How Far Left On My Leaf? Electric-Car Charging Location Apps: Review


The all-electric Nissan Leaf is a gas to drive. The car is peppy, quiet, and holds the road nicely. But its practical range is approximately 75 miles on an 80-percent battery charge.

To combat “range anxiety” (the fear of running out of juice), Nissan offers a function in their navigation system that (1) notifies the driver when the battery needs charging, and (2) gives a list of the nearest charging stations available--and, even more helpful, directions on how to get there.

This "Carwings" system is simple and nearly foolproof. But the system has a few kinks that need still ironing out.

The vast majority of charging stations on the Carwings system are located at Nissan dealerships. The good news here is there are lots of Nissan dealerships, enough to allow a conscientious Leaf driver to plan a long range (over 100 miles) trip with predetermined charging intervals at Nissan dealerships.

The bad news is that Nissan dealerships are independently owned, and may not necessarily welcome traveling Leaf drivers. I was recently turned away at a Southern California Nissan dealer with just a handful of miles remaining. Luckily, I made it to another dealer for a friendly, free full charge. 

Fast Charging 2011 Nissan Leaf

Fast Charging 2011 Nissan Leaf

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Also, many Nissan dealers only allow Leaf drivers to recharge during store hours--which doesn’t take into account late-night drivers running low on electrons.

Thanks to the Internet and the entrepreneurial spirit, there are several other options for the Leaf drivers, as well as those with other plug-in cars. Several smartphone applications are available to help drivers locate charging stations, and I've used a few:

RECARGO

  • Free downloadable app
  • This is my favorite. Its map is fast, quick, and accurate. It gives you news updates on charging stations as wells as news about electric cars. And its filter settings seem to be quite accurate, allowing users to rid themselves of unnecessary information. 
  • Grade: A.

EV CHARGER

  • Free downloadable app
  • This has been around the longest of any app covered.  It gives an alphabetized list of cities, a location pin in a map, directions, the type of charger available, free or pay, and user comments.   It also has filters that allow the user to identify what type of charging station is available. It works pretty well, but the information isn’t always up to date.
  • Grade: B

PlugShare iPhone App

PlugShare iPhone App

PLUGSHARE EV CHARGING NETWORK

  • Free downloadable app. 
  • Plugshare lets EV users display their home charging stations as well as level 2 & 3 public (free and pay) charging stations.  The app also allows for reviews like I arrived at a particular station and it had the old style EV1 charging paddle so don’t bother Leaf and Tesla drivers. It works, but as with EV Charger, the information isn’t always up to date.
  • Grade: B

Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint

Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint

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CHARGEPOINT

  • Free downloadable app from Coulomb, an EV charging station manufacturer. 
  • You have to sign up for their system, though it’s free.  They send you an electronic swipe card to activate their charger.  According to sources at Coulomb, fast (30 minute for 80%) chargers will be available in Southern California within the coming year. This site would get an an “A” if they could speed up their loading time.
  • Grade: B

ECOtality Blink DC fast charger plugged in

ECOtality Blink DC fast charger plugged in

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BLINK

  • Free downloadable app from another charging station manufacturer, ECOtality'
  • The  company has received an enormous government grant to install charging stations for both private residences and commercial locations.  Blink also requires user sign up
    and offers an electronic swipe card to gain access to its stations.
  • Grade: unrated

Currently, the majority of level 2 charging stations are free to electric car drivers. Quick Chargers usually levy a fee for use, but there are very few currently operational. Various states are pushing to activate "electric highway" corridors to allow electric-car drivers to extend their range beyond the 100-mile limit.

With the help of the internet and these charging station GPS apps, the first wave of electric-car drivers already has a high-tech boost to claim its share of America’s blacktops.

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