If you are planning a long journey in an EV, you’re going to need an EV route planning tool to help you find rapid charging stops along your route. With so many different EV journey apps available, read on to see how we got on with testing the top six.
Our three golden rules for charging on EV road trips:
1. Stop rapid charging around 80% full (any more takes much longer); 2. Plan to stop before you hit 20% (better for your nerves and battery); 3. Choose your network wisely. Our top picks are: Instavolt, Osprey, MFG and Gridserve.
The good news is that road trips in an electric car are getting easier and easier, with faster chargers – and more of them – dotted along A-roads and motorways. But, although there are more reliable chargers, there are also more EVs on the road, so you are still better off doing a little planning before you set off on a long trip.
We put the top EV route planners to the test:
ABRP (A Better Route Planner)
For each app we asked it to plan a 250-mile route from Aberystwyth, Wales to Essex in a VW ID.3. Keep reading to find out which of these we’ll be reaching for on our own road-trips…
Zap-Map is the most well-known of route planners for EV drivers. It launched way back in 2014, and today the majority of UK EV drivers have it installed on their phones. Zap-Map has almost all public charge points mapped and around 70% showing live status data, so you can tell if a charger is in use.
Key features include search, filters, list of nearby chargers, detailed info on each charging point, Zap-Chat community feature and a smart route-planner.
There’s a free version, that allows you to do basically everything you may need. The plus and premium version cost £29.99 and £47.99 per year, and give you a few extra features, like What3words navigation, enhanced filters and charger ratings to help you avoid the less reliable chargers. You have to pay for premium to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay display in your car screen.
In-car display is a great feature, allowing you to see the details of each charge point including live charge point status data (where available) and the latest EV driver chats.The only downside is that if you are used to getting live traffic updates using Google Maps, you won’t get these when you’ve got Zap-Map plugged into your car.
Networks with live data on Zap-Map are indicated with an icon on their respective logos. Updated every five minutes, live data shows a blue marker around charge point icons when it is in use. Networks include: Instavolt, Osprey, Gridserve, MFG, BP Pulse, ESB, GeniePoint, Fastned, Ionity, Tesla, Shell, ChargePlace Scotland,
✔ Community chat is well used so you can see if a charger has had issues recently
✘ Charger colours aren’t particularly user-friendly (note: we found out how to get a handy symbols key in the app)
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2. ABRP (A Better Route Planner)
A Better Route Planner (ABRP) is an app that guides you through the quickest way to arrive at your destination. It’s a website and an app for both Android and iOS devices.
A Better Route Planner is a smart, fun, and easy-to-use itinerary maker that lets you plot out routes in the most efficient way possible.
A Better Route Planner focuses on route planning and navigation specifically for electric vehicles. You have to simply select your vehicle model, enter your destination, and hit the big blue plan button to get a full planned route, including charging stations and trip duration.
It has a very simple interface. But change mode and you can see the hills on the route where you could use the most energy. Users say the results are very accurate, taking into account temperature and road conditions. Tesla drivers even prefer it to the Tesla Planner as it favours more charges within the efficient ‘fast’ charging zone of your battery than the Tesla app.
The free version allows you to share to Google Maps to get live traffic updates. The premium version has traffic built-in.
✔ Accurate predictions on range
✔ Shows you all the food options near your charger
✘ Live data on top charger networks only
Got the right energy tariff for your home charging?
3. Watts Up
Watts Up is definitely confidence boosting, it’s very keen to tell you where the nearest charger is at all times. Clear rapid charging options, very reassuring when you can see the real-time nearest chargers. Live status for top networks – Instavolt, Osprey, and Gridserve and now live, as are smaller networks ChargePlaceScotland, ForEv.
Nearby public chargepoints are shown within the free CarPlay interface. We show location, distance, power rating and live availability. Favourite chargers can be added to allow for quick reference.
Status bar shows real-time status, to show the next chargers and (for some networks) their availability.
✔ Seeing the logo of the charge operator on the map makes it easy to weigh up best operator against best location
✘ Not on your laptop or tablet, it’s only an app on your phone
4. Google Maps
You can actually get some helpful information from Google Maps as an electric car driver, but it is buried deep within the mapping interface. What we trust Google to do is show us the best route and to reroute us based on what’s happening with traffic, so it’s worth including Google in this list of EV route planners. We expect that Google are working on making it better for predictions.
On a desktop computer, All you have to do is plug in your journey details, tap the option for ‘search along route’, and then search for ‘EV charging stations’. Then Google Maps will present you with all the stations along your route, with details about the type of chargers available. On your phone, tap the three dots on the top right and then ‘Search along route’. You still have to type ‘EV charging’, but then you’ll see all the chargers on your route and can add a stop.
The problem comes if you get rerouted because Google finds a quicker route. Google will think you still need to stop at that charger.
✔ Live traffic on your route
✘ No help choosing chargers
Explore all electric cars
PlugShare is incredibly popular and it’s also completely free. Like Zap-Map, the PlugShare app can be used to plan a trip in a specific vehicle. It doesn’t show how elevation affects your range, just shows you the likely max range with a big green circle on the map – and that is either very conservative or hasn’t noticed what car we selected. You can filter by reviews, so you can see only the best chargers in other drivers’ opinions.
We were expecting great things from PlugShare, but in fact were really disappointed. For example, it showed us Tesla chargers for our ID.3 (not the one’s just opened up to other users) and it didn’t seem easy to filter away slower chargers.
✔ Easy to filter chargers by user ratings (this is Premium feature in Zap-Map)
✘ No option to share route to Google for real-time navigation from the app. And it let us choose chargers ‘along the route’, so we accidentally picked a Northbound charger on a Southbound journey!
6. EV Navigation
A newer name, EV Navigation, is a comprehensive solution for predicting the discharge rate of the battery with precision but it also manages to look simple. It calculates routes and takes the charging times into consideration. You can tell it how many people you have in the car and how you are likely to drive (sport, normal or eco), even the pressure in your tyres. This gives EV drivers the ability to optimise their drive time and spend the least amount of time necessary waiting at charging stations. If you don’t like the look for the charging stop they suggest, it’s very hard to find alternatives.
✔ Great to see the impact of passengers and driving style, etc.
✘ Not very interactive if you don’t want to use the charger selected
7. Octopus Electric Universe
If you are an Octopus customer, you may be interested in their Electric Universe charging network. Sign up and they send you a card so you can pay for charging through your home energy bill. Sometimes there is a small discount for using chargers off-peak. Better still it works across Europe, where an RFID card or app is still vital, as contactless payments are less common.
The trial version of their route planner only works from a browser at the moment. But the results were sensible, and you can send the route to Google Maps on your phone. The app shows you all the networks in any spot, including those who haven’t partnered – of which the big name missing from their payments system is Gridserve.
✔ No more upfront ‘holds’ on your credit card, just pay it off on your home bill
✔ Great for European road trips
✘ Route planner doesn’t show you alternatives along the route, but you can use the app to see all the options
✘ Network doesn’t include Gridserve chargers (so not so great if you want to stay on the motorway to charge)
Main features of the best EV route planners
|EV route planner||Desktop version?||In-car version?||Live data connection to your EV?||See charger availability?||Predictions based on route elevation?||Live traffic navigation||Multiple EVs||Cost of Premium version|
|ABRP||✓||Premium||✓||Top networks only||✓||✓ Premium. (Basic allows you to send to Google Maps)||Premium||£48/year|
|Electric Universe||Routing on Desk-top only||✗||✗||Many networks (exc. Gridserve)||✗||✗||✓||Free|
The features offered by these apps are changing all the time. We’ve done our best to compare apps in May 2022, but if you have found any changes and would like to give us an update, we’d love to put things right. Email us at: email@example.com
Our verdict: Which route planning app is best?
We gave each EV route planning app a score for various aspects of planning a long journey. The best app scored 5, with the worst getting a 1:
|EV route planner||Ease of use||Good for EV beginners||Accurate EV predictions||EV Features for free||Total score|
By way of background, we’ve been driving an EV since 2019. We don’t often use public charging, as most of our journeys can be completed with home charging. We have always used Zap-Map to plan trips and Google Maps to navigate to avoid traffic jams and hold-ups. We stick to the better charger networks (see the golden rules above), and try and avoid charging when the roads are busy. Probably as a result of this, our experience of rapid charging in the last year is generally quite positive.
Following our desk-based research, we’ll be immediately retiring the PlugShare app. We’ll recommend Watts Up to our more anxious EV-newbie friends and relatives. And we’ll watch the newer EV Navigation for further developments.
The best EV route planner app? We’d go to ABRP to provide the most accurate route planning for all our longest trips. The genuine ease of use (one RFID card to end them all), we’d use the Octopus Electric Universe app, although not having motorway-based Gridserve chargers onboard is a shame. If you have a passenger who can check updates, Zap-Map is useful for the live charger status data for Gridserve chargers, but an update every five minutes could still leave you waiting for a charger, so it’s probably best to head to a larger site anyway.