This blog was written by Kelsey Grentzer, former Florida Communications Coordinator at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
When the topic of electric vehicle (EV) road trips comes up, we inevitably get a lot of questions: Can an EV get me where I want to go? How will I find charging stations? Are the stations close enough together that I won’t run out of battery in between? Will I have to wait hours for the car to charge?
Last week we took a 1,350-mile fully electric road trip in a Tesla Model 3 from the Tampa Bay area in Florida to Knoxville, Tennessee, and back, and we documented the experience to give you a glimpse into what a road trip with an EV can be like. Here’s a recap of our electric road trip adventure:
Total miles driven: 1,350 (675 miles each way)
Total stops to charge: 6 (3 each way)
Total cost to charge: $58.41 (compared to $132 in gas for the same trip)
The EV road trip experience
If you’ve never spent any time in an electric vehicle (EV), one of the first things you’ll notice is the acceleration and how much fun they are to drive! All EVs have amazing torque, and the Tesla Model 3’s five-second 0-60 acceleration is almost soundless. They’re so quiet that, starting in September 2020, new EVs will be required to emit a sound at low speeds and when reversing to alert pedestrians. The quiet, smooth ride also makes for the perfect napping or reading experience for passengers on a road trip.
And yes, I said autopilot. Here’s EV Program Coordinator Dory using that feature on the interstate (It works surprisingly well!):
Planning an EV road trip
Planning is key when it comes to electric vehicle road trips. Driving a fully electric vehicle means no stopping for gas — a welcome change for most new EV drivers — but you do need to stop to charge the battery. It’s best to map out longer trips in advance on your computer or smartphone before you head out. You can use the PlugShare website or free smartphone app to plot out where to stop along the way to charge up, and the app customizes the results based on your vehicle’s range and compatibility with different types of charging stations. Some homeowners even offer free charging at their homes via the PlugShare app for EV drivers who are in a pinch.
Tesla made this process even easier for our trip with its built-in navigation system, allowing us to simply type in our final destination on the vehicle’s touchscreen monitor. The system then mapped out our entire route, along with recommended charging stations to stop at and how long we should spend at each station charging up. Tesla’s extensive network of Superchargers — Level 3 DC-powered fast chargers — makes it especially easy to find a charging station for Tesla drivers. Unfortunately, other types of EVs are not able to take advantage of these Tesla Superchargers, but there are a variety of other types of chargers available for other electric vehicles.
Just recently, EV chargers were also added to Google Maps; a simple search for “EV charging stations” in the app turns up nearby chargers, including real-time information on the number of stations available, the type of port, charging speeds, and reviews from drivers.
How often you need to charge depends on the range of your vehicle. For this trip, we drove a Long Range Tesla Model 3, which features an impressive range of 310 miles on a full charge. However, the range from one EV to another varies significantly. As mentioned, the PlugShare app takes differences in vehicle range into account when searching for charging stations.
Electric vehicles: Ready before you are
We stopped three times to charge each way on our 1,350-mile journey — two shorter, 20- or 30-minute stops and one longer stop of about 50 minutes to an hour. The shorter stops gave us time to grab a cup of coffee, use the restroom, and stretch our legs. The longer stops worked out well because they coincided with lunch or dinner time, and there were a few restaurant options near each charging station. By the time we chose a restaurant, ordered, and enjoyed our meal, the car was already charged up and ready to go.
The locations of EV charging stations vary, but they are often in shopping centers with a variety of stores and restaurants within walking distance. One charging station we stopped at was located at a mall in Atlanta, and we enjoyed shopping around while the vehicle charged for half an hour. This certainly beat hanging out at a gas station.
Fueling costs: Charging vs. gas
Most EV charging does come with a cost, but the cost of electricity is less than that of gasoline, and many cities and organizations even offer free EV charging stations. For our road trip, we left our starting point, Tarpons Springs, Florida, with a full battery charged at Dory’s home, and we were able to take advantage of free charging at our destination in Knoxville, Tennessee. The remaining six stops to charge (three each way) cost us a total of $58.41. The same trip using gasoline — assuming a gas price of $2.75 per gallon and a vehicle that gets 28 miles per gallon — would have cost us about $132, meaning we saved over 50 percent on fuel costs on our trip!
What type of EV do I need for a road trip?
While Teslas, like the Model 3 we drove, are currently the gold standard in terms of EV range, you don’t need a Tesla to go on an EV road trip. The 2019 Chevy Bolt EV, for example, offers 238 miles of range on a single charge, while the BMW i3 offers a range of 153 miles. Road trips in EVs with shorter ranges are possible, but will likely take some additional time and planning. Check out the variety of electric vehicle options and their ranges here.
The reality is that most people actually drive an average of just 31.5 miles per day, so if you primarily use a vehicle for local commutes and day-to-day drives, then the majority of EV models on the market today would be sufficient for your needs. You can use this calculator from UC Davis to see if an EV would work for your commute. However, if you are interested in frequent road trips, you may want to consider an EV or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with a longer range.
Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming more affordable, more practical, and more popular, even when it comes to road trips, and cities and organizations are beginning to invest in charging infrastructure to keep up. Not only can electric vehicles save drivers money and provide a fun road trip experience, they are also poised to play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Stay tuned for more stories about driving electric on our blog, and be sure to join our Electrify the South newsletter list for the latest news on EV technology and policy!