So at the next town, we found a warm bar, willing to provide us with hot coffee, somewhere to drink it and more importantly, much needed power for our Leaf.
But yet again, with no official 16A EVSE available, we were forced to wait an agonizing 40 minutes as the car added a further 8 miles or so to the range. Temperature it seemed, was slowing down charging too.
We left as the bar closed and the witching hour approached. With an estimated 20 miles delta between estimated range and actual miles to go, we were set for the long drive to our destination.
Late night driving it seems had one advantage: we were able to cruise at the speed we wanted, rather than risk holding up traffic. Slowly the miles dropped away, hills were climbed and we reached the highest point on our trip with just 18 miles predicted range left and 11 miles to go.
We had begun to think we were too optimistic, but the wonders of potential energy saved us.
As the Leaf descended 5 miles of 10% gradient our predicted range increased. Little by little our destination came ever closer, even if our car was screaming for a recharge.
We entered the last mile with an estimated 15 miles to go. A celebratory last leg, we put the heater on high and snuck the car into D, driving as we’d have liked to on the whole trip.
Pulling into the destination our car told us it had enough range for an estimated 12 miles of travel, our last mile of frivolity costing us a massive 3 miles of predicted range.
But that wasn’t important any more. We’d made the trip.
So what can we learn from our admittedly risky trip?
Firstly, we didn’t run out of charge. With extremely careful driving and speeds which would normally have caused a tailback in the daytime, we had travelled 101 miles.
Our indicated range of 11 miles was just shy of the 13 miles we’d put in en-route. But then again, arriving with no predicted range remaining wasn’t something we’d have wanted to do.
Secondly, cold weather does affect range in the 2011 Nissan Leaf. We’d chosen a triple whammy of cold weather, long distance and no official EVSE stations, which we are happy not to repeat again.
Finally and most importantly, we made it. Yes, it is possible to do a trip at the limit of an electric car’s range, but it takes determination and immense concentration to balance accelerator, brake and gear selection to make it happen. And as we found, it also helps to be able to be amicable enough to source recharging points wherever possible en-route, even if they are little more than domestic outlets.
Is it really practical to do a long-distance trip in an EV? We’ve discovered that really does depend on the trip you’re planning.
Obviously, without rapid charging, travel by electric car becomes more of a challenge. It is still possible, but requires planning and common sense. What you save in gasoline you may lose in travel time, unless you can work on the road while your car charges.
Our advice? For warmer weather, trips of up to 70 or 80 miles between charging stations are possible. In colder weather, aim for 50. Plan to keep a ‘backup range’ for emergencies, and if you must travel into areas without known charging infrastructure, a level 1 EVSE is as useful as a chocolate teapot unless you want an overnight recharge.
Instead, carry a level 2 EVSE capable of providing at least 10A, or preferably 16A..
Finally, we recommend you carry a smartphone, complete with Internet connection, just in case you need to find that elusive power socket.
In closing, we’d like to point out that this situation will change, and is already changing as more and more level 2 and level 3 charging stations are rolled out. But until charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas pumps or truly portable fast level 2 charging is possible we’d have to recommend, for very long journeys, you leave the electric car at home and find an alternative.