Lessons from our first electric road trip

Submitted by Ben on Fri, 11/12/2021 - 08:45

The weekend of November 5, 2021, Jessie and I made our first overnight trip in our 2018 Nissan Leaf SV. The car has a theoretical range of about 120 miles, but the highway route from Omaha to Topeka is 162 miles. There's a rapid charger in Auburn, Nebraska, and we figured if we were lucky we could make just one stop, but if we ran short of range, there were a couple other, slower chargers we could visit. Here's what we learned:

  1. We should have done a test run when we weren't in a hurry. Even though we planned to take the whole day to get there, we didn't leave Omaha until almost noon, and we arrived late for the pre-conference workshop. It would not have been as stressful if we'd had a clearer idea what would happen. If we'd had more time, we also would have driven slower to reduce wind resistance.
  2. Wind speed and direction make a bigger difference than climate control. We had a headwind going south that was probably the cause of our poor mileage. On the way back north, we only had to stop once in Auburn. Leaving the climate control and radio off on the way south to try to gain a few extra miles contributed to our stress, probably unnecessarily.
  3. The rapid charger is not necessarily the easiest one to find. We initially started charging at a slow (level 2) charger in Auburn, because the rapid (level 3) charger is a block away, in an alley.
  4. ChargePoint only works if your phone has a signal. I have a super-cheap phone plan that had no signal in Auburn, and the ChargePoint app won't even start up on a phone without a signal, so we had to use Jessie's phone to activate the charger. If I'd been traveling alone, I would have had to buy a new SIM card just to get a signal so I could pay. My de-googled phone also doesn't support all the features of the Plugshare app even when it has a signal -- I can't tap on a charger to get info about it -- so I need to keep that in mind.
  5. Slower chargers are often free of cost. We topped up at Golden Eagle Casino and an electric utility's fleet charger to get into Topeka. We just helped ourselves to a plug.
  6. There are better route planning tools than Google Maps and Plugshare. A Better Routeplanner lets you enter details about your car and will tell you if you need to reduce driving speed, etc. to reach the next charger.
  7. The tips that drivers of older Leafs exchange on online forums do not seem to be necessary for the newer model Leaf. We always charge to 100% at home, and on the rapid chargers we went to 94% or higher, and if we lost any battery capacity from doing this, it was not evident.
  8. There just aren't enough chargers yet to get us all the places we want to go. We now know we can make it to Topeka, Emporia, Lawrence, or Kansas City, but when we want to go to Des Moines, Bartlesville, or Denver, we'll have to borrow or rent a gas car. Maybe in another year or two there will be more chargers.