Electric Cars and Charging at Friend’s Homes: Now the Preserve of Advice Columnists?

Ever since the printing press was invented and the concept of newspapers were born, society has sought to ask the supposedly impartial advice of weekly advice columnists when life just gets too complicated. These days, very few magazines or newspapers are complete without their own resident columnist — known colloquially in some parts of the world as ‘Agony Aunts.’  While newspaper readership is on the decline, the weekly advice column has become a mainstay of many an online Internet portal.

Should friends expect free electricity to charge their car when visiting?

Should friends expect free electricity to charge their car when visiting?

Just as the medium through which advice is given has changed with the times, so too has the advice and the question being asked. This week, it appears electric cars have joined the swathes of relationship, financial and ethical questions being posed to advice columnists around the world.

Enter well-known columnist Amy Dickinson, whose advice to a mother complaining that her gay son’s coming out had left her “feeling betrayed” went viral back in 2013 when she told the homophobic parent to teach her son how ‘easy it was’ to change sexuality by changing her own sexuality for a year, adding “He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is.”

All Charged’s Question:

This week, Amy was asked for her advice on by a reader complaining that a friend with an ‘expensive electric sports car’ was jeopardising their friendship by insisting on plugging in to charge every time they visited, blocking other cars from using the driveway and never offering to pay.

The question reads:

Dear Amy: I have a friend of about 40 years who has an expensive electric sports car. When he visits me, he parks it in the driveway blocking my wife and son from moving their cars and, most annoying, he insists on plugging into our electricity to recharge his car.

I did some research and it appears that a recharge costs about $5 or $6 in electricity. I find it very annoying. Would he expect to pay for the gas that I consume to drive to his house? Why should I pay for the electricity for his drive to my house?

Can you suggest a nice way to tell him to park his car in the street and to pay for the electricity to run his car? I have tried to tell him to park on the street, but he doesn’t seem to get the message.

Amy’s Advice:

In true Amy Dickinson style, the agony aunt is considered in her reply.

Dear All Charged: According to information published by the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center (afdc.energy.gov), fully charging an electric car would cost approximately $2.64. Obviously this depends on various factors, but let’s say it is basically the same price as a cup of coffee (and your friend would presumably not require a full charge). Are you sure you don’t want to treat?

If not, the nice thing about longstanding friendships is that you should be able to communicate effectively and with good humor.

Say, “I have two favors to ask: First, can you make sure to always park on the street when you visit? It drives Joan and Tom crazy to be blocked in. Also, if you can avoid plugging in at our place, I’d appreciate it. If you have to plug in, could you reimburse us for the juice we’re providing?” Your friend could repay you in coffee if you want — loading up a coffee card every time he charges.

The basic facts:

As Amy astutely points out, it’s unlikely the friend in question spends enough time at All Charged’s house to make use of a full charge. If the car in question is a Tesla Roadster — which we assume it is from the description — it would need many hours of recharging at 110-volts before it was 100 percent full from empty. Even a 240-volt charge from a handy nearby drier outlet would likely take three or four unless All Charged happens to have a powerful 40-amp NEMA outlet in their garage.

Do you offer to pay when using a friend's house to charge?

Do you offer to pay when using a friend’s house to charge?

Even then, the car would need to be fully empty and the friend would need to stay a long while for anywhere near a $5 or $6 bill to be raised. As Amy rightly points out too, the majority of plug-in cars on the market would cost far less to charge up too — and charging time would similarly be as long.

But similarly, the electric car driver is equally culpable: by expecting a charge, they’ve managed to make their friend feel awkward, even taken advantage of.

Our advice to drivers:

For the most part, we’re in complete agreement with Amy on her advice. Buying a coffee card — or perhaps just bringing coffee or food over — would be a great way of solving this particular friendship crisis. And if that doesn’t work, offering to go out somewhere (where the friend could charge) would be another option.

But we think the biggest problem highlighted in the question is the lack of communication between the two friends, something that requires work from both parties to solve.

Here at Transport Evolved we think no plug-in car driver should assume that charging will be provided free of charge whenever they turn up at a friend or family members’ house. Nor should they assume the same of a public space or office location.

Always ask if it's okay to charge -- and always offer to pay, until you're told otherwise.

Always ask if it’s okay to charge — and always offer to pay, until you’re told otherwise.

Instead, we advice always asking if it’s okay to plug in and charge before doing so, even if you’re close friends. Common courtesy dictates that it’s only polite to ask to use someone else’s facilities, regardless if it’s a glass of water, a power outlet, or a bathroom, and doing so should eliminate most problems.  Here at Transport Evolved, the editorial team always asks before plugging in at each other’s houses, even though we know the answer will invariably be yes.

Offering to pay the very next question that should be asked, too, at least until you know that the person providing the power doesn’t mind you not paying for it. Even though most people wouldn’t dream of asking for money, being polite and up-front ensures no egos are hurt and everyone is on the same page.

Finally, we’d like to remind plug-in drivers that charging isn’t an inalienable right. Despite electricity being far cheaper than gasoline, you still consume someone else’s power when you plug in. Remember that fact, and even if someone doesn’t want to accept money for the electricity you use, donating a comparable amount to their favourite charity may be a suitable way to repay their act of kindness.

Our advice to the friends, associates of plug-in drivers:

As Amy points out, charging up an electric car isn’t all that expensive, even if you happen to own a high-end Tesla with a long-range battery pack.

What’s more in our experience, most electric car owners do offer to pay for the electricity they use. Granted, some won’t if they feel your friendship means that particular financial outlay is likely to be considered acceptable, but most will still check.

If you happen to have a friend who assume that they can charge when it isn’t okay however, it’s always best to talk about your grievances early on, but bear in mind that you may appear a little petty if you’re quibbling over a few kilowatt-hours of electricity a few times a month.

Politeness is its own reward. Even if your friend has a charging station, you should always ask first.

Politeness is its own reward. Even if your friend has a charging station, you should always ask first.

Honesty usually is the best policy however, so if you really do want to ask for some money to pay towards your electricity bill, don’t be afraid to bring it up. If your friendship really is a good one, neither party should feel awkward discussing things with this level of honesty.

For most people however, offering the occasional bit of electricity to charge a friend or colleague’s electric car isn’t going to break the bank, and despite what some people may tell you, charging up an electric car really is rather cheap.

What would you do?

We’ve given you Amy’s official answer, and we’ve given our own. But what would you do in this situation?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below — as well as any solutions you’ve worked out with your friends, family or coworkers when it comes to charging.


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