Dec 20, 2023 - Technology

The perils of an electric car holiday road trip

Animated illustration of blinking holiday lights wrapped around a caution road sign, with snow falling around it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Getting over the river and through the woods might be challenging this holiday season if the sleigh you're driving is an electric vehicle.

Why it matters: EVs are growing in popularity, including among rental fleets.

  • Featuring the latest gizmos and technologies, EVs are fun to drive and surprisingly spacious, making for a delightful way to travel.
  • But without proper preparation, inexperienced EV drivers could face some unwanted travel surprises during a season that's already pretty stressful.

By the numbers: Nearly 104 million people will drive at least 50 miles from home between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1, slightly more than last year's holiday period, AAA predicts.

Be smart: EV road trips require advance planning — especially in colder weather, which can significantly diminish battery range.

  • My husband and I learned this firsthand last February as the temperatures dipped on a road trip back home to Michigan from Florida.
  • We were overconfident in our car's driving range, and had to practically limp to a charging station as the battery warnings flashed ever-more urgent messages.

Here's what you need to know so you arrive at your holiday destination in good spirits:

Make a plan: Know how many miles it'll take to get to your destination and where you're going to charge, if necessary.

  • Route-planning apps like PlugShare or A Better Routeplanner can help — or if you're driving a Tesla, use the automaker's app.
  • Chargeway, one of the most user-friendly apps, now offers real-time updates on charger availability and an enhanced trip planner that considers weather conditions, driving speed and other factors.

When calculating your departure, be sure to factor in charging time so you don't miss any holiday festivities.

  • I missed half of my niece's baby shower because I had to stop and recharge the EV I was test-driving.

Save time by setting up billing accounts on the major charging network apps before you go.

  • Charging stations sometimes have glitchy touchscreens.

If you wind up renting an EV — whether you chose one or not — get familiar with the car's unique features before leaving the rental lot.

  • Also, ask whether you need to return it with a full battery.
  • With Hertz's "Skip the Recharge" option, you're fine if you bring the car back at the same charge level it had at pickup. Otherwise, Hertz will ding you with a $35 fee.

Don't assume you're all set if you arrive at the party with some juice left in the battery.

  • An EV can lose battery range just sitting out in the cold.
  • If you're staying with family, find out if they'll let you plug in your car while you're in town. Maybe bring some extra food or drinks in exchange.
  • Even a trickle charge from an ordinary 110-volt outlet can recharge an EV over a few days.

Yes, but: Recharging your car can be a good excuse to duck out for a couple of hours if you need a break from the holiday madness.

Some hotels have chargers, but check the apps and call ahead to verify.

  • Hotel chargers are typically for overnight charging, but if another guest arrives before you, you could be out of luck.

The bottom line: If you're driving an EV this holiday, make a list and check it twice.

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