With heavy snow battering parts of the U.S. and the temperature falling across the Northern Hemisphere, we’re well and truly at that time of year when people turn their attention to visiting family and friends for the holidays.
And while U.S. Thanksgiving is tomorrow (we hope you’re ready if you’re celebrating) the next month is likely to be full of longer-than-usual road trips as you bundle everyone from the kids to your dog into the car in order to go and visit the ones you love. If you’ve got an electric car, you might be considering making that trip in your daily driver, well beyond the range of your usual commute.
To that end, it’s time for us to offer our five top tips to make sure you, your car, and your passengers enjoy your trip, can get to your destination safely, and ensure things go as smoothly as possible.
Admittedly, over the past few years, longer-distance electric car trips in winter have become a lot easier than they once were. Thanks to the Tesla Supercharger Network, if you’re lucky enough to own a Tesla Model S or Tesla Model X — or you happen to live in an area with decent numbers of DC quick charging stations and own a compatible car — long-distance trips should be pretty easy. Nevertheless, it never hurts to double-check the following five things to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
1: Prepare your car
Just like someone driving a petrol (gasoline) or diesel car long-distance, it always makes sense to give your car a once-over before you leave. Check that the tires are correctly inflated, that you have some form of puncture repair kit or spare wheel (many recovery companies charge extra for holiday recovery) and if you’re heading somewhere with snowy weather, that you either have snow chains, snow socks or winter tires fitted.
Check too that your car has plenty of washer fluid, that the wipers work correctly, and that your lights are working properly. Note that in some places, you’ll be required by local or national law to carry specific things like reflective jackets, spare light bulbs or in the case of France, your own breathalyzer. Regardless of where you’re travelling, if you’re going outside of your country or region, be sure to make sure your car complies with local laws. This is especially true of some parts in the U.S., where local statute requires you to have snow-capable traction tires or chains during winter.
Just as you would with any winter trip, if there’s a risk that snow could slow or even halt your progress, keep some spare blankets or warm clothes to hand. While your car may be able to keep you warm, it’s always best to be prepared for the worst, regardless of what’s powering your vehicle.
For electric cars, a few extra items are recommended too — including a portable EVSE charge cable for emergencies, and if you have one, a suitable extension cord, properly rated to carry the current your portable EVSE charge unit needs to operate. Owners who live in areas not well served by public charging stations should also consider taking a set of power adapters so they can juice up from whatever power they happen to find.
2: Prepare your route, prioritizing charging
While route-planning is not so much of a requirement as it once was, proper route planning can still pay dividends, especially when there’s a lot of traffic on the road.
While most people will choose the shortest or quickest route in terms of travel time, when driving longer-distance in an electric car that’s not always the best route. Instead, look for the route which is best served by charging stations and, more importantly, the route with the most charging station redundancy.
What do we mean by that? Charging station redundancy relates to the number of charging stations at any one particular location. It might mean having multiple DC quick charging stations in the same physical location, or at a push, a backup Level 2 charging station for when the DC quick charging station is faulty. Alternatively, it could mean a route where there’s another DC quick charging station within easy reach of the first, such as as a busy city centre with multiple stations within a 3 mile radius, or a motorway service stop with a DC quick charger on either carriageway.
For example, route A might be actually shorter in distance and time than route B, shaving off 60 miles or a good 60 minutes off your travel time — but it may also contain one less charging station and have zero charging station redundancy along the route. Even if you carefully plan your route, there’s a higher risk you’ll be left stranded at a non-functioning charging station with no charging options if your route contains low charging station redundancy.
It’s not just for when things break, either. At this time of year, charging station use will inevitably rise, increasing wait times for charging infrastructure. By picking a route with more redundancy (and therefore more charging provision) you’ll spend less time waiting and more time driving.
It’s also imperative to check the operation of each and every charging station before you leave using a site like PlugShare. The free-to-use, crowdsourced platform collates information on charging stations, such as the networks they are part of, what you need to use them, and most importantly, how reliable they are. Avoid sites with low ratings and prioritise charging choices with high reliability scores.
3: Pack Sensibly, Pack Light
This piece of advice may sound counter-intuitive given our instruction earlier to ‘Prepare Your Car,’ but there’s a difference between being well prepared and over-packed. And when it comes to an electric car, taking everything but the kitchen sink on your holiday road trip will cause you some significant problems, especially if your daily use is fairly limited, round-town driving.
You see, the more you put in a car, the heavier it gets. The heavier it gets, the more energy you’ll use pushing it along the road. In an internal combustion engine vehicle, that extra weight will be felt with a few miles per gallon reduction in your fuel economy, but in an electric car — especially ones with ranges under 100-miles per charge in optimal conditions — you’ll see a noticeable range drop.
What does that mean in the real world? If you’ve got kids, an electronic baby-sitter (such as a tablet computer, Kindle or iPad) can be invaluable in keeping them entertained, while opting to buy things at your location can help avoid the countless parcels and boxes that normally accompany a holiday-season trek.
If you can too, keep everything inside the car rather than outside. While you can buy roof racks for most plug-in cars on the market, putting things on the roof will dramatically alter your car’s aerodynamic qualities and drastically reduce range.
4: Remember Things Will Be Different
You may have spent the past two years driving your electric car to and from work every day, and perhaps even ventured into the country at the weekends for some hiking or camping, giving you a pretty good idea of what you and your car are capable of.
But when the temperature is dropping, the road conditions are poor, and you’re stressed from yet another hour behind the wheel and the thought of being nice to your in-laws, you won’t be able to drive at your best.
Even if you think it won’t, your car’s efficiency and range will suffer as a consequence, which means you should always plan to stop and charge far more regularly than you would driving to a summer camping trip. A good guide is to expect a ten or fifteen percent drop in real-world range when driving in the winter, and double or even triple that if there’s heavy snow or mountainous driving ahead.
With that in mind, we’d like to also advocate for the ABC rule, or Always Be Charging. Even if you’re not empty, stopping for a quick ten-minute top up at a quick charging station you happen across is better than trying to soldier on to be beaten by stress, cold weather and another big climb.
Similarly, you should add significant time to your travel plans to account for the extra road traffic and queues at popular charging stations. Don’t, and you’ll find yourself stressed, late, and never wanting to make that trip again.
5: Don’t Be a Dick!
As those who have followed this site for a while will know, we’re fans of Wheaton’s Law (as coined by actor and all-round geek Wil Wheaton) which, boiled down, comes down to a simple statement: “don’t be a dick!” Or, if you prefer, “be nice to others.”
What does that mean? In this case, it means making sure that you share charging resources appropriately and considerately. Don’t leave your car plugged in and saunter off to return hours after it has finished charging. Instead, stay near your car (if you can) and ensure other drivers can reach you if they need an emergency charge.
If you’re following our ABC rule above, it’s also polite to stay in or very near to your car. That’s because you’re essentially topping up because there’s a charging station, not because you really need it — but someone else may do.
If you see someone else arriving at a charging station, it’s OK to ask them how much power they need, or offer to switch to a lower-power station if they seem to be in hurry and your car is nearing full. Similarly, it’s OK to ask someone at a charging station how long they’ll be, and to ask them to let you know when they’re done.
Plug in owners are, by and by, friendly and considerate. Don’t be the one who isn’t.
We’ve focused on the process of road-tripping for the holidays more than winter driving tips, but feel free to check our our winter and autumn guides if you’re interested. In the meantime, we’re interested to know if you have any tips about longer-distance holiday road trips in a plug-in car. Do you regularly make them at this time of year? Have you got extra advice we’ve missed?
Leave them in the Comments below, and on behalf of the entire Transport Evolved editorial team, Happy Holidays!
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