MY EV Experience, Part II
ADAM: We’ve established the benefits of electric vehicles, and there are many. Like anything, though, I suspect there have been some challenges or learning curves. Tell me about your learning curve.
TIM: Sure. I’ve learned a lot by researching EVs and then by actually having and driving one, but the thing is, with these cars, I had to figure things out on my own for the most part. I think dealerships are getting better now, but when I leased my vehicle, I definitely knew more about EVs than their employees did. And the sad thing is, I didn’t know much!
ADAM: I guess that’s the life of an early adopter. What’s something you had to learn ‘the hard way’, so to speak?
TIM: I learned best practices for charging and maintaining the battery, for one. It’s like other rechargeable batteries (e.g., your smartphone), but with EVs you generally don’t want to run the battery down to zero. At the same time, you don’t want to charge it all the way to 100%, either. Both of those practices will cause the battery to wear out sooner. Ideally, it’s best to keep the charge between 20% and 80%. So, battery maintenance practices like that were things I had to learn through my own research. They didn’t tell me any of that at the dealership.
ADAM: Speaking of charging – is it simple to charge up? Tell me more about that.
TIM: Well, as I mentioned, I’ve been using Electrify America’s charging network. Just like anything, there’s growing pains. One thing I came to find out was that these public charging stations aren’t the most reliable. You’ll go to a station – most have three or four chargers – but one or two chargers will inevitably be down and unavailable for whatever reason. And then sometimes the available chargers are being used by other EV drivers, so you have to wait.
ADAM: Sounds like some growing pains indeed. I know that, like most things now days, EVs rely heavily on phone apps. What can you tell me about phone apps for EVs?
TIM: There are a variety of apps out there to find charging stations, and some of them have a scheduling function. I can see if someone is using the charger I’m heading to, and then I can reserve the next spot. That part is nice, but let’s be honest, most people aren’t going to schedule time to charge their car – they’re just not going to be that planned out on things, at least in most places. The experience is nothing like your typical car where you can fill up wherever, whenever.
When I pull up to an Electrify America charging station (Level 3), I simply start the app, plug in, and the charger recognizes my account and begins charging the car. If I’m charging from 20% to 80%, as discussed earlier, it takes me about 30 minutes. The pace of the charge slows down the closer you get to your goal. So going from 75% to 80% charged can take as long as the previous going from 60% to 75%!
ADAM: Are those public charging stations your only option?
TIM: No, I can charge at home or at work, but these are Level 2 chargers, which require 240 volts, like what you plug your clothes dryer into. You can buy Level 2 chargers from a variety of sources online. Also, Level 2 chargers take longer to charge your EV than the high-speed Level 3 chargers. It takes about seven hours to go from 20% to 80% charged.
You just plug the charger into your car and charge whenever you want. You can also use the charger app or your EV’s software to schedule when you want your car to charge; most chargers and EVs have that capability. That way, if energy rates are better at night, for instance, you can have it charge then, or during some other non-peak time. That’s what most people do, they plug it in, it charges on its schedule, and then come morning, it’s ready to go.
ADAM: Are Level 2 chargers reliable? Have you ever woken up and it didn’t charge when it was supposed to?
TIM: In general, I would say they are reliable, but there have been occasional issues. I have been able to troubleshoot and get through most of them, but on occasion, charging will stop unexpectedly. And, yes, it’s happened when I thought my car was charging overnight, only to find out it stopped charging for some reason in the middle of the night.
I have noticed most of the times I have problems with it are during the summer, when the air conditioner kicks on and times like that. Whenever high voltage loads kick on, you get those little spikes in your electrical system, and so I’m guessing those spikes are what’s causing the issue. I believe the car needs to sense super “clean” or non-fluctuating power for it to hold the connection. But it’s just a guess at this point. It’s not a huge issue, as it doesn’t happen a lot, but it is an annoyance.
ADAM: You really are on the frontier of this, having to figure this out as you go. Out of everything you’ve learned, what are two lessons you feel are most important for a prospective EV owner to know?
TIM: Two things. Hmmm. Well, first would probably be that your range drastically drops when it’s cold out. The colder it is, the more time your battery spends just trying to warm itself up. There are some tips and tricks for dealing with this, and you can get battery warmers for some EVs. But even still, in the winter, I’ve found I usually get about 60% of the usual range. The colder it gets below freezing, the more dramatic the range loss.
The other thing is my car’s remaining battery life (or miles available) calculator, and I assume it’s the same on other cars. It shows a range estimate based on a mix of both city and highway driving, and it seems to be based on the expected mileage of the EV, according to the EPA. It’s important to know that, if you’re going to spend most of your time driving on the interstate, you will get much less mileage than what that estimate says. Conversely, if you’re spending most of your time driving in town, you’ll get more than the estimate. But the numbers the EPA uses for a range estimate assume you’ll be doing some portion of both, and it basically gives you an average.
If you want to know the true highway range of an EV, especially before you buy an EV, check out caranddriver.com. Car and Driver is the only organization that puts EVs through a real world 75 mph test, basically travelling on interstate to see how far the battery will take you while driving 75 mph. As an example, my car (2021 Volkswagen ID.4) achieved a result of 190 miles, compared with an EPA combined range estimate of 250 miles.
ADAM: Wow, that is good to know. Thanks for sharing. So, driving an EV – what’s the final verdict?
TIM: It really depends on your needs. My ID.4 is a great car; I love it – and there’s a lot to like about EVs – but the lesson I’ve learned is that determining the best car for you is very specific to your needs, and an EV with more range or even a plug-in hybrid (powered by both a conventional combustion engine and electric motors) would better fit my needs. If I was driving less than 175 miles total on a trip, then the ID.4 would be perfect, but I often go further and need to charge somewhere along the way. And charging takes time and is a little risky, as the public Level 3 charger might be unavailable for whatever reason.
But overall, it appears EVs are coming, whether we want them to or not, as car manufacturers are scheduling to stop producing regular cars soon. We just need more public chargers and we need those chargers to recharge EVs in 10 minutes or less. I think we are getting there.
ADAM: This has been great! I know you have a lot more to share, but I hope this gives readers a sense of the real-life experiences of operating an EV and provides some things to consider when buying EV. Thanks for your time.