Clean Transport

Published on January 28th, 2016 | by Cynthia Shahan


10 Tips For EV Charging On Road Trips

January 28th, 2016 by  

One thing I notice when passersby express interest in how long it takes me to charge the Nissan LEAF is that I don’t count minutes — even hours. I don’t pay attention to my clock when charging during a typical week. I stay active. I charge while I am going to the library, the store, the post, or for a walk. The LEAF is most often fully charged when I return. If I do have a long trip and charge more, I finally make the time to read. Or I write — as in this case, about tips for EV charging on road trips.

A road trip is another experience. I’m not working with a Tesla — that is a charging story entirely different with so much more range. Still, whatever kind of EV one drives, here are some traveling and charging ideas.

1. Drive Slower. Driving Fast Increases Charging Time.

Regardless of whether one is driving a Tesla or a LEAF, one thing holds true — the faster one drives, the more energy one uses, the longer time one spends charging. Driving slower to conserve range is not always possible. Traffic dictates this. To be safe, one is wise to go with the speed of flowing traffic, so the choice is limited during rush hour. You can sometimes choose slower routes, though. It is time-saving to “build trees” and regenerate while traveling, rather than speeding along merely to sit and charge.


2. Thinking of a Place to Stay on the Way?

For the outdoorsy type, perhaps invest in one of those hammocks with a roof and sleep under the trees while you charge up. Sounds a bit more healthy that nighttime cat naps in the EV as I have done. Or consider the ground at a safe campsite and soak up some scalar waves for your immune system. There are more blogs to explore if you are prone or interested in the outdoors and camping with an EV. Explore directories and blogs from EV campers for more tips on this front.


3. Pack an Extension Cord

I have not done this yet, but I have read of others doing it. It sounds doable — possibly a conversation piece. An interested but not-yet-sold EV enthusiast may ask why you are running a cord out of the window of you lodgings, and then you can go from there waxing poetic on the benefits of EVs. Talking with interested and potential EV drivers is generally a positive thing. I had a young student come up to talk to me about the LEAF just yesterday. The pre-driving-age person is already finding out the particulars and desiring to drive EVs. He was quite impressed when I started the LEAF and we heard nothing but the quiet of our conversation. Think of relaxed lodgings where they won’t mind the cord running from your room (hostels, B&Bs) — or plan to stay at someone’s house on route to charge overnight.

4. Build Your Relationship To The Range of Your EV; Know Your Car

Don’t think someone else’s experience is yours. Building your relationship to the range of your car means paying attention to the car’s response. Know what driving saves range, what driving regenerates range, and what sucks it all up. Becoming in tune takes a few weeks or more. I was so conservative initially that my typically 84-range LEAF was charging to a projected 120 miles due to my driving style. Things have changed, as I drive the high-speed interstate here and there along with climbing a steep bridge more often now. Again, if planning an out-of-town trip, try to go the smaller roads and regenerate range, but also find out if there are hills, bridges, and high-speed routes on your way that may make saving range difficult — so you plan to charge sooner. And, perhaps most importantly, get familiar with what such routes will do to your estimated range.

5. Make Sure Your Apps are Downloaded and Working

Apps such as ChargePoint, PlugShare, and Greenlots make it so easy to plan. Just keep your phone charged, and make sure your apps are working well beforehand, because you may need to use them while on the go….

6. Find Several Charging Options around any Location Where You Plan to Charge

Consider that you may get to your first choice for EV charging at a given point along the route and suddenly discover it has been decommissioned. Or the spot is full of other EVs. Or someone in a gas car has parked there. Or someone in an EV which is not even charging is still there. Don’t be down to the end of a charge without charge to get to another station. (Also, make an effort never to park in an EV spot more than one’s charging time, so you don’t put others in such a situation.)

Check out several nearby PlugShare charging stations before choosing a charging option. Read the logs to note if they are working. Call EV spots to check if there’s not enough info on the app.

There is a helpful log of users who keep you aware if the charger of your choice was working during their last check-in. If you need to be sure, there are generally phone numbers to call and check ahead of time, to make sure it is working if you are low on the charge without driving to the exact spot.

7. Try Not to Go below ~15 Miles of Range

That is about 20% battery range on a new LEAF. While it helps to speed recharging rate if you are low on battery, it’s generally better to not have to stress or, potentially, even run out of charge.

8. Try a Tricky Charger Several Times if it Does Not Work the 1st Time

A few times, I had to try a couple of times to start a charger, and it did finally get a response. Usually, there is a number you can call with someone on the other end who can solve the problem as well — if you don’t get a charge from a charger. Be persistent.

9. Practice EV Etiquette.

Neatly return the cord to the charger port. Wind the cord up if necessary, and make sure it is not laying where someone might trip on it. Again, don’t park for longer than necessary at a charger, and if your car has the capability to be unplugged by someone else, leave a note that someone can unplug you when you’re done charging if you’re not around.

10. Choose a CHAdeMO DC Fast Charger or Other Fast Charger, if Possible, to Save Time on Trips

Choose a route to take advantage of the faster chargers if they are on the way and your car is compatible with them.

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Related Stories:

PlugShare 101 (EV Obsession Video)

Recharging Electric Cars In RV Campgrounds — A Look At Costs

New Report Outlines Policy Pathway For Northeast & Mid-Atlantic States To Get More EVs On The Road

Charging A LEAF At Charging Stations — Level One, Level Two, & CHAdeMO DC


  1. Cynthia Shahan — Dash of Nissan LEAF that has driven 30 miles, regenerating about 21 miles on the way.
  2. Rupa Panda (Peace and Solitude) via CC BY-SA
  3. All remaining images by Cynthia Shahan

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • jonesey

    I wonder what all of this advice will look like two or three years from now when all EVs have ranges of 200 to 300 miles and there are chargers everywhere? People will just shake their heads and be amazed that we put up with this beta technology. That’s how it goes with early adopters, though. The first generation iPhone was a fussy curiosity too, but look where we are now.

    If the current models work for you, and if you enjoy the game of it, as the author clearly does, go for it. You’re blazing the trail for the rest of us, and we thank you for that.

    • Bent LEAF

      What many miss though is that most people almost never drive more than 60 miles in a day. You only need a car that can support a day’s driving. Don’t wait for a 200-300 mile car, unless this is a typical day of driving for you. Regardless of tech. a 300 mile battery will always cost more than a 100 mile battery. Make some other arrangement for that once-a-year trip where you do want to drive 300 miles in a day without much time at stops.

      A BEV saves you $100/month on fuel, makes use of wind power resources that are often strong at night, and makes it clear to big oil that we’re done killing ourselves with their products. I just bought in to 8 panels in a solar farm. For $6,000 I purchased enough fuel to go about 220,000 pollution free miles over the next 20 years. I challenge you to find any other fuel where that would be possible. So why do all of the pollution?

      Certainly not everyone has $6,000 to do this. But somehow many find $45,000 to spend on an obnoxiously huge pick-up or SUV that really can’t even fit in a parking space. Probably the same folks crying for government to dip in to the SPR to relieve them from the $4.00/gal prices just a couple of years ago, because high fuel costs were SO DEVASTATING to our economy. Someone NOW many are saying that LOW fuel costs are costing jobs and killing growth. Seeing a pattern there?

      • jonesey

        I’m happy to wait a couple of years for a vehicle that allows me to take weekend day trips to the mountains (150+ miles in a single day), where there is no ability to charge. Renting a vehicle once or twice a month wipes out that $100/month in savings.

        Our family does not want to own an additional vehicle at this time, so the most sensible option for us is to wait.

      • Bob_Wallace

        ” I just bought in to 8 panels in a solar farm. For $6,000 I purchased enough fuel to go about 220,000 pollution free miles over the next 20 years”
        How about explaining how that works….

        • Bent LEAF

          It is a community solar garden, hosted by my electric co-op. I get a credit on my bill for my share of the energy produced by the garden for the next 20 years. I own the kWh credit for that energy regardless of fuel or electric prices down the road. They manage the farm and own the land.

  • Some good tips. However, I use the opposite approach in a Tesla. I drive as fast as possible on a long road trip. Why? You spend enough time behind the wheel as is. I’d rather spend an extra 10 minutes charging (and getting something productive done like catching up on work or reading, eating etc) However, I understand since a Tesla Supercharger charges so fast this works for a Tesla…but maybe not so much in a regular EV.

    I would also add, do NOT just sit in your car while it charges. Get out, move around, explore. You will end up much fresher at the end of the day. PS – I went on a 27,615 mile trip this summer and loved it!!

  • Benjamin Nead

    Regarding the extension cord: make sure to get one with sufficient gauge
    (ie: lower number = thicker and more substantial wire) and not too long.
    A 12 gauge cord that’s about 25 feet long is a good choice, A 16 gauge
    one that’s 50 feet long? Not so much . . . and possibly quite dangerous,
    as it could heat up and catch fire under certain circumstances.

    The 120V EVSEs included with OEM EVs typical have cautionary
    labeling on them that warns against using any extension cord.
    But if you’re more than 15 feet or so from the nearest GFCI outlet,
    that cord is an essential accessory.

  • ROBwithaB

    Reading this, I can understand why most people would never take a low-range EV on a road trip. Reality dictates that most people aren’t going to buy an EV until fast charging options are widespread, and distances of 150-200 miles between charges are possible, at real-world speeds.

    I appreciate the lifestyle changes that some are prepared to make, but you aren’t going to change the world with 100,000 vehicles.

    I consider myself quite a hardcore greenie, but I’m not going to stop halfway (on a 360km trip to the airport) for an hour or two, with the whole family in the car, just to get some extra juice. And I’m not going to drive the whole way at 100km/h. Or even 120km/h.
    If the freeway is open, so is the throttle. Well, maybe not completely open, with family in the car. But the traffic here moves at about 130km/h (about 80mph) on the long stretches between towns. Until electric cars can do that sort of “normal” trip, I won’t be buying one for long-distance travel.
    Sue me, call me names, insult my integrity, whatever.

    Nissan needs to up it’s game if it hopes to continue moving the LEAF. Very few people have your patience and your unswerving commitment to do the right thing.

    • neroden

      If you live in NY or New England, you’re going to drive the whole way at 100 km/h because that is *the law*.

      You still won’t want to stop halfway to recharge, though.

  • anderlan

    You can run at 75 or 80 with the rest of the post-embargo modern driving world between DCFCs and you’re making time (as long as you don’t exceed your range, of course!!). Staying at an eco-minded 55-65mph is a winning strategy between L2s, however.

    • neroden

      FWIW the top speed limit in New York State is 65 mph, and that’s only for expressways; the top speed limit on all other roads is 55 mph.

      So we don’t worry so much about high speed driving — it’s illegal. 🙂 Same is true in most of New England.

      I would expect NY and New England to adopt electric cars faster than places like Texas with high speed limits. Except the cold weather problems have to be solved!

  • Martin

    How to “sell” an EV to an ICE person:
    Explain that you can get more “fuel” with regen- drove 30 miles and added 21 miles of “fuel” to the “tank”.
    Like an other article stated- drove up to a mountain and on the way back down, because of regen, arrived back home with a “full tank”.
    So in both cases cost of “extra fuel” – free!
    Try any of these with an ICE?

    • David Galvan

      Yes it is totally cool that regen actually re-fuels your car on the downhills. But the numbers are nowhere near that rosy.

      My commute to work is about 22 miles, and half of it is going down a mountain (well, a canyon in the Santa Monica mountains). During the drive up the mountain I use about 15% of the battery. During the coast downhill, I regen about 2%.

      • Martin

        Yes it may be only about 2 % in your case, but it is still “free fuel”.
        I may be interesting to have other EV drivers post their own accounts of regen, also no brake use, and extending range like Cynthia did extending range from 84 miles to 120 by driving habits and lower cost per mile driven that way at the same time!

        • Bent LEAF

          The gauge saying 120 miles, and actually driving 120 miles without charging are two different things. I got the LEAFSpy app and find that regen runs 10-15%, esp. with a few stoplights and some traffic. There’s no free lunch in physics. I was surprised it was so high, given that I already generally coast in neutral up to stop lights (which often gives them time to turn green) and have no large mountains to descend.

      • Dragon

        Which car is that? And what was the outside temperature and battery charge?

        Model S can regen up to 60kw but to reach that point, the battery has to be warm enough (guessing 75F+) and at a low enough state of charge (under about 85% as far as I’ve seen), and you need to be moving at a decent speed (maybe 30mph+). Under ideal conditions I’ve regenerated I think up to 8 miles down a 4000 foot hill that takes 40 miles to get up, so 4% battery regen down vs 20% battery drain going up. The road section is actually about 12 miles long.

        Every EV has different regen characteristics and behaves differently based on charge state and outside temperature so it’s rather hard to predict what you’ll get back on regen on any particular day. I’ve gotten as little as 1 or 2 miles going down that hill but that was also before I learned that all of Tesla’s regen happens by letting off the accelerator and that the brake pedal is physical braking only. If you go slower by riding the regen braking almost the whole way down (rather than picking up speed on straightaways) you can avoid hitting the physical brake as much as possible on turns and get more miles back.

    • ROBwithaB

      Don’t mean to pop your bubble, but most of the energy gained by driving up a long hill will be lost to friction on the way down. In fact, a lot of it will be lost even on the way up, pushing air out of the way and squishing tyres onto the road.

      I understand the benefits of EVs and am fully supportive of the concept, but let’s keep the conversation within the realm of physical possibility.
      Uncle Isaac (Newton) should be the invisible arbiter in any discussion about energy.

    • ROBwithaB

      The benefits of regen are actually more likely to be noticeable in mundane, low speed, flat topography, robot-to-robot, city driving. (We call traffic lights “robots” here. Uniquely, apparently. Now you know.)
      Because physics.
      Accelerate, decelerate, over and over again. At lower speeds, air resistance is much less of an issue. With an ICE, stop n go city driving has terrible efficiency.

      Not quite as compelling as the Old King Cole story, but a real “the pennies all add up” benefit.

      • Martin

        My reference was to a, on this site posted, real life driving of a person driving up to a very steep mountain, to a resort I think, and on returning back home the battery was fully charged.
        I do not own an EV yet, nor have I driven one yet so I do not have any practical experience yet.

      • neroden

        The regen is quite noticeable and valuable in areas with very steep hills. I live at the top of a hill and downtown is at the bottom of the hill. I always get to the bottom of the hill with more energy than I started with. I then use energy coming home uphill.

        The result is that my average energy usage… is exactly the EPA rating for the car. In a gas car, I’d be getting *much worse* than the EPA mileage rating due to the hills.

        Of course, I’m doing stop-and-go city driving ON STEEP HILLS here.

  • Carol

    Thanks for the great tips! I like the advice to slow down, maybe take a more scenic route, that type of thing.

  • neroden

    All good advice. I will say however that there’s no point in driving slower than 25 mph; below that speed, things like the heat and A/C start dominating the electrical usage over the actual driving, so you get worse range.

    Also, charging etiquette tip. If you’re going to be charging for some time, occupying the last space or one of very few spaces, and *not in your car*, leave a piece of paper under your windshield with *your cellphone number* and “Please call if you need to charge”.

    • Freddy D

      Good point. Optimal seems to be about 45 or 50 mph perhaps (maybe someone has data?). On the freeway, big difference between 62 and 75 mph.

      • neroden

        Estimates I’ve seen actually put optimal between 30 mph and 45 mph most of the time. Your best bet is to drive the “US highways” rather than the freeways. More scenic anyway.

    • Dragon

      Of course if the weather outside is optimal and you aren’t using heat/AC and the car isn’t spending extra energy to keep the batteries warmer or cooler, then driving very slow can save a lot of battery. That’s how EV distance records have been set.

      • neroden

        Yeah. Even with distance record driving, the average speed is still usually 25+ mph, though.

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