8 Tips for Taking an Electric Car on a Road Trip

Can You Take an Electric Car on a Road Trip

Nothing screams America like a road trip. To see this great country on an epic road trip with friends or to visit the grandparents for the holidays, a road trip is part of life. So has technology advanced enough to take an electric car on a road trip?

Yes, you can take an electric car on a road trip. With the increase in electric cars’ battery ranges and increased charging stations dotting the country, an electric car can handle most road trips with route planning and longer rest stops.

Road trips are a big part of my childhood memories. With a large, spread-out family and living in Northern Michigan, every trip felt like a minimum of 3-hours. These days a 3-hour road trip would be a cakewalk for an electric car but what about a 500+ mile road trip? 

Below is what you need to know to plan an electric car road trip.

How Big of a Roadtrip Can I Take in an Electric Car?

20 years ago it would make national news if someone did a cross-country road trip in an electric car. Nowadays, one can take an electric car on a road trip with peace of mind that they won’t have a dead battery in the dessert.  

Peace of mind takes planning though. But don’t sweat this extra planning. With apps, charging networks, and electric car parking perks, planning a road trip is as easy as plugging your destination into Google Maps. FYI, Google Maps gives charging station locations.

America has installed 78,301 electric vehicle charging stations as of 2019 (source: Alternative Fuels Data Center Charging Stations (AFDC)). 

They are not just in big cities anymore but dotting major highways, motel parking lots, roadside restaurants, and rural cities across the country. Combined with electric vehicle ranges at 150-miles for the cheapest models (e.g., Nissan Leaf) and over 350-miles (e.g., Tesla) for higher-end cars, the size of your road trip no longer matters.

Your big road trip fantasies in an electric car are doable. Drive from New York to San Francisco or Denver to Houston knowing you can find a convenient charging station along the way.

States are funding EV charging corridors to ease adaption to electric cars. Grants have supported Colorado and Arizona to build EV fast-charging corridors down their highways. One can see in the charging station map below how chargers line the major highways and byways of the country making long road trips possible.

Let’s look at an example of a common road trip across the country – driving from the Midwest to Florida. That is a 1,000 to 1,500-mile road trip with a lot of driving through rural areas where charging stations are few and far between. 

Anyone from the Snowbelt has done this drive in a gas guzzler. Let’s see what a trip in an electric car would look like.  

An Electric Car Road Trip Example

As a boy from Northern Michigan, the biggest road trip of the year would be the spring break drive to Florida. A 1,400-mile journey from Traverse City, Michigan to Orlando, Florida for Disneyland or Palm Beach to visit my grandparents.

After a Michigan winter, no 8-year-old has ever complained during the 2.5-day drive to Florida.

A big road trip in an electric car like this depends on the EV you are driving. In an EV with a long-range battery of 300+ miles, like a Tesla, this drive would be low stress and comfortable. But in a car with less than 150-mile range like a Nissan Leaf, then this drive would require a lot of planning.

Tesla Model 3 on a Road Trip Example

In a Tesla Model 3, one can drive 1,375 miles from Northern Michigan (rural) to Orlando, Florida with 10 charging breaks. Each break will be 10 to 55 minutes, with an average charging time of 35 minutes. A perfect stop for a meal or to stretch your legs. 

With the Tesla Supercharger network, this journey through rural America is a breeze in an electric car. You won’t be nervous about finding a charging station and you would be taking those breaks anyways, albeit a little longer at times to get enough charge. 

Tesla Supercharging network for road trips across the country
Tesla’s Supercharger network of DC fast charging stations.

The difference in travel time with a gasoline car would be small since you would be stopping at night plus have to refuel 4 to 5 times anyways. 

Tesla Model 3 has a range of 322 miles, one of the highest in the EV industry. What about an electric car with a smaller battery range? 

Nissan Leaf on a Road Trip Example

For example, if you were driving in a standard model 2020 Nissan Leaf with a 150-mile range. You would require over 20 charging breaks on the way to Florida. The length of the breaks would depend on the ability to find a DC fast charging station. A DC fast charger will charge a Leaf in 40 minutes compared to a standard outlet 110 volts that will take 10-hours to charge. 

Luckily, there are plenty of DC fast chargers with compatible plugs along the journey to Florida and many other American highways. The average distance between DC fast chargers on the drive to Florida is 50-miles. Rural areas like Michigan lack DC chargers so plan your trip carefully by using a route planning app. 

Taking a 40-minute break every couple of hours may not be the road trip pace you want. Plus, charging stations may be broken along the way which is nerve-wracking.  (Alternative Fuels Data Center Dept. of Energy)

You won’t have the Tesla Supercharger network available for your non-Tesla car (at this time but there is talk Tesla allowing adaptors). 

Therefore, a Nissan Leaf on this cross-country road trip will require twice the number of breaks as a Tesla, longer stops for recharging, and less reliability of working charging stations.

You may not have the time or the patience to make this trip if you are making a beeline for the warm weather with kids in the backseat. 

Pros and Cons of Taking an Electric Car on a Road Trip

You be the judge on taking an electric car on a road trip. Everyone’s road trip expectations are different so the pros may outweigh the cons. 

❌ charging stations may be broken or not operating

❌ additional effort to plan the route (connecting charging stations)

❌ taking country roads come with the risk of less charging stations

❌ additional or longer stops required for recharging

❌ the charging station has a line

✅ apps make route planning easy

✅ save money on gasoline

✅ chargers are located at restaurants, shopping centers, motels, hotels, and points of interest along the journey

✅ enjoy the journey by recharging at interesting stops

✅ hop from city to city to see the sights and have dependable charging stations available

See my 7 tips for planning a road trip in an electric car to make the planning and the trip a memorable experience.

How Does an EV Road Trip Compare to a Gasoline Car?

The main differences, in order of inconvenience, between an electric car road trip and a traditional gasoline car road trip are the following:

  1. Charging stops are longer than refueling stops
  2. More frequent stops for charging vs gas station refueling
  3. Charger locations dictate the travel route
  4. May need to travel closer to city centers for fast-charging stations (this is changing though)

The list is in the order of the biggest inconvenience or change to your road trip plans to the least inconvenience. These may be negligible differences for a person who likes lots of stops on a long journey.

As the number of charging locations and DC fast chargers increase, these differences will become negligible to a gasoline car trip. And this is happening!

Plot of US Alternative Fuel Data Center for electric car charging stations growth
Source: Alternative Fuel Data Center electric car charging stations growth.

The charging breaks add an additional 5.5-hours (Tesla Model 3 example) to what is an already 21-hour road trip. But this additional time would be similar to driving a conventional car.

  • Bathroom breaks
  • Food stops
  • Gas station stops
  • Points of interest (aka, tourist traps)

All these stops would be done on your road trip. In an electric car, you would pair them with recharging. As a rule of thumb, people can safely drive 500-miles a day on a road trip. Painful if you have kids, but possible with taking 15-minute breaks every 2-hours. 

Don’t forget the biggest stop of them all on an epic road trip. Motel stops.

In my example, a 21-hour drive to Florida would require most people to spend two nights in motels along the way. An electric car can get fully charged overnight. Motels and hotels now offer charging stations for free to lure EV road trippers to stay the night.

Therefore, 5.5 additional hours isn’t as bad as it sounds. 

With the biggest inconvenience being additional stops for charging, one can see how this may not be a big deal for you on a road trip. Most road trips aren’t a race but a journey. Use those additional charging stops to see a new place. That tourist trap is calling your name.

Electric Vehicle Battery Ranges for a Road Trip

Battery anxiety is the biggest hindrance to taking a plug-in car on a road trip. If you are considering purchasing or renting an EV for your road trip, consider the models below and their expected battery range.

Range of Selected EV Models in the US (2019)

  • 335 miles Tesla Model S Long Range
  • 325 miles Tesla Model 3 Long Range
  • 295 miles Tesla Model X Long Range
  • 258 miles Hyundai Kona Electric
  • 240 miles Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
  • 238 miles Chevrolet Bolt EV
  • 234 miles Jaguar I-PACE
  • 226 miles Nissan Leaf e+ S
  • 220 miles Tesla Model 3 Standard Range
  • 215 miles Nissan Leaf e+ SV/SL
  • 153 miles BMW i3s
  • 150 miles Nissan Leaf
  • 111 miles Kia Soul EV

(Source: Statista and fueleconomy.gov)

8 Tips for Taking an Electric Car on a Roadtrip

Taking an electric car on a road trip can feel like an adventure in itself with the route planning and the hunt for charging stations. Before you put Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again on repeat, consider these 8 tips for taking an electric car on a road trip. They may make your road trip into an adventure you will never forget (for all the right reasons). 

1. Take the Time to Plan a Route

With a conventional car, one just plugs in the final destination and hit cruise control. Your choice of a gas station will be on the route. With an EV, a little extra planning is required. There is an app for that.

Try Google Maps, SemaConnect Station Locator, PlugShare, AFDC Station Locator, EVgo, and many other road trip planning apps. Shop around to find the best for your car.

Have a good navigator sitting shotgun with a quality EV route planner app in their hand.

2. Plug-in Connectors Matter

Not all plug-in connectors are created equal. A Tesla Supercharging station won’t be able to plug into your BMW i3 or Hyundai Kona, for example. 

When you are planning your route, make sure you find charging stations that will work for your car. EV route planning apps make this easy with drop-down options for the connector for your car. Adaptors are also sold to enable your EV to fit more charging stations.

3. Make Those Stops Count

Smart EV road trip route planning starts with double bang-for-your-buck stops. Find hotels, motels, malls, and restaurants that have a charging station. Not only were you planning on stopping anyways but you may score a parking space in the front or free electricity. 

4. Have an Adventure

Destination charging is becoming all the rage. Wineries, national parks, breweries, tourist traps, sports stadiums, etc. are offering charging stations to lure people to stop. It is working. Look for fun places to stop for charging because the stops are what road trips are all about.

5. Head to a Big City

Major metropolises have the most charging stations and the highest concentration of fast-charging stations. Big cities have a lot to see and do, making for excellent charging stops. One can still drive scenic backroads and visit rural towns but extra planning may be required to ensure a charging station awaits you. 

6. Sign-up for Charging Station Networks

You’re not in Kansas anymore. Your home charging station network may not be in Iowa or wherever your road trip is taking you. To save on time and headache, find and sign-up for charging network providers that will be on your route.

We live on Maui and there are four different charging networks on this small island alone. You may need a charger in a pinch on a road trip. When you get there, you can have your account and credit card information already in their system. 

7. Efficient Driving 

Practice efficient EV driving habits before you set off down the road. High driving speeds will reduce your battery range due to the increased drag on the car. Other reductions in the range are from rapid acceleration, hauling heavy loads, and driving up significant inclines.

While you may not be able to avoid these, slow and steady driving can increase your range and lead to less time recharging.

8. Weather matters

An air conditioner or heater will reduce the range of the EV. Try to avoid extreme outside temperatures on a road trip. Drive with the window down instead of using the A/C may be a saving grace. 

Go Take an EV Road Trip

Don’t let EV range anxiety keep you from adventuring out on the American open road. More charging stations are being built each year while the range of electric vehicles continues to increase. All this is making a big road trip more enjoyable and less stressful in an electric car. 

Follow my 7 tips for taking an electric car on a road trip to have a trip you will never forget.

I’m looking forward to taking our son on an EV road trip to the National Parks in the west once he is older. I can’t wait to see what funky places we can find that have charging stations. UFO sightings and a free charge await us. 

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Jordan Fromholz

I'm an electric car owner, enthusiast, and founder of the Plugin Report. As a Chemical Engineer with over 14-years in the energy industry, I've made my passions be renewable energy, batteries, and electric cars. My family lives on Maui where we drive our 2017 Nissan Leaf and share everything there is to know about electric cars.

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