EV Charging on a Long Distance Trip

Here is our Leaf plugged in for a top up at an EV Connect L2 charger.

Have you ever thought how nice it would be to reduce your carbon footprint by investing in an electric vehicle? And how as a bonus, you would no longer spew soot, carbon monoxide, sulphur, nitrates, and other pollutants into the air?

I have been tootling around town in a Nissan Leaf since 2018 when I bought the vehicle in advance of the 2018 Ontario provincial election, anticipating that the new government would reduce or eliminate the generous EV rebate. Luckily, I was able to purchase the vehicle and take advantage of the rebate before it was eliminated. However, at the time, the available EV’s in my price range were limited. I settled on the Nissan Leaf as a vehicle with an excellent track record and a range of about 240 kilometers. This was just enough to get to my cottage and back to the city.

Before our long trip this winter, I had never used a Level 3 DC fast charger, as I had read that it was better for the battery to use a level 2 (240V) or trickle (120V) charger. In fact, the only public charger I had used was a L2 ChargePoint charger at a library in the west end of Ottawa. 

In preparation for the trip, I drove to Prescott to use the L3 Circuit Électrique charger at the Tim Horton’s, right off the 401. This charger is only 93 km from my home. I made it easily and charged successfully, which buoyed my confidence. There is also an IVY L3 charger right off the 416 at Route 43 in Kemptville that I used successfully a couple weeks later.

So, off we went to visit the rellies. Dog, adult son, gifts, suitcases, etc. – a fully loaded car, with winter tires and winter weather. We had to turn on the defroster every few minutes and use the headlights and windshield washers so I could see to drive. All of this puts extra load on the battery. 

I had carefully located EV chargers along our route planning to top up every 100 km or so. This turned out to be about right for the car and the conditions. Note that this is less than half of the rated range. We were lucky. Only one charger was not working and none of the chargers were occupied when we pulled up. At one L3 charger I called for assistance from the network because the RFID card didn’t work and they were able to start the charge remotely. At the one L3 that was not working, I was redirected to a L2 charger. We charged there for about 2 hours while we had a delicious dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s. Unfortunately, we did not wait long enough to ensure adequate percent charge and crawled, on the very last bit of juice in the battery, with the car screaming at me to Stop and Charge the Battery!!!, to the L2 charger where we were staying that night. To state the obvious, I never want to do that again! and what a relief that the hotel charger was unoccupied and functional! Thank you Marriott!

Coming home, we used more L3 chargers and fewer L2 chargers and that made the return trip a good deal faster but we still needed to plug in about 10 times to go 850 km. A trip that would usually take 8 hours, took us 13 hours. Although it might have been better to spend that five hours with family, we had an enjoyable time exploring the towns along the way, went for a short hike at one place, enjoyed a pizza lunch at another and took advantage of the local restroom facilities while the car charged. Total cost for charging was $101.

There was one other worry at the back of my mind and that was the fact that fast charging causes the battery to heat up. There is a battery temperature gauge which I checked several times over the course of the day. After 3 or 4 fast charges, it registered about half way to the red end. After another couple fast charges it was up to about 75% to the red end. So it, in fact, was heating up even though the outdoor temperature was only about 3 degrees C. After leaving it overnight, the battery temperature had dropped to its normal temperature close to the blue end and the battery capacity gauge still read full. 

Now, did I really need to plug in that many times? No. But in case a charger was not working, I wanted to have enough juice after getting to the charger to drive to another charger. Pulling in to most charging locations, we still had over 40% charge. The maximum distance we drove between chargers was 120 km after an overnight charge that gave us 100% SOC by morning. We still had 35% charge when we pulled in to the next charger.

With proper planning, we had a great trip with little inconvenience except for extra time spent at L2 chargers. 

Some advice for taking an EV on long trips:

1. If you plan to take long trips, in our experience, there are about 4 times as many CCS as CHAdeMO L3 chargers. Maybe car manufacturers are switching to CCS electrical connectors, but check the electrical connectors to be sure you will not have difficulty finding chargers. All EV’s use the J1772 connector for L2 charging and, aside from Tesla which has its own connector, they all have the CCS, CHAdeMO or CCS-J1772 combo L3 connector. 

2. Get a vehicle with adequate range. Understand that the stated range is the BEST range, not the range under difficult driving conditions like cold winter weather and darkness. Assuming that the range will drop by half under the worst conditions should give you adequate leeway. 

3. Remember that when you use a fast charger, you should only charge to around 80% to preserve battery capacity. So right off the top, you lose 20% of battery range. And you don’t want to let the battery run right down like I did. That is really not good for the battery. You should charge it before it gets to 10% and you should leave a bit extra to find another charger. That leaves about 60-65% of the total range for driving. 

4. Test how far you can go on a 60-80% charge under the same conditions that you expect to experience on your trip before you head out and plan your trip from charger to charger accordingly. PlugShare.com and ChargeHub.com are excellent for finding EV charging stations in North America.

5. There are multiple EV charging networks, each with their own app and RFID (Radio Frequency ID) card. Each network requires you to register for an account. Then you can get an RFID card, usually for a small fee, which is then sent to you in the mail. Some require you to put money on the card and/or app. On our trip, ChargePoint seemed to be everywhere. EVgo was largely in northeastern US, Flo in Quebec and Ontario, IVY in Ontario, Circuit Électrique in Quebec and Ontario, EV Connect is in an area that includes most of New York state but not eastern NY. Electrify America was sporadic, and there is an Electrify Canada that I have not encountered yet. Greenlots (a.k.a. Shell Recharge Solutions) has an agreement with EvolveNY (New York Power Authority), so you can use the Greenlots app at EvolveNY stations but you can also use a credit card. Each station is specific to one network. My advice is to get all the cards and apps for all the stations you expect to use because many do not take credit cards. To use the apps, you must have cellular access on your phone. But the advantage is that you can see on the app how long it has been charging, how fast it is charging (i.e., the kw going in), and the state of charge which is handy if you go into a restaurant. It will also notify you when the battery gets to 80% SOC. 

6. Check PlugShare.com for EV chargers on your route and read the Check-ins to see if there were recent successful charges by other vehicle drivers. If no one left a check-in for several months, there may be a problem with that charger. If you have a successful (or unsuccessful) charge, let others know by submitting a check-in. You will need to get the PlugShare app to do this. If you encounter a problem, the charging network should be alerted by your check-in and send someone to fix the problem. Alas, sometimes this doesn’t happen for weeks.

7. Many L2 chargers are free and have amenities nearby for eating and enjoying the local sights. If you have the time, it is a great way to see the country and meet the locals.

Do you have reason to have range anxiety on long trips? Yes and No. Until there are L3 chargers every 50 km or so along the highways, it’s never going to be completely worry free. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing. The more EV’s there are, the more likely the folks in charge of building EV charging networks will be to install EV chargers. The more EV chargers there are, the more likely people will be to buy EV’s. With the number of EV’s on the road increasing, the number of chargers is also increasing. So plan your trip well and you should have few problems finding a charger. That said, if your car has limited range like mine, then know that there is only 1 L2 charger near the highway between Watertown and Syracuse. Actually there are 2 but I noticed that no one had made any comments at the other one so I chose the one with lots of positive comments. 

But if you have a level 2 charger or even just a regular 120V outlet in your driveway or where you park your car if you live in a multi-unit building, the likelihood that you will run out of charge in Ottawa is minimal. I try to use public transit and walk and cycle as much as possible which means I don’t use my car while in the city very much. I charge the Leaf every 2-3 weeks. One charge might give me several trips across the city and back before I need to charge again. 

Do you have experience with long trips in an EV you would like to share? Please leave a comment or get in touch by email at osean.info@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “EV Charging on a Long Distance Trip”

  1. A great insight thanks!
    For anyone looking to purchase an EV, this is a great website by the Electric Vehicle Society of Ottawa. https://evco.ca/evs-available-in-ontario/
    It’s shows that the average range is increasing making these long distance trips even easier, and demonstrates that going Electric doesn’t necessarily break the bank!

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