I recently drove my EV on a road trip that was over 1,000 miles each way. It was a last-minute trip and plane tickets were outrageously expensive, so my husband and I decided to drive. We knew that taking our Chevy Bolt would result in a different road trip experience from those we’ve had in the past, but we decided to plan ahead and enjoy the journey. We definitely learned a few lessons along the way!
My husband has serious range anxiety. He was worried we would have trouble finding chargers before our battery got too low. To address this, we mapped out our route and planned our charging stops along the way. Of course, not much went according to plan, but we at least had a good idea of where we could stop to charge, which provided some up-front peace of mind.
The first obstacle we ran into was that our battery was draining much more quickly than we were used to. We were concerned at first, but it makes sense when you think about it. We were doing 100% highway driving and there was very little traffic, which means we weren’t gaining anything from regenerative braking. It was also really, really hot out. 103˚ to be exact. Which means we definitely had the air conditioning going. We were also driving on a highway with a speed limit of 75 mph, which is the speed we were driving. Combine all those factors, and we found ourselves needing to stop to charge when we were barely past the Denver metro area. We quickly realized that some adjustments would need to be made.
I remembered a conversation I had with a fleet manager in the company just the week before. He said that his drivers talked about getting a lot more range from the batteries of their EV fleet vehicles if they kept the speed below 65 mph. I suggested this to my husband, and after some conversation about it (was it really a good idea to do that? Isn’t it safer to keep up with traffic? Really? You want me to go LESS than the speed limit?), we gave it a shot. This made a huge difference! The Bolt also has a cool feature which uses red, yellow, or green rings around the speed display to indicate driving efficiency. We found that if we kept the speed at or below 65 mph, that ring stayed green. Our dashboard display also shows the kW being used, so my husband started to watch that more closely. It became a challenge for him to figure out how to keep that number at its lowest, ideally not going over 20 kW. Air conditioning on or off? Windows open or closed? Going uphill—do we need to slow down? (Keep in mind that we were driving through very flat Nebraska and needed some entertainment!)
Ultimately, we found that we could drive over 150 miles between stops after optimizing our approach, which would leave us about ¼ charge left on the battery. I thought that we could go farther, but my husband is a believer in being better safe than sorry.
Beyond adjusting our speed and keeping an eye on our efficiency rings, we learned some other things along the way, too. For one, there are a lot of chargers along the highway. We never had an instance in which we were worried that we wouldn’t make it to our next charging destination. When we stopped to charge, we planned our next 1-2 stops, with contingency plans along the route (I mentioned his range anxiety, right?). But seriously, charger availability was not an issue.
The time it took to charge was something that did take adjustment. Stopping every 150 miles to charge for about 45 minutes added a significant amount of time to our trip. Had this been a more leisurely road trip, this would have been fine, but we were anxious get where we were going as quickly as we could. This new time addition for charging really was the only issue, though. And just like any good adventurers, we made the best of it! We had opportunities to make that we otherwise would not have—like the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Iowa, and the Truck Museum (which is free, and actually really cool!) where we saw the Walker Electric Truck from 1918 (pictured right).
We also got to speak with a lot of people during our charging stops. EV owners like to talk about their cars and will tell you all about the battery range they get, what their favorite charging networks are, and where to find the best places to stop. We learned that if you have your own charging cord, you can stay overnight at an RV campsite and charge up there. We also learned that you will probably not create a road rage incident by driving 65 in a 75 mph zone. Actually, driving a little slower and staying in the right lane changed our mindset and was more relaxing than trying to keep up with the faster traffic.
The basic fact that we took away from the experience is that road trips with EVs are totally possible. They may take a little planning and they might look a little different than what we’re used to, but long-distance travel is not a future-state scenario. It is manageable now.