12 Tips for Taking a Road Trip in an Electric Car

Tesla battery charging station at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, USA.

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Road trips in electric vehicles are getting easier as national charging networks roll out more and more charging stations, and the average EV range approaches 300 miles. Still, on a road trip, your range anxiety may go up—the longer the trip, the more that could potentially go wrong. With proper planning and sensible driving, however, it's possible to overcome any range limitations. Electric vehicle owners may even encounter some surprising benefits.

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True Car Camping

Electric car charging at a campsite

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With an electric vehicle, sleeping in your car can be done in comfort. Plug in your EV at a campground or a public charging station, set the climate control to a comfortable sleeping temperature, fold down the rear seats, set up a mattress, and you don't need to look for lodging.

But beware that running the climate control all night will slow down battery charging, so you may not have a full charge in the morning. If you can, set the climate control so that it uses less power once you're asleep. Even more efficient: bring an electric blanket that you can plug into your EV so that you can sleep comfortably without climate control. Don't forget a pillow.

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RV Park Charging

AC power sockets at a camping site

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Want to stay in Sequoia National Park for $55 a night? RV parks are a low-cost way to travel in an EV. They often (but not always) come with 240-volt / 50-amp hookups that give the same power as Level 2 charging stations, meaning you can charge your EV and run the climate control overnight and still have a full battery charge in the morning. (You may need an adapter.)

Just make sure that the RV park you're interested in has hookups available, as many of those in national parks do not come with electricity hookups. An RV spot may cost about the same as the electricity you use to charge your vehicle, so you're essentially either camping for free or charging for free.

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Hotel Charging

Tesla electric vehicle charging station at the Sheraton Sonoma Country Petaluma Hotel, Petaluma, California.

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If you're staying at a hotel, choose one with a charging station and charge at your destination. It's often free, and you don't have to go looking for a gas station in a strange city. To charge an EV battery from almost empty to completely full can cost around $10.00 (depending on the size of the battery and the local cost of electricity), so a hotel that costs an extra $10/night but has free EV charging costs the same as one without a charger.

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Home-Away-From-Home Charging

Girl unloading cooler in black EV trunk against house.

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If you're staying with friends or family, think about the etiquette of asking to charge at their home. It's like asking your host for free gasoline, so consider offering to reimburse them or return the favor somehow. 

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Test Drive Road Trip

An electric vehicle for rent.

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Borrowing or renting an EV for a road trip is a great way to gauge your interest in buying one. A rental agreement might come with charging built in. Check out their charging plans, which may specify where and how you can charge on the road.

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Instant Torque

Electric powered US car drives while dawn on German Autobahn A9 into the city of Munich.

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The instant torque (the rotational force) of an EV's motor allows drivers to accelerate more quickly than a gas-powered vehicle that needs to shift gears. Quick acceleration improves safety by making it easier to enter highways, pass other vehicles, and avoid dangerous driving situations.

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Drive Economically

Futuristic clean energy car driving fast with colorful light trails.

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A road trip is not a drag race. While one of the joys of EV driving is the rapid acceleration, putting the pedal to the metal puts more strain on the battery than a more gradual acceleration and will reduce your range—as well as reduce the lifespan of the battery. Set your vehicle to economy mode, which increases the amount of regenerative braking and energy efficiency. Limit using climate control if you can.

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Your Mileage May Vary from EPA Estimates

Electric car dashboard with backlight and engine starting

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While gas-powered vehicles get better mileage in highway driving than in city driving, the opposite is true of electric vehicles, which are more efficient on city streets. An EV's estimated maximum range will probably be lower in highway traffic than if you were doing city driving, so plan ahead. Depending on your vehicle, driving at a constant 70 miles per hour may result in lower range than the official EPA estimate, which assumes a 45% / 55% mix of city and highway driving.

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Know Your Charging Options

EV charging station with different types of chargers

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Unlike pumping gas, there are a number of different charging connectors, none of which are compatible with each other. There are also multiple EV charging networks that use their own RFID cards and don't always take a credit card. The most convenient method of charging is done with a phone app, so make sure you have all the charging apps installed on your phone, or the RFID that comes with each plan.

Top EV Charging Networks in the United States
Network Charging Stations Charging Outlets
ChargePoint 25,223 45,681
SemaCharge Network 1,833 5,535
Blink 1,609 4,039
Tesla Supercharger Network 1,074 10,623
EV Connect 887 3,978
EVgo 850 2,038
Volta 781 1,926
Electrify America 675 2,981
Source: Alternative Fuels Data Center, U.S. Department of Energy
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Don't Improvise

Tesla navigation system in a Model S.

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Plan ahead to identify charging stations along your route before you hit the road. Teslas come with their own route planner, and you can use apps like A Better Route Planner and PlugShare. Google Maps can also be filtered to highlight EV charging stations. Consider any local accommodations associated with the charging station (such as a grocery store, rest area, restaurant/cafe, etc.), and how long you might have to stay at that station.

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Have a Backup Plan

Electric vehicle charging station along the coast in Hoswick, Scotland.

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It's no fun to arrive at a single charging station in the middle of nowhere to find it in use, out of service, the parking is space taken up by an EV that isn't charging or, worse, it's occupied by a gas-powered vehicle. Have an alternative charging option on each step of your route. Bring your charging cord (and an extension cord). If you have an adapter that allows you to plug into different types of charging stations, bring that, too. This way, you can charge your vehicle anywhere you can plug into a simple 110-volt outlet.

Also remember that you don't need to fill up your battery at every charging station, just enough to get you comfortably to your next stop. Once you've reached your final destination, you can fully recharge your battery overnight.

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Take Your Trip in Warmer Weather

An electric car parked in front of a beautiful beach on the island of Folegandros, Cyclades Islands, Greece.

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EV batteries perform better in warmer weather (except for extreme heat), so you'll get more range on your battery. Under one test, EVs lost an average of 18.5% of their range in temperatures below freezing, at -2ºC (28.4ºF). But keep in mind that Norway has one of the highest rates of electric purchases in the world. You can take a road trip under any weather conditions that you can in a gas-powered vehicle: you just need to plan accordingly.

Don't let range anxiety prevent you from taking a road trip in an electric vehicle. Recent EVs have ample range to get you to your destination if you plan wisely and drive rationally. You'll even find it can take you to adventures you might otherwise not take.

View Article Sources
  1. "Charging Plug-In Electric Vehicles at Home." U.S. Department of Energy.

  2. "Electric Vehicles." International Energy Agency.