My return trip to California taught me a few lessons. I’ll be giving some hard numbers and recommendations at the end. But first, this trip was different from the first leg. To start with, I contracted Covid somewhere on my trip north. I was feeling under the weather by the time of the return leg, but not horribly sick. Fortunately, my son and his wife tested negative, and still do, so I must have picked it up in one of the crowded restaurants I visited en route. Still, I was traveling alone and could buy food at drivethroughs so as not to infect anyone, so I decided to make the journey home.
My first stop was at Woodburn Premium Outlets in Woodburn, OR. This mall is very long and the app only said the towers were near the Coach store. Of course, I had no idea where the Coach store was, but I will say that’s a good idea to include the store because as tall as the charging machines are, they are not as tall or obvious as the store signs. I found the station at the very end and charged easily. It was fast (23 minutes) but I only charged to 56% full. In a continuing trend, my first stop was dictated more by my need for a bathroom break than a charging stop.
Stop 2 was the same Target store as before in Springfield. I took in 57 kw in 57 minutes, the longest on-road charge of the whole trip, but I knew staying an extra fifteen minutes would obviate the need for another stop before Grants Pass.
Back at the motel that night I charged 69 minutes to get 71 kw. My symptoms were getting worse. I hit the road the next morning with the battery 95% full. One odd thing was that my car’s range indicator said I had only 140 miles of range. It normally showed 190 miles when charged to 90% or more. I thought it was an error that would correct itself once I started driving. I was hoping to make it to Anderson without a stop, but the car kept warning me I wouldn’t. The range is estimated based on the past 100 miles of driving, or so I thought. I expected it had been uphill to Grant’s Pass, skewing the number. However, I was mistaken. The motel was at less than 1000 feet elevation. The high point ahead was Siskiyou Pass at over 4000 ft. The range estimator must actually have taken into account that long climb. The car performed great on that climb, as it had the entire trip, but I’ll forgo the non-charging review for this post.
I heeded the warning and asked Google to find me a charging station. It recommended a Chargepoint station in Weed, CA. I was ready for another break and some coffee anyway. Once again, relying on Google’s directions sent me in a circle around the truck stop because it was telling me to turn where there was no obvious turning spot. The Chargepoint station turned out to be a single machine dwarfed by nearby trucks, so it was hard to spot. I found it in the parking lot of a motel. It was well-placed for my car, so I backed up to it and plugged it. I have a Chargepoint account and app on my phone but had no card with me. Supposedly the machine can read the account info with near field communication (NFC) if you hold the phone to the scanner panel, but that didn’t work. I wasn’t sure if it took credit cards, but I remembered reading something about Chargepoint accepting other EV cards. I had my Blink card, but that didn’t work. I got a little nervous. I had one more with me, an EVgo card. I tried that and the charger started right up. Whew! The screen on the charger said Welcome to EVgo, even though it was a Chargepoint machine. I was also pleasingly surprised by the speed of charging, a decent 63kw. My impression was that EVgo chargers, which I had used once before, all had a maximum of 50kw, usually much less. In 37 minutes I left with 38kwh and 92% charged.
At Anderson I used the same EA charger as before and dared to go inside the Safeway briefly to pick up some food. I wore a mask, used self checkout, and hoped I didn’t infect anyone. In 67 minutes I pulled down a disappointing 43KWh charging to 96%. Those last few percentage points really kill the average charging speed. I’ve seen the charge rate drop to single digits after 90% even on EA machines.
I had planned to charge at Dunnigan again, but once more I made a fateful error. I still had 50% of a charge as I approached there, so I thought I’d let it get down more and charge at Vacaville, which I had seen on my EA app and knew I had the range for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my geography well and missed the turnoff for 505, the straight shot from Dunnigan to I-80. I thought it was farther down the road. So when I asked Google to navigate to Vacaville, it said I didn’t have the range. That confused me until I looked at the map and realized that I was headed all the way into Sacramento before turning west. So I asked for it to find me another charging station. It told me of three EVgo stations. I chose the closest. It turned out to be in an urban park. The machines were right at the curb. The first one turned out to be dead. I called the service number for help and was on hold for almost 15 minutes. I was directed to another machine next to it and plugged in there, but it didn’t start up for me. The service rep kept giving me directions based on what was on the screen of the charger, but I kept replying I couldn’t read anything on the screen because it had been vandalized and was totally unreadable. With considerable effort, together we got it going and it was charging. I soon saw that it was charging very slowly, though (36kw). In 15 minutes I got only 9 kwh. I checked the range and saw I could make it to Vacaville, so I unplugged early and left.
This turned out to be a smart move. At Vacaville Premium Outlets I had trouble locating the chargers among the 87 stores. I found the Tesla ones right off, but eventually found EA in front of the Coach store. This charger turned out to be the fastest of the entire trip. Even though it was rated at 150kw maximum, my app (and the car, which was always consistent with the app) showed it at 153-154kw for a long time. I left there after 18 minutes of charging and got 36 kwh of energy, enough to get me home.
Total time charging for the round trip (not counting at home): 695 minutes. If you exclude the ones at the motel when I wasn’t in on-road mode, it’s 545 minutes. That’s roughly 9 hours stoppage for 1800 road miles, counting the navigation errors I made, or a half hour of stoppage time for every 100 miles of travel. Much of that, but not all, is time I would have spent getting food, using the bathroom, etc., in any event, but it’s definitely more than I would have in a gas car. The cost of gas, though would be much greater than the electricity cost. I’ll leave that calculation to you, since it varies a lot by car. The total kilowatt-hours received was 636 for a total cost of $275.77. [Edit: I realized later that this could have been cut by at least $100 if I had joined the EA monthly plan for $4.] A round-trip ticket from San Jose to Seattle-Tacoma Airport runs about $197. But then you have to account for extras. Driving, there’s two nights of lodging. Flying, you have the last mile problem. The lowest Lyft fare one-way from Sea-Tac Airport, the closest to my son’s house is $127 and takes two hours. Or a rental car, if you can get one, would cost even more. On my end an airport shuttle ride could be had for $60 or so, or long-term parking is available, so add $350 or so for ground transportation unless you have rides from friends or relatives on both ends. That’s more than the motel cost. Then there’s the problem of the heavy stuff we wanted out of our garage and had no way to ship. One was a treadmill mat I could barely squeeze into my car and could never have packaged for shipping. Paying for a moving company to come pic k it up would have been prohibitive. It would have had to have been thrown out, sold or given away. My son would have had to buy another, and there were sentimental items as well. All in all, I think I made the right choice driving. Having done it, I know I could do it a lot more efficiently the next time, even on a different trip.
EA chargers are by far the fastest units around here, but only when your charge state is low. They quickly level out to a similar speed as Chargepoint or EVgo once you get over 80% or so. Route planner apps like ABRP take this into account and recommend charging when you’re in the range of 20%-80%. Chargers are also inconsistent, ranging from 36kw to 154kw for me on this trip with similar initial states of charge. When you add in the time finding the charging stations, waiting to get service help sometimes, or waiting for a slot to become available, you need to add at least five minutes for every stop, probably ten, unless you’re very familiar with the station. A Chargepoint station right by the freeway exit may be quicker than an EA station in a Walmart or mall parking lot three miles away and hard to find. Staying and charging an extra 15-20-30 minutes to avoid another stop may be worth it. The most important lesson to take from this is that electric cars have made it. They can replace gas cars even on road trips and the Volvo XC40 is a fine car for that.