One Year On: My Life With the Toyota Rav4 EV Electric Car (Part 2 of 3)

This review is based on my experience driving the electric Rav4 EV for the past year.  It is intended as a primer for those who are learning about electric vehicles (EVs), those considering the switch from gasoline to electric, and those wondering if driving an EV will fit their lifestyle.

PART 1: RAV4 EV BASICS

PART 2: CHARGING

We are often asked “How, when, and where do you charge the car?”  Electric cars are charged on 3 types of charging stations: Level 1 (110 volt); Level 2 (208/240 volt); or Level 3 (400+ volt = CHAdeMO / DC Combo / Tesla Supercharger).  Amperage of charging stations also varies.  The higher the volts and amps, the quicker the charge time.  The on-board charger in your EV also determines charge time.  The Rav4 EV has a 10 kW on-board charger – it accepts up to 10 kWh per hour.  To charge the car we simply pop open the charging port and plug in.  It’s that simple.

We are fortunate to live in an area with well-developed public charging infrastructure so we have choices.  We can charge our car at work, at home, around town when going out for dinner or a movie, in parking garages, at shopping malls, and while shopping at stores like Target and Costco.  The Level 2 charging stations at our local Target are free for the first two hours, but we’re never in the store that long.  One hour of charging sends about 7 kWh of electricity to the Rav4 EV and probably costs Target 50 cents.  In the mean time we’re inside spending $50, $60 or more.  So that one hour free charge is sort of like a 50¢ coupon, and has made us regular customers.

Charging our car while shopping at Target. The amount of electricity we get in 1 hour is like getting a 50 cent coupon from Target. Something they like giving out.

Charging our Rav4 EV (on the left) while shopping at Target. The amount of electricity we get from Target while shopping in the store for 1 hour is like getting a 50 cent coupon.  Target likes giving out coupons because they bring customers back.

We are also asked, “How long does it take to charge the car?”  Charging an electric car is not the same as filling a car with gas, the way you go about it is entirely different.  You don’t pull up to an electric station, plug in, and then stand by idly waiting for the battery to charge.  You plug in at home or work and go about your business.  The car charges while you are busy doing other things, usually while you sleep.

Most Level 2 public chargers can add up to 20 miles of range per hour to the Rav4 EV battery.  Four hours on the Level 2 chargers at my workplace provides 80 miles of range – more than enough for our daily needs.  Overnight Level 2 charging at home, when electricity rates are often cheaper, is more than enough time to fully charge the battery.

Photos show examples of charging our car on public charging stations. a) We often charge our car at work in a parking garage that has 10 stations. Inset: the parking garage has a 145 kW solar array on the roof, which compensates for the electricity used for charging EVs. b)

Examples of charging our car at public charging stations.  A) We often charge our car at work in a parking garage that has 10 charging stations. Inset: the parking garage has a 145 kW solar array on the roof, which compensates for the electricity used for charging EVs; B) While taking the kids to gymnastics at the town Civic Center; C) picking up a friend at the Sacramento airport; D) at the doctors office; and E) while out for dinner and a movie in downtown Davis.  There are more and more EVs on the road now and public chargers are often occupied.  I see that as a good thing.

Public charging infrastructure is great, but is not necessary for owning an EV.  The convenient thing about electricity is we all have it and many of us have access to outlets at home.  Most folks who drive EVs charge their cars at home during the night.  I bought an affordable Level 2 charging station (240 volt, 20 amp = 4.8 kW) that plugs into our dryer outlet and we charge our car in the garage or outside on the driveway.  Trips to the gas station were a routine part of life, but now that I no longer need to stop for gas I don’t miss it at all.

Our Rav4 EV plugged in to the clothes dryer outlet in our garage and charging during the night. The inset at the bottom right shows how we can monitor the charge level of our EV battery from a smart phone.

Our Rav4 EV plugged in to the clothes dryer outlet in our garage and charging during the night.  The inset at the bottom right shows how we can monitor the charge level of our EV battery from a smart phone.

You might be wondering how much it costs to charge an electric car.  Depending on the unpredictable cost of gasoline, you may spend 2 or 3 times less money fueling your car with electricity than with gasoline.  Before buying the Rav4 EV, we used a Prius as our main car.  We paid $1066 buying 278 gallons of gas to travel 13,900 miles in the Prius in one year.  Now the Rav4 EV is our main commuting car and in 12 months we used about 4000 kWh of electricity to drive 13,100 miles.  At 13.3¢ per kWh in our area that comes out to $532.  Driving an EV cut our commuting cost in half.

What about longer trips?  Friends have asked us, “What if you want to drive to LA?” (about 400 miles).  Until recently the horizon for EV drivers was limited.  Longer trips weren’t possible, and for the most part EVs are still designed as commuter cars.  But that is changing with the new generation of electric cars coming on the market.  A growing number of companies like Tesla produce electric cars that can charge on Level 3 charge stations.  This year Tesla Model S sedans drove 3400 miles across the US in the dead of winter, stopping to charge their cars only at Tesla’s Level 3 charging stations called Superchargers.  Total charging time?  15 hours.  It’s worth repeating:  3400 miles = 15 hours charging time.  This is game changing stuff folks.  Nissan, BMW, Chevy and others now sell EVs with Level 3 charging ports.  Both Tesla and Nissan offer free charging on Level 3 chargers.

Public charging stations in California from plugshare.com.  Green icons indicate standard L2 charging stations (too many to count). Orange icons indicate L3 rapid charging stations (over 150 and counting).

Public charging stations in California from Plugshare. Green icons indicate standard Level 2 charging stations  and there are too many to count – zoom in on the map and they seem to multiply. Orange icons show the location of Level 3 rapid charging stations – over 150 and counting.

The network of Level 2 and Level 3 charging stations is rapidly expanding in California and other states.  There are currently about 150 Level 3 CHAdeMO charging stations in California, and the number is growing.  In Washington and Oregon there are at least 115 rapid charging Level 3 stations that are located every 25 to 50 miles along major highways.  CHAdeMO can deliver up to 50 kWh per hour (kW), compared to about 7 kW for most Level 2 stations.  CHAdeMO can charge a Nissan Leaf up to 80% capacity in 30 minutes.  DC combo chargers may deliver up to 90 kW, and Tesla Superchargers are currently set at 120 kW.  The Rav4 EV was not built with a rapid charging port so for now we are a hybrid two car family – one EV and one Prius.  But hope is on the way.  Quick Charge Power of San Diego is working on a CHAdeMO port for the Rav4 EV (the JdeMO Project).  Access to rapid charging stations will make long distance trips a reality, and west coast camping trips in our Rav4 EV will become a memorable part of our children’s lives.  Visit Plugshare.com to view public chargers in your area.  Petition your favorite stores and restaurants for charging stations, and let them know that “If you build it we will come.”

The last installment in this 3-part series will cover the benefits of driving electric, and Toyota’s planned demise of the Rav4 EV.

Read PART 1: RAV4 EV BASICS

Read PART 3: BENEFITS OF DRIVING ELECTRIC

 

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  • Greener

    Nice article.

  • Dennis Pascual

    Stephen,nnnIs there a reason you didn’t go for the 40A JESLA from Tony Williams (Quick Charge Power)? With such a setup you could be recovering 28-30 miles per hour

    • Steve

      Old house, breaker box maxed out. To charge at 40amps would have required splitting a circuit (3K quote). So for now I have the LCS-25 on the clothes dryer outlet. 4.8kW charging hasn’t been an issue since I get most of charging at work. Some day though I’ll upgrade to higher amps or move to a newer house!

  • Bruce Parmenter

    Toyota (TMC) has announced that they are dropping their RAV4-EV-gen2 line and are pushing their fcvs (h2 powered made from fossil fuels who’s cost is subject to stock market volatility and manipulation like gasoline and diesel). Thus, TMC’s fcvs are not EVs (they do not recharge at home from an outlet at a stable cost. They do have some EV components, so they are an “electrified” vehicle like a hybrid).nnSo, if you were looking for a larger EV, forget the RAV4-EV-gen2. Even if that EV was still in production, it did not have level-3 (L3) charging, nor multiple driving modes, and several other items that are needed for real-life EV driving.nnInstead, I suggest at this point and time, look to knowing and driving an Electric Nissan NV-200 van http://www.env200.com/ . It has all the niceties of their Leaf EV (L3, driving modes, +more), but much more room for the family. Nissan has done years of testing these e-vans as FedEx and UPS delivery vehicles, and they are also being used as part of NYC taxi fleet.n{brucedp.150m.com}

    • Steve

      Hi Bruce, thanks and yes I totally agree. The part of the story about Toyota bailing on the Rav4 EV comes next week.

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  • SparkEV

    Free charging is destroying EV experience. It’s a conspiracy to kill EV adoption, I tell you, a conspiracy!

    http://sparkev.blogspot.com/2015/10/free-charging-sucks.html