This article is part of our “CleanTechnica Answer Box” collection. In this collection of articles, we respond to dozens of common anti-cleantech myths.
Myth: electric cars are inconvenient because charging takes longer than filling up a gas tank.
Short answer: Electric cars are actually more convenient for many or most people because you can charge at home, at work, at the shop, or at other common destinations while doing other things. It just takes a few seconds to plug in or unplug.
You don’t need to go out of your way to a gas station, possibly wait in lines, fill up, pay, get back in the car, and get back on your path.
You also don’t have to go in for oil changes, smog checks, for muffler replaces, for belt and hose replacements, and for other maintenance that simple electric drivetrains don’t require.
Among current EV drivers, the vast majority of charging is done at home or work. In such places, it takes a few seconds to plug in the car and a few seconds to unplug it. In actuality, it is often easy to leave with a “full tank” (full battery) most of the time. Drivers no longer have to find gas stations on or near their travel routes, don’t have to spend time getting off the road and into the gas station, don’t have to get out and pump gas, don’t have to go inside or pull out their credit card and pay for gasoline, and don’t have to take their cars in for oil changes & smog checks. In the end, this saves them a lot of time, even if you take into account the times when they do have to charge in public (during which they can often eat, play, or engage in other useful activities).
Some critics try to bash electric vehicles as being a drag to drive because of the misguided notion that they require a lot of extra time to operate/charge. The charging time, and especially the challenge when driving longer distances, is one thing they typically point to as a downside of electric cars. However, that ignores the convenience of charging the vast majority of the time — the convenience of having a place to plug in at home, work, and around town.
Charts via our 2018 EV charging station report.
For EV owners who have charging stations at home, they can easily charge their vehicles at night when they are doing other things — like making meals, eating, watching TV, reading, spending time with their family and friends, or sleeping. Using a home charger doesn’t require much time because you simply plug your vehicle in and unplug the next time you leave.
For EV drivers who also have access to charging stations at job sites, they can charge during the day while they are working. Again, it takes very little time to plug in an EV. So, if you have an EV and a charging station at home and access to one at work, well over 90% of your charging is covered with very little time involved to plug in and unplug when charging is finished. One in-depth study found that first-generation Nissan LEAF drivers charged at home or work 97% of the time when they had both options.
Charts from Idaho National Laboratory report.
The criticism of EVs as being difficult to manage because of the “hunt” for charging stations is an old one that in many cases no longer applies. According to the US Dept. of Transportation, the average commute in America is about 30 miles. That distance actually might be closer to 40 miles, depending on which source you are looking at. The latest EVs have driving ranges far greater than these distances, so there is practically no need to spend any time searching for charging stations for commuters who have the ability to charge at home, at work, or both.
If you have very convenient EV charging access, you will probably spend less time recharging than if you were driving a gasmobile and had to regularly refuel, because you will never have to visit a gas station, swipe your credit or debit card at the pump or walk into the store to pay, wait while the gas is pumping, replace the nozzle, put the gas cap back on, exit the station, and get back to your journey. You won’t have to wait in line at a gas station before you pull up to a pump or to pay for gas. You also never have to take your car in for an oil change or change the oil yourself at home. If you have ever driven to a “quick service” oil change place, you know they aren’t always that quick. Driving to and from such a place plus waiting while the service is done could take you 1–2 hours in many places, depending on how busy the shop is when you are there.
Another thing you are not going to have to ever spend time on again is going to a muffler shop, because EVs don’t have them. In fact, EVs don’t have a lot of parts to replace that gasomobiles do — like catalytic converters, spark plugs, distributor caps, fuel injectors, and all sorts of belts and hoses. From personal experience, we all know that getting these things fixed can not only be costly but also eat up a fair amount of time. If you can get your vehicle attended to quickly, it might be half a day or even a full day before you can pick it up. If there isn’t a time slot available immediately, you might have to wait a day before the problem can be diagnosed. You also might not be satisfied with the assessment or quote and take it somewhere else to start the process over again, which requires more time.
Once your car is in the shop, you may notice that the mechanic finds even more problems. You aren’t sure whether they are actually worth fixing. In fact, some mechanics have told customers that certain repairs were needed when they weren’t just to try to bring in more money. So you either spend more money or don’t and worry that you will have to return.
That’s not to say that EVs don’t need repairs sometimes too, but at least their drivetrains are much simpler and don’t have any exhaust system or emissions control. This last part brings up another time advantage: no smog checks! These may only be required every two years or so, and they don’t consume that much time, but with an EV, they aren’t required at all because EVs don’t produce tailpipe emissions. Add that to the time savings.
For longer trips, we all know from experience that they are structured around breaks for fuel, restroom visits, food, and comfort. Restroom breaks may be the most frequent type of stop. “Most people urinate four to seven times during a day,” says Dr. Grafstein, but there’s really no magic number. Your pee frequency is influenced by factors beyond how hydrated you are, he explains, including the types of fluids you’re drinking: “Caffeine and alcohol are bladder irritants, so they cause you to urinate more frequently.”
The US Bureau of Transportation Statistics published some data about longer trips for Americans in summer. “The average summer long-distance trip is 284 miles one-way.
- More than three out of four (78 percent) summer trips are 50-249 miles in length. We also travel:
- one out of 10 (11 percent) trips — 250-400 miles
- one out of 20 (5 percent) trips — 500-999 miles
- one out of 20 (5 percent) trips — 1,000+ miles.”
How far can you drive safely in a day? If commercial drivers are any indication of what is safe for driving times, in the US, that figure appears to be 11 hours a day. For the EU, it is about 9 hours a day.
For non-commercial drivers, anything over 10 hours might become too draining or uncomfortable, so let’s say 10 hours in a day for everyday people. If you were going to have 2-4 breaks for various reasons you would be driving for time blocks of 5 hours for 2 breaks, 3.3 hours for 3 breaks, and 2.5 hours for 4 breaks. Of course, this breakdown gets more complicated depending on how many passengers there are, so you might actually wind up with 2 bathroom breaks before lunch and 2 after, which would be 5 breaks, including lunch. Such a scenario might be for when children, pre-teens, or teens are present.
Average fuel economy in the US is almost 25 mpg, so if you wanted to drive 400–500 miles in a day, you would probably need two tanks of gas to be safe. If you were driving a Tesla or Chevy Bolt in temperate weather, you would probably need two stops for charging. Perhaps it’s understandable that a number of people are skeptical about the logistics of driving an EV over a longer distance, but many people have already driven across the whole US or Europe in them, including our own Kyle Field and Zachary Shahan (not the gentlemen in the video below).
On a longer journey in a non-Tesla EV, one may want to plan very carefully. To someone who is used to driving a gasmobile, this extra planning might seem inconvenient. Rather than seeing the EV charging time as “waiting,” why not use the time to read, listen to an audio book, work on a laptop, meditate, listen to music, write, take photographs, walk, stretch, or whatever you prefer to do.
We may learn something from the slow food movement as it relates to travel. This movement arose as a response to the presence of fast food, which is nearly everywhere but it is unhealthy and not good for the environment. There is a mindlessness to consuming it — and the same thing might be said about long-distance driving, which we race through without paying much attention to the journey.
In fact, there is a slow travel movement too, where one deliberately tries to experience what is available wherever you are rather than rushing from one place to another.
A Tesla Model S owner wrote about driving from Orange County in Southern California to the Bay Area in about 9 hours with small children, and then about the same home. With the return trip south, the whole journey was 946 miles. Some of his conclusions were as follows: “In short, the technology worked exactly as we hoped. The experience of driving the Model S is so much more relaxing than a typical gas car because it does not have the extra engine and transmission noise, but especially because this car leaves behind the low-frequency rumble and roar that shakes one’s innards. The Model S is an amazing road-trip car.” Having the small children and letting them play during breaks is what added extra time, using an EV did not particularly.
CleanTechnica Director Zachary Shahan noted after a trip across Europe and back that, first of all, it was extremely easy and required almost no planning because the “brilliant” Tesla navigation system tells you where to stop and charge. The breaks also made the trip much more relaxing and comfortable than it would have been otherwise.
A Chevy Bolt driver who took a trip of nearly 600 miles with one adult passenger in California provided some advice in an article about the excursion: “If you are planning to travel via EV and don’t have a friend to visit who’s conveniently located on your route and near a fast charge station, bring a couple of good books or a board game you like to play (or catch up with emails and social media stuff on your smartphone). You’ll be surprised how fast the charging sessions goes and how refreshed you’ll be after the enforced break.”
Chevrolet has not built a national charger network for Bolt drivers, so they are dependent on finding them and paying whatever the going rate is. However, GM has been open about having plans to manufacture far more electric vehicles. If GM is going to be producing many more EVs, it seems logical that more public chargers will be installed to service them. It isn’t only GM, though. Ford, Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen have publicly said they will have multiple EV models on the market by 2022, with a few of those companies aiming to offer plug-in versions of every single one of their models in the next 2–10 years.
Currently, some US states don’t have many EV chargers, so long-distance trips might not be that feasible. (Colorado has about 520, whereas California has approximately 13,800 and that number could increase to over 110,000 fairly quickly.)
Eventually, there will be far more EV charging stations to better serve EV drivers, and right now it would seem any sensible person would not expect an EV with a range which is less than a gasmobile to operate exactly like a gasmobile, but the fact of the matter is that the ability to charge via an electricity outlet at home, work, shopping centers, parks, etc. plus the lack of maintenance compared to gasoline and diesel cars already makes electric cars more convenient for many people.
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