Electric vehicles are becoming more common, especially in cities for commuters. As charging networks grow and EV ranges increase, more EV drivers are starting to venture out of the city taking their vehicle on longer road trips. With this change, there can be some uncertainty with how to plan the trip considering the need for charging breaks.
We will share some tips on how to navigate an EV road trip.
First, your experience will be a little different if you drive a Tesla. Teslas can take advantage of the proprietary Supercharger network, as well as the general DC fast charger and Level 2 networks, such as Electrify America, EVGo, Chargepoint, etc. Drivers of other EVs will have a smaller network to work with, so keep that in mind. Hopefully the opening of many Tesla chargers to other brands will help even the playing field.
Let’s walk through a road-trip test case, where we travel from Seattle to San Francisco in a Chevrolet Bolt, Recurrent’s Best Used EV of 2023. What do we need to do to prepare?
Before you leave
Learn your charge rate
When planning your trip, first review the charging specifications of your vehicle. For example, is your EV DC fast charging compatible? Most are, but with an older EV, it pays to check.
Fast charging allows you to recharge and add range at a much higher rate compared to Level 2 chargers. Fast charging rates can vary from around 50 kW to up to over 250 kW, depending on the charger and the vehicle limits. To check for your vehicle, we have a quick reference table below for recent models, but you can also find your vehicle in Recurrent’s Used EV guide for more specifications.
Also note what type of charger your car is compatible with. If you are not sure, check out our review of EV charger types. Your charger type will be important to keep in mind when searching for charging stations.
- Teslas all have the same connector type, which is both AC (Level 1 and 2) and DC fast charging compatible. If using a charging station besides a Tesla Supercharger, adapters are available to convert from the Tesla connector to the AC J1772 standard (level 2) or to CCS (level 3).
- Most non-Tesla vehicles that are DC fast charging compatible use the CCS connector type. Some Japanese car manufacturers use the CHAdeMO type, so Nissan Leaf drivers might have this type instead.
If this all feels overwhelming to you, check out our guide to AC and DC EV charging connectors
Learn your car's range
Next, what is your vehicle’s typical range? Note: don't rely on the EPA range - every specific car will vary a bit so you should be familiar with the car you will be driving. If you’re not sure, we recommend driving it around for a few days before the road trip. While driving around, take note of how your range changes whether you are driving mostly on highways or in traffic.
Note: don't rely on the EPA range
For our example, we will assume we are driving a 2020 Chevrolet Bolt, which has a 66 kWh battery with an EPA range of about 259 miles on a full charge. Recurrent has found that most 2020 Bolts with replacement batteries get a range around that. However, when fast-charging during the road-trip, we will not be able to use the entire range. Fast-charging above 80% state of charge (SOC) is very slow and can lead to battery degradation. Also, it is best to not let the battery go too far below 20% SOC, so we will have around 60% of the typical range available, or around 155 miles.
Plan a tentative route
To plan the route, let’s start with some simple calculations by hand. When starting the day, our vehicle will be fully charged (100% SOC), because you’ve likely been able to charge overnight at home or at a hotel using level 2 charging.
It is OK to charge to 100% with level 2 charging
It is best practice to not discharge below 20%, but on a long trip, we could go to 10% to reach the next station. So, we will essentially have 80%-90% of the battery capacity available, or 207-233 miles.
Other factors will affect the range too, such as driving at highway speeds. InsideEVs performed a study on many types of EVs to see how the range was reduced when driving at 70 mph. They found that the 2020 Chevy Bolt had a 12.7% reduction in range, or about 33 miles. So when we subtract that from our range, we get 174-200 miles. Lastly, we know that cold temperatures can affect the range, especially when below 30℉. Keep this in mind if driving in winter, (and if you’re looking specifically for a winter road trip car, check out our recommendations).
We can do a similar calculation when leaving a fast-charging station, where our vehicle will only be charged to 80% SOC. For this case, replace the 100% starting charge with 80%. The resulting range is 122 - 148 miles. Overall, if we start with a full charge, we can go about 175 miles, or 125 miles from an 80% SOC.
The drive from Seattle to San Francisco is about 800 miles, or 13 hours of driving at highway speeds. We can break the trip into two days to allow for extra time to charge (for both the EV and driver), and to take advantage of a second overnight charge.
Or, Use an App
If all this math seems like a lot of work, there are apps that can help with the planning. We can use the app PlugShare to find a hotel that has an EV charger and check their status. This filter can be found in the Trip Planner tool, which is great for planning the route in general. It looks like there are multiple options in southern Oregon, about halfway along the route.
Next, we can find charging opportunities across the rest of the route. In the PlugShare Trip Planner tool, we can filter for chargers that have compatible connectors, are fast-charging (greater than 50 kW), and are near dining and entertainment. We are able to find chargers within the safe ranges we calculated above, and we can estimate charging times by using the vehicle spec from Chevrolet that the Bolt gains around 100 miles for every 30 min of charging.
Having this in mind helps gauge what kind of activities can be done while the vehicle charges, such as eating meals, taking a break, and shopping for supplies.
If you want to minimize range anxiety, you can also check out EV navigation and route planning apps like A Better Routeplanner, and EV-Navigation. These tools help predict the actual range of your vehicle along the route. If it is colder weather, or a mountainous route, they give a more accurate range estimate. You can also adjust for the number of riders to estimate the vehicle load. Tesla drivers can also find Superchargers and plan routes in the Tesla app.
PlugShare allows users to leave reviews and comment on their experience when using a charger. These reviews can help you determine if the charger is usable and estimate how much competition there will be to charge and go. For chargers outside of businesses, such as restaurants or hotels, it could be worth calling ahead. For hotels, also check if they allow users to charge the vehicle at a lower rate overnight. This way you can take advantage of the 100% SOC at the beginning of the day.
Have apps downloaded and ready to go
More and more charging apps and charging networks are becoming available. To save time and to prevent cell-service interruptions, download the apps ahead of time. Luckily, PlugShare lists the charger’s network and pay format. On our route, we will be using chargers managed by EVGo, Electrify America, EVCS, and ChargePoint. This route is a great example of how confusing it can be sometimes to find multiple chargers in the same network, especially if you have a membership with a certain company. With a little more tinkering with the route, you might be able to minimize the number of companies you need to make an account with. But if not, downloading payment apps ahead of time can make it easier when you get to the charger. You don’t have to worry as much about which chargers take credit cards and which do not (or if the credit card reader works). Some apps also give you a few free charges for signing up, so create accounts ahead of time to see what offers are available.
Reevaluate as You Go
As we have discussed in previous articles, your EV range can change depending on the weather and road conditions. If it is colder than you expected, it might be harder to reach the charging station you planned. Keep track of a few back-up locations just in case, or check one of your charging location apps during a break. Your driving speed can reduce range as well. When charging stations are far apart, stick to the right lane of the highway and reduce your speed or turn down the heat/AC.
Remember Best Practices
Also keep preconditioning best practices in mind. Preconditioning is when you adjusting the climate of the vehicle and battery while the vehicle is plugged into the charger. You can turn on air conditioning or heat in the vehicle before driving, so the battery does not have to use as much energy to create comfortable conditions during the trip. Preconditioning can also make sure that the battery is at the best temperature for efficient charging. For the Chevy Bolt in our example, the driver can only control the climate in the vehicle. We can schedule the vehicle to heat up or cool down before departing, but we cannot control the battery temperature. Therefore, we should make sure the battery is not cold when we charge it. We can do this by charging right after driving.
Looking toward the future of EV travel
Looking forward, there is hope that this charging network will improve. The Biden administration is pushing for a Made-in-America reliable charging network that consists of 500,000 chargers along major highways. Specific actions include encouraging Tesla to open their charging network to non-Tesla EVs. Their goal is to make 7,500 chargers available by 2024. They also hope to unify charging networks, to make the experience more user friendly, and minimize the number of payment accounts you need. Until then, be mindful of your driving, plan ahead, and enjoy your trip!