Readers like David Edwards periodically send letters about road trips they’ve made in their electric cars.
While long road trips are becoming somewhat commonplace with Teslas, he points out that they still aren’t common for other electric cars. Just last year, reader Jay Lucas sold his Chevy Bolt EV after finding it too difficult to visit his wife 325 miles away.
Edwards says that now is the golden time for such stories, where trips in electric cars other than Teslas are just becoming convenient enough for most drivers, yet still aren’t an everyday occurrence.
His experiences show how public charging networks beyond Tesla’s are becoming widespread enough to support long road trips--and how far they have to go. Read on to see the compromises--and convenience of a 2,000-miles family road trip in a Chevy Bolt EV, the most capable 2018 electric car other than a Tesla.
Green Car Report thanks David for writing in and sharing his adventure. What follows are his words, lightly edited for clarity and style.
This is a description of a two-week family road trip taken by my wife, two children and me in our Chevy Bolt EV.
What I think is remarkable about the trip is that we originally planned it with a gas-powered car in mind, but accomplished it with an electric car without any essential changes or disruptions. This demonstrates that fully electric vehicles are already a practical alternative to fossil fuel vehicles, at least in the areas we traveled.
I did not really think this trip was possible in the electric car until I went through the entire itinerary and scoped out the distances and charger availability. Since there would be fairly good options the whole way and the daily distances were generally not that great except at the beginning and end, I realized we could accomplish this fairly easily.
We don’t usually drive long distances in one day on our regular road trips, typically not more than 250 miles and never more than 350, so this was conducive to the available range. In the end, we decided that going electric would make it more of an adventure and would be in keeping with our family values.
To prepare for the trip I documented the details of how far each day would be and where the fast chargers (DCFCs) would be along the route. For nights at hotels, I found places that had chargers or were near enough to walk to except for one night. I ordered wi-fi for the car since we don’t use smartphones and I also purchased a new tablet to load all the various charging network apps starting with PlugShare.
Reader David Edwards' Chevy Bolt EV, charing on a friend's lawn in Maryland
Generally, we used Google Maps to navigate and downloaded maps before each day to make sure we could get where we needed efficiently. To make more room in the trunk we removed the “space obliterator” foam insert which holds the charger and put it in a bag. We brought a medium-sized cooler to hold packed lunches and such and left behind any unnecessary items. We packed hot sauce instead of wine for our hosts along the way, but we were able to pack all the usual clothing and personal items for the family.
Here is the day to day breakdown:
Day 1—Livonia, Michigan to Monroeville, Pennsylvania—about 300 miles
This was the longest travel day of the trip, which is typical for our family road trips; to start and end with longer days. Once we are farther from home we try to spend less time driving and more time sightseeing. We planned to use the EVgo station at a Dunkin’ Donuts but when we got off the freeway I noticed a Chevy dealer. IThey had just installed a DC fast charger a couple of months previously and gave us a free charge as well as hot dogs and chips. Since we generally pack lunch the first day, we ate that while waiting and had a nice break for about an hour. That was enough to get to our destination. The free Level 2s at the UPMC hospital in Monroeville where we stopped overnight had an error and would not charge until I figured out how to reset them by holding down the buttons on the front. By morning we were fully charged again and ready to go.
David Edwards' Chevy Bolt EV charging
Day 2—to Fallingwater and Towson, Maryland—about 260 miles
After an enjoyable tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater masterpiece, we stopped at a ChargePoint DC fast charger in Hagerstown and got the miles we needed in 20 minutes (13.8 kwh, $5.39). Then we dropped the car at an office building with a free Level 2 about a mile from our friends' house and were again fully charged in the morning.
Day 3—around Baltimore—local miles
For fun we stopped at a rare free DC fast charger near Patterson Park while touring and got a little bump while taking a break. Plugged into the 110v outlet at the friends’ house to get close to full for the next day.
Day 4—to Ephrata Cloister and East Berlin, Pennsylvania—about 130 miles
Stopped at Arby’s for lunch and used the EVgo DC fast charger while eating (27 minutes, 12 kwh, $10.02). Plugged into 110v overnight at our cousins’ house where we stayed.
Day 5— to Valley Forge National Historic Site and West Chester, Pennsylvania—about 120 miles
Charged for about an hour on the Level 2 at Valley Forge while in the visitor center (7kwh, $1.68). Plugged into 110v overnight at a different cousin’s house.
Day 6—local miles driving into Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, etc.
Though it was very crowded in Philly due to tourist season and Wawa Hoagie day, found a Level 2 but it was ICE’d. With a non-electric car parked in the space, we couldn’t reach it. Dropped the car at the Ford dealer for a few hours while out for the evening. The free Level 2 charger there got it mostly charged. Plugged into 110v overnight again.
Day 7—to Waretown, New Jersey—90 miles
Stopped at a Chevy dealer on the way and had lunch while charging on a courtesy Level 2. Plugged into the motel 110v with the cord going out the window.
Days 8 through 10—to, and in, New York City
No need to charge. Parking a car in New York is challenging enough, getting a charge as well would be very difficult so we just parked the car for the duration in the garage under our friends’ co-op.
Day 11—to Kingston and New Paltz, New York—about 110 miles
Paramus Chevrolet was supposed to have a DC fast charger but it turned out to be a Level 2; spent an hour instead of 20 minutes. In Kingston, we got a free Level 2 charge but had to pay $1.45 for parking. One hour of free Level 2 in Rosendale, New York courtesy of the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Plugged into the 110 -volt outlet I put in myself 20 years ago at our old house in New Paltz.
Day 12 and 13—to Kingston, New York—local driving miles
In New Paltz, we found a free Level 2 charger by the village hall, which we used while having brunch. We returned to the car to find it being filmed for educational videos. We found another free Level 2 charger at the Ulster County Department of Public Works, and topped off both nights while staying at the Super 8.
David Edwards' Chevy Bolt EV charging
Day 14—to Hobart and Corning, New York—about 230 miles
We stopped in the book village of Hobart, had lunch, and bought books. The village lot behind the fire station offered free Level 2 charging thanks to Transition Catskills and NYSERDA. Charged at the Level 2 at the Fairfield Inn while dining at the Red Robin in Elmira, New York. The Comfort Inn in Corning had a free ChargePoint Level 2 so we filled up the thirsty battery overnight.
Day 15—to Watkins Glen and Buffalo, New York—about 160 miles
We were offered a charge by a nice small motel owner when we stopped to look at a waterfall but didn’t need it. The Comfort Inn University offered a free ChargePoint Level 2.
Day 16—To Niagara Falls and back to Livonia, Michigan, across Canada—about 280 miles
The parking garage at the casino in Niagara Falls had a free Level 2 charger, but it was in use. The FLO DC fast charger in at London, Ontario, was in use by a Tesla but came free within a few minutes. It took a few minutes getting it to work using the FLO network app then 47 minutes actually charging (26 kwh, about $10 U.S.)
A VW eGolf, a Kia Soul EV, and a Nissan Leaf showed up while we were there all needing a charge; they plugged into the Level 2 while they were waiting for us to finish. It was fun as usual talking to other electric-car owners.
In the end we got back home having enjoyed a successful family vacation. The Bolt EV took us everywhere we wanted to go and then some, 2,143 all electric miles in two weeks. The car was roomy for four and very quiet, making it a pleasure to watch the countryside float by.
While the trip was customized a little to make sure to be near chargers all the essential stops were made as well as many additional stops at points of interest along the way.
One question that many non-electric-car owners asked is how long it took to charge, but the answer is complex. Unlike gas pumps, electrical outlets are anywhere and everywhere. So, we charged when we stopped most of the time instead of stopping to charge. We always plugged in at night and also used chargers that were available at other destinations during the day. Of the half a dozen times when we did need to stop to charge it took only 20 minutes to an hour. Three times we took the opportunity to eat lunch while at the charger.
The one thing that we really would have liked to have done but didn’t was to climb to the top of one of the Catskills. But this was only because the weather was too hot, not due to the car. It’s telling that the electric vehicle accommodated our needs but that the climate did not. I think we saw and did at least as much as we would have burning gasoline and got to meet a few electric-car enthusiasts to boot.
This was a unique time to take such a trip. A couple of years ago this would not have been possible, a couple of years from now it will be routine.