Photo by Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica

It’s Vacation Time! 10 Steps For A Successful Road Trip When You Rent An EV

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A road trip is so exciting! As you plan ahead for that decadent, work-free week exploring quaint villages and meandering roads, driving an electric vehicle (EV) can become very appealing. If you’re a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle driver, the idea to rent an EV can add a layer of excitement and intensity to your adventure.

Then again, you’ve heard the horror stories from others who’ve tried to rent an EV on vacation and ended up regretting it. The key is to think and plan ahead for your new experience of driving an EV.

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A summer road trip is a rare treat. You can decide to hop on a highway in the early morning to beat the commuter rush. Maybe a late afternoon, slow meander across country roads is your preference. You have the freedom to veer down an unfamiliar path, stop at a farm stand, and breathe in the freshly-mowed air. Spontaneity is your friend when you’re behind the wheel.

Most people begin their road trips, however, in an inauspicious place: at an airport car rental booth. It’s a busy place where you’re surrounded by tired and confused travelers. You can head to that car rental with confidence if you don’t let yourself fall into the pattern of last-minute planning as you rent an EV. Don’t do what Hertz did: don’t expect that you will intuitively understand the distinctions between an ICE vehicle and an EV.

Planning ahead when you rent an EV will make your road trip smooth and sublime. Here are 10 rental hints from someone who drives EVs full-time to help you to have a joyous all-electric driving experience on your vacation.

Rent an EV This Summer & Savor Every Moment

Talk to EV drivers beforehand: An experienced EV driver will give you the low-down on how to rent an EV for full enjoyment. They’ll mention how quiet and comfortable the car is, how regenerative braking makes driving more pleasurable, or how pulling away from an intersection when the light turns green leaves all the other cars around you in the dust, as our intrepid CleanTechnica writer Steve Hanley explains. They’ll offer suggestions about charging and co-create realistic expectations about many aspects of your upcoming trip.

Contact rental car companies in person: Make preliminary phone inquiries into what, if any, EV models will be available for your targeted dates. Tell the customer service reps about your upcoming trip and work alongside them to choose the best EV for your purposes. Call around to several rental car companies so you get a feel for how familiar they are with renting EVs. A 5-minute phone conversation can tell you a lot.

Choose your model prudently: I own/co-own 2 EVs: a 2022 Tesla Model Y is the primary vehicle, and a 2017 Chevy Bolt is the car at the summer place. While a smaller electric rental option like the Chevy Bolt may cost less per day, it makes the most sense to stick with Tesla right now, even if it does cost more per day. That’s because there are thousands of reliable, clean, and well-lit Tesla Supercharger stations across the US and Canada. With a Bolt or comparable vehicle, you’ll be spending more time locating working chargers. Want to try a 2024 Hyundai Ionic 6? Sure, you can — you’ll just have to be a little more creative and patient when you need to charge the EV.

Familiarize yourself with charging: Charging obstacles have frequently been cited as a major reason why US drivers decline to switch to EVs. This year there is one EV station optimized for rapid turnaround times for every 15 existing US gas stations. These EV charging stations are designed to minimize downtime and maximize efficiency. Click through to this CleanTechnica doc, “Electric Vehicle Charging Basics,” or to the more broad-brushed doc, “The State and Promise of EV Charging,” to learn more.

Download charging stations apps before you leave: It can’t be said enough: download each app on your smart phone, set up the account, and register your credit card. Repeat. Why is it important to do this ahead of time? There’s nothing more frustrating than finding an available, working charger and then realizing you need to access it via an app that you don’t have. EVGo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America all have their own apps and accounts you may have to work with on the road. Google Maps will soon display suggested charging stops, forecasted energy consumption, and availability data as you plan for recharging across charging station possibilities, which will be a plus for EV travelers.

Map out your route with planned charging stops: If you’ve ever been in a travel trailer on a long distance trip, you know that the driver had to plan ahead for maneuvering in particular gas stations, finding restaurants with ample parking spots, or locating roads that could handle the massive vehicle. It’s a bit similar when you head out into the unknown in an EV — you need to plan ahead so your route includes charging stations along the way. Will there be a charging station on every street corner of the future, such as we’ve been accustomed to with gas stations? It’s unlikely, as the majority of EV drivers charge at home. But when you rent an EV, the idea is to get away from home, so check ahead to see where the chargers are on your apps and if they’re networked and available.

Read the rental agreement: Know what your rental company fees will be. Read the fine print and ask questions about any pricing that includes add-ons particular to an EV rental, such as an Idle Fee while charging or a Key Fob replacement. A friend thought they got free charging with the rental… that was a hard lesson to learn when their credit card bill arrived later in the month.

Familiarize yourself with the model you’ve reserved: The first obstacle you may confront as you take possession of your EV rental could be how to open the doors! Several are a bit avante-garde, as is starting the car or programming touchscreens — each automaker seems to have its own nuances that set it apart from its competitors. But even those materials don’t cover every circumstance you might encounter. Learn how to open the doors, what you need to do to start the car, how to open the charging port, where the charging cable is, how to determine the amount of charge you have at any given moment, and other necessary features.

Be a self advocate when you pick up your EV rental: Dealing with logistics can be frustrating unless you’re ready to speak up. If a customer service rep glosses over the “how tos” as you take possession of the rental EV, politely insist that they offer you every bit of instruction you personally need to feel comfortable getting behind the wheel. Ask for online resources about your EV that should be available through the rental company’s app. Be sure to note the level of charge when the customer service agent is standing there with you — if you only have a 30% charge prepped ahead, make sure they note that on your invoice; otherwise, you’ll get zinged for failure to return the EV with 80% or so charge.

Charge your EV before returning it: In the same way that you’re expected to have a rental ICEV returned to the rental company with a full tank, you need to plan to charge your rental EV before you drop off it off. Keep in mind that, depending on whether you are able to use a fast charger or a Level 2 charger, your time charging is more than it would be at a traditional gas station. It actually isn’t that much of a hassle — use the restroom, buy a snack, check your emails and voice messages, and your charging will be done before you know it.

Final Thoughts

EV rentals can reduce your concerns looking ahead as you think about purchasing an EV. Isn’t it more expensive than an ICE vehicle? How can I be sure investing in an uncertain commodity like an EV is good for me and my family? If you rent an EV, you’ll have the chance to answer those questions as well as to understand the sustainable side of EVs in terms of transportation, environmental, and social benefits.

EV are much better for the environment than ICE vehicles, and they’re more fun to drive than traditional models. If you decide to rent an EV for the first time on your upcoming vacation, give yourself the freedom to say that you don’t know enough ahead of time without some advanced research, instruction, and common sense chats with current EV owners. You’ll be glad you did, because the freedom of the road is too precious to have to devote to experiencing stress over how an EV functions or where you’ll “fill up.”

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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