By Jeff Johnston | July, 2020

Introduction

We drove our 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric from Olympia to the San Francisco Bay Area and back last December and along the way we learned a lot about how to succeed at long distance travel in an EV.   It does take a bit of planning and some extra time, but it made for a great experience.  This article shares a bit of what we learned on our trip in the hopes that others may find this information useful.       

Key lessons: 

  • EV road trips are doable and fun!
  • EV road trips take extra time and planning; I recommend traveling with a co-pilot to share the experience and to help locate chargers along the way.
  • Pay attention to factors that impact your range, including things like the weather, vehicle speed, and terrain.   
  • Plan ahead and have a back-up charging station in case your intended charger is off-line or otherwise unavailable   
  • Not all chargers and not all charging networks are created equal.  There are different types of connections, different charging speeds (even for chargers labeled “level 2” or “level 3”) and vastly different prices.      
  • Locating your target charger can be harder than you think.  The charging apps typically give you a general location, but we circumnavigated more than a few mall parking lots to find the charger we were looking for. 
  • While chargers are often not located in locations where you want to spend an hour or two (i.e., Walmart), this can occasionally lead to discovering the unexpected.    

In December of last year, we decided to drive our new Hyundai Kona Electric (EPA rated range of 258 miles) to Los Gatos, California to visit family for the Christmas holiday.  The trip is almost 800 miles each way, so we knew that we’d have to plan carefully.  We had only had the Kona for about month so we were still pretty new to the world of EVs and hadn’t yet charged anyplace outside of Olympia.  

We did some online research to come up with our plan for where we would charge along the way.  Thanks to the West Coast Electric Highway, there were lots of chargers along our route so planning our trip wasn’t too difficult.  But the actual trip turned out a little bit different than we had planned.  

Leaving Olympia with a full battery, we didn’t think that we’d have any trouble making it to Albany, Oregon less than 200 miles away.  Once we got started however, we learned first-hand how much speed, weather and terrain matter in an EV, and how much these factors can reduce your range. 

Speed matters because going faster increases the air resistance the car has to push through.  We learned that even dropping from 70 mph to 60 mph made a noticeable difference in the range of the car.  Weather matters for a couple of reasons.  Batteries have less range in cold weather than in warm weather, and running the heater or defroster in cold, wet weather will deplete your batter faster.  

We did make it to Albany, but with only about 20 miles to spare.  Then we learned another important lesson – have a back-up charger in mind.  We arrived at our intended spot only to find the charger was out of order.  Luckily there were other chargers a short distance away.  Which is where we learned another important lesson – there can be a HUGE difference in the cost to recharge at different charging stations.  This is true within a charging network (such as ChargePoint), but particularly between charging networks.  The alternate charging stations in Albany were part of the Electrify America network, and it cost almost $46 for our charge!  Most of the charges on our trip cost between $2 and $10.  We did everything we could to avoid the Electrify America network for the rest of our trip.   

From Albany we made it to Roseburg for a meal and a charge and then on to Grants Pass for the night.  We chose Grants Pass because it’s about half way between Olympia and Los Gatos, and it had a level 2 charger a short walk from our hotel.  

I should say something about the different kinds of chargers.  Using a level 2 charger (which is 220 V, like a clothes dryer) it takes approximately 9-10 hours to charge the 64 kWh battery in the Kona from a low level to 100%.   Level 3 chargers – sometimes called “fast chargers” – are DC rather than AC and charge the battery to near full in about an hour.  I say “near full” because manufacturers recommend against charging to more than 80-90% of the battery capacity with a fast charger because the fast charging heats up the battery and can reduce its capacity over time.  It was nice to have a level 2 charger near the hotel because by charging overnight we had plenty of time to get a full, battery friendly charge. (For more on charging, see this Plug-In-America article: https://pluginamerica.org/dc-fast-charging-for-electric-vehicles/).    

We hoped to make it from Grants Pass to Redding, California (180 miles) but after a while in the mountainous terrain and the snowy weather (using lots of heat and defrost) we realized that wasn’t possible.  Luckily, we found a fast charge in Mount Shasta, California.  From Mount Shasta we made it to Anderson, California where we learned another lesson – sometimes you have to wait for a charger.  Between the 45 minutes that we waited for the charger to become available and then the hour to charge the Kona, this stop totaled about 2 hours.  

From Anderson we made it to Vacaville and then into San Francisco for the night.  We lucked out and found a free fast charger the next morning, and then made it down to Los Gatos shortly after noon.  

After a week in Los Gatos it was time to head back to Olympia.  We stopped at a few of the same chargers on the way home that we’d used on our way out, including spending another night in Grants Pass.  The lessons that we’d learned about speed, weather and terrain made the return trip a bit less stressful than the trip out. 

In just over a week we put over 1,600 miles on the car and spent $135 in charging fees (including the exorbitant Electrify America charge).  For comparison, a gas vehicle getting 30 miles/gallon at $3/gallon would have cost about $160.  

Factoring in the time to charge several times a day, EV road trips take longer than conventional road trips.  What would have been about a day and a half in a conventional car became two full days in the EV. The need to charge forced us to stop at places we wouldn’t have stopped and we explored places we wouldn’t have explored in a conventional vehicle, which we found to be a value add.  It was a great trip and we demonstrated to ourselves (and hopefully to you) that road trips in an EV can be a fun adventure! 

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