously as that 34-mile cushion started to shrink.
  • Cold weather can significantly reduce an EV's range, and here was living proof.

At 10%, with 21 miles left, we got a low battery warning.

  • At 8%, with 17 miles left, the car informed us it was "blocking outside air for comfort" — in other words, it was recirculating our body heat. But then the windows started to fog up.
  • Luckily, that's when we rolled into General Motors' headquarters at the Detroit Renaissance Center, with four EVGo fast-chargers out front.

The intrigue: We were only eight miles from home, normally a 23-minute drive, but we weren't going to take any more chances.

  • I threw on my hooded parka, got out and plugged in the car.
  • For 35 minutes — long enough to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle — we stayed warm inside the car as it charged from 7% to 82%.
  • We finally arrived home a little after 5pm Monday.

The bottom line: Our road trip in an electric car was an adventure, with excitement up until the very end.

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