I’ve always been intrigued by electric cars. I love driving but hate the problems that cars bring—like maintenance and the looming possibility of another expensive thing breaking that I don’t know how to fix. A car is “the gift that keeps on taking.” So, when the State motor pool offered me the option of reserving an Electric Vehicle (EV) for an upcoming work trip, I jumped at the chance.
An intimidating itinerary
Day 1: Travel to Port Townsend, then on to Spokane (450 miles).
Day 2: Visit Spokane Indian Housing, then Colville, and end up in Spokane (175 miles).
Day 3: Visit Palouse and Pullman, and then back to Olympia (401 miles).
Each day of this trip was filled with appointments and site inspections. The schedule had been planned weeks in advance, and it didn’t allow for time to deal with charging problems that might arise. In order to map out my EV trip including scheduling charging stops, I used two different apps.
A Better Route Planner (ABRP). Now available on mobile devices as an app in addition to their website, this will tell you 95% of the information you need to know about charging within 30 seconds. It even calculates how long to spend at each charging station in order to have the fastest trip possible. My favorite thing about this app is the ability to tweak and customize the details.
PlugShare. I used this popular app to double–check that the charging stations were active and reliable (thanks to the in–app reviews). A Better Route Planner told me exactly what to do, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket.
Know your car
Aside from knowing my route and where to charge, I needed to know my car. The Chevy Bolt EV is rated by the EPA at around 250 miles, but this number is only useful when you’re car shopping. It’s just a dumb number you can use to make comparisons with other EVs that have been tested in the same way.
Personally, I liked guessing the efficiency I might expect—like 3.5 miles/kWh—and then multiplying that by the 66 kWh capacity of the battery. This way I could predict how the car was likely to behave. If it showed only 2.8 miles/kWh on the dash display, I knew I needed to modify my plan. (If you don’t like fooling around with a calculator as much as I do, you might prefer to rely on the ongoing display estimating how many more miles you can go without charging.
Trust your car
Early on in my trip, I was checking the car range constantly. By the end of the second day, I had learned to trust the range the car was predicting, and it seemed to have “learned” what driving style and conditions to expect on my trip. I was able to reach for my calculator less, and drove faster if I knew I had extra electrons to burn (though I guess you don’t actually “burn” electrons…).
Enjoy the route
At a charging station in Ellensburg, I discovered their Saturday market, spent an hour there after forgetting that I was “waiting” on a charger, and wound up purchasing some pottery. Guess how many times in my life I’ve stopped on a road trip to purchase pottery? That’s right, never! It was fantastic. I never would have known the market was there or stopped to visit it if I hadn’t taken a break to charge the car. I was able to come home with a thoughtful gift.
On the third day, I drove on the Palouse Scenic Byway. The name is misleading. Driving Highway 26 from Pullman to Vantage is the best way to cross the state. It’s 180 miles from charger to charger and the wheat fields were still green in spring. It was like floating through paradise. I pulled over onto a gravel road and captured a photo, amazed at my state and amazed that I could explore such new places in an electric car.
Tips for a successful EV trip
All in all, I drove 1,091 miles in three days and had no regrets about my choice to go electric. Here are some tips, as well as my thoughts on how to successfully plan electric road–tripping:
Better driving. EVs are better vehicles than internal combustion ones, as far as driveability and comfort are concerned. They’re quieter, with smoother acceleration, no downshifting up hills, and tons of torque for passing on two lane highways. You never have to wonder if that funny burning smell is coming from your engine; it’s always somebody else’s.
Winter would have changed everything—from battery efficiency to driving comfort, to overall predictability and planning.
Hotel charging. Having a charger at your hotel is great. I charged for free in my sleep!
Timing. Arriving at a charger in time for lunch or dinner is good planning.
Traffic. Beware epic detours and winter traffic jams. These are the two things that I can imagine screwing with trip planning or range expectations. Regular traffic jams (with the heat off), on the other hand, are great for your range. I got the best efficiency of my whole trip on I–5 at 5 PM.
Calculate your trip. Make peace with math, and math will give you peace. The distance you need to go can be divided by the battery capacity, and you’ll know the miles/kWh number to look for while you’re driving. The car can’t know what sort of road you will be driving on, so it may give you an overly optimistic estimate of your remaining range if you’re about to do some energy–intensive driving. Paying attention to how much electricity per mile I was actually using and how far I needed to go made me feel better on the way up Snoqualmie Pass.
Charging problems. DC Fast Chargers are a technology I hate to love. I look forward to more user–friendly charging infrastructure. My chief complaints on this trip were heavy unwieldy cables and broken credit card readers, though those only meant I had to move to the next charger in the row.
A win–win choice
Gas–fueled cars are helping to kill the planet. If this trip report has a thesis, it is that driving electric is a win–win. It ain’t no sacrifice. Driving electric is an asset on a road trip. I think it helps to create a better experience than the unthinking zombie marathon of a gas–powered endless journey.
I’m surprised and annoyed when EVs are criticized because a 1,000–mile road trip like mine includes four hours of additional time for charging. I think it’s a good thing to take more breaks. Take a walk, throw a Frisbee and let the dog pee, read a book, or explore a town that you’ve only ever visited via their gas station.
Do we Americans really need more opportunities to be objects in motion? Has perpetual maximization of the most easily measurable outcomes ever delivered the greatest good? If you’ve never been in one, you might think that driving an EV up, down, and across the state in three days would be a hassle. But after doing it, I was grateful for the opportunity. It’s a better tool for the job.