Electric-car road trip: lessons learned in Chevy Bolt EV over 1,300 miles Page 4

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2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

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We pulled into the Dunkin Donuts in Canonsburg to charge with 38 miles to spare.  The cruise control had converted my anxiety buffer to a confidence buffer.

At least on the East Coast, adaptive cruise control is by far the most desirable: set at a steady speed lower than traffic, other cars will always cut in ahead of you.

Remember that long-distance trips in electric cars are not (yet) about speed, but about getting there with charge to spare.

LESSON: Discipline yourself to keep the speed down, and use the cruise when you can.

Driving a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV from Virginia to Missouri, June 2017 [photo: Bill Massmann]

Driving a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV from Virginia to Missouri, June 2017 [photo: Bill Massmann]

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(5) Recharge more than the minimum necessary: stuff happens

Our last leg to Louisville took us from a charging station at Wal-Mart in Florence, Kentucky (just outside Cincinnati) to my wife Maxine’s house, a mere 88 miles away. We pulled into the Walmart shopping center with about 56 miles showing. 

We were anxious to finish the trip, so we charged for just half an hour, giving us a rated range of 121 miles. It seemed 33 miles of buffer should be enough. Then we shot right back up to the nearby highway entrance and onto Interstate 75.

Ten minutes later we split off to I-71 heading toward Louisville. Five minutes after that, we ground to a dead stop at the back of the biggest tie-up that we had seen on the whole trip.

Our Maps program showed the backup to be 5 miles at least, all “solid red” on the map, bumper-to-bumper, stopped dead.  What to do? 

Fortunately we were near one of those “Do Not U-turn” openings in the median barrier. We followed a stream of other cars and emergency vehicles blithely making U-turns.

But the only alternative route to Louisville required us to travel 130 miles into the city.  We didn’t have sufficient charge to do that.

Our only recourse was to double back to Florence, enjoy the hospitality of Wal-Mart again, and add extra miles at the same charging station we had abandoned just an hour before.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

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We “topped up” to 205 miles over an hour and 20 minutes; by then the traffic jam had dissipated. 

But we really did feel foolish: if we had topped off the first time we charged, with another half-hour of charging, we could have stayed in the jam, confidently kept the air conditioning on, and just continued on when the backup broke up.

LESSON: If you can add an extra 50 to 90 miles to your charge-up on a trip, do it.  On our modern Interstate system, anything can happen.

(6) Conclusions

This was a real road trip, about 1,300 miles in total.  All the charging stations worked fine, and most of my estimates and calculations from PlugShare held up.

All the charging sites were where they were supposed to be, and unoccupied. We didn't once get ICEd.

But it took much longer than expected: the normal driving time of 10 to 11 hours in a gasoline car was increased by the 4 hours required to fast-charge along the way.

So our planned long day of driving morphed into an overnight voyage with a hotel stop. It took Monday and Tuesday to get there, and Wednesday and Thursday to get home, with about 12 hours of time to spend in Louisville.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

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So what are the overall lessons I learned?

I learned I could do it (and you can do it too). With proper planning and discipline, you can travel long distances in your Chevy Bolt EV. And the number of DC fast-charging sites that use the Bolt's CCS protocol is growing literally every week.

You will need to plan well; have backups for everything; discipline yourself to keep the speed down; use the cruise; err by charging more than strictly needed; and learn to keep your personal anxiety buffer within the comfort zone. 

Then you can show off your beautiful new Bolt EV electric car to all your friends in Kentucky.

But, for the moment, it will still be a longer and more leisurely road trip.

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