Earlier this week in his column, Robert Llewellyn shared the joys of travelling from his home in the rural reaches of Gloucestershire to the peaks of Snowdownia and back in his 2011 Nissan LEAF. Covering 386 miles in two days, Robert didn’t encounter any major hurdles along the way, finding plenty of places to recharge.
I was impressed. And I take my hat off to the man: doing a long-distance trip like that in a LEAF is a big undertaking, especially without the comfort of the rapid chargers which are beginning to line major arterial motorways. But as he admitted himself, his mammoth EV trip did require a little forward planning.
Robert is right. Long distance EV trips, while possible, aren’t for the faint of heart. But then again, EVs aren’t built to be long-distance trips, and anyone attempting one needs to remember that simple fact.
Having made my fair share of long distance trips, ranging from an incredibly stress-free 520 mile round trip to see my mum in Norfolk to a range-anxiety inducing crawl from Brighton back to Bristol late one night, I think I know how to prepare for a long-distance EV trek.
But what do you plan for? And how do you plan? Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.
Understand your car’s real range
Regardless of your car’s official range, on long trips you should treat your car as if it has about two-thirds (or maybe even three-fifths) of that figure.
There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, official range figures are extremely optimistic. They don’t represent real-world driving or variations in weather conditions.
Second, by being pessimistic about your EV’s range, you’re more likely to arrive calm and relaxed at your recharging stop with miles to spare. Moreover, if your car hasn’t entered into its final twenty per cent of charge, your car will recharge far more quickly than it will if you’ve just driven to empty.
Finally, it should give you a 10 to 20 mile safety range, essential if you need to circumvent road closures, accidents or other unexpected detours.
Understand your abilities
Ask yourself what range you know you can drive, and try to remember how easy or hard that was. With some careful driving, I know I can just about manage 80 miles on a full charge in my Nissan LEAF. Others might feel more comfortable with 50.
That’s nothing to do with skill, but it has everything to do with experience. The more long-distance trips you make, and the more you drive your EV, the better you’ll get at figuring out just what’s possible and what isn’t. Don’t try a trip you know is beyond your own limits.
Carry a charging kit
Carrying a small bag of charging cables, adaptors and a portable charging unit could get you out of a sticky situation when you’re a long way from home and need a charge.
At the most basic level, your charging kit should contain:
• A portable EVSE (essentially the charging ‘brick’ offered free with most EVs)
• A Type 2 to Type 1 (or Type 2 to Type 2) cable, depending on the car you have.
• An extension cable. (Officially, you’re not meant to use extension cables, but handled properly and with the appropriate safety checks, these can be a lifesaver)
• A set of 32A and 16A ‘commando’ adaptors, letting you plug your EVSE in to a 16 or 32A commando socket.
Every good plan has a backup behind it, and even with more charging stations than ever before, you should always have a backup plan on a long-distance EV trip. It avoids all kinds of embarrassing situations.
Work out a couple of routes that get you to where you need to go, and write down -or have near to hand-the distances between each point. Then, if there’s a problem or a detour, you’ll know you’re never far from somewhere you can refuel.
Similarly, you should allow yourself extra time when making an EV trip, in case someone else is at the charging station you want to use, or there’s a problem on the way.
But you should also plan for things to do while your car is charging, especially if you have children. Even if that charging is a 30-minute quick charge, it’ll make the trip more fun. Aside from the obvious things-like grabbing a coffee, having a walk or visiting a shop-I find that keeping my laptop with me helps pass the time when I am faced with a charging stop.
Register, research as many charging networks as you can
While the future for EV charging is undoubtedly pay-as-you go systems, right now you need a plethora of RFID cards to access public charging systems today. Before you leave on your trip, make sure you register for all the charging networks in the area you’ll be passing through. It saves the horrible realisation that you can’t charge because you don’t have the correct card.
Sites like the Open Charge Map should help you determine which sites belong to which networks.
Once you’re sure you’ve got a realistic, achievable route which doesn’t require extreme driving techniques or risky mileages, pack your car up and have fun!
(And don’t forget to tell me about it when you’re back home.)