If you switched to an EV this year, longer journeys in your electric car may still feel like a trip into the unknown. It’s not just new drivers, we could all benefit from some refreshing when it comes to planning any journey beyond a local supermarket.
Most seasoned EV drivers will remember longer journeys in an older electric car when their range dropped faster than expected, or a crucial charger was out of action. Those are the two sources of the much-discussed phenomenon of range anxiety. Remember though, that electric cars today have double the range of models only a couple of years old. The public charging network has improved dramatically too, with around 100 rapid chargers being added each month. Any longer journey in your EV is likely to take you past at least one brand new, lightening-fast charging option that wasn’t there just a summer ago.
Although things are looking up, before buckling up for a long journey do take a moment to plan. Driving an electric car beyond its real-world range is different to leaving the house in a petrol car. But a well-planned EV road trip may help you rediscover some extra joy of the road.
How to master longer journeys in an electric car
First off, when you switch to an EV you’ll find most of your journeys can be covered by an overnight charge on your driveway. The right EV tariff will ensure this home charging is both cheaper and greener.
Over a longer distance trip, electric motoring does require a stop every 150-200 miles to charge. This fits with the AA’s long-standing advice to motorists to aim to stop every two hours or so, especially if you’re not used to driving long distances. Generally, grabbing a coffee and a snack takes about the same time as each rapid charge to 80%.
Find an energy tariff that fits
Start an electric journey with a journey planning app
If you are new to electric cars, your first stop is to download a journey planning app like Zap Map or Better Route Planner. Pop in your start point and destination to get an idea of charge point locations and charging time.
Plan to refill when you still have 50 miles in the tank – that’s 25% of a 200-mile range. To be safe, set off expecting to use the charger that is the one before the charger suggested on the app.
You could also change the advanced settings of your journey planning app. Increase the ‘% charge arriving at stop’ (Zap-Map) or Better Routeplanner’s SoC (State of Charge) battery level remaining setting. This way the app will show you earlier chargers, minimizing any potential for stress and ensuring you keep the charging in the battery’s most efficient zone.
The chemistry of an EV battery means you can add miles faster when your battery is between 20% and 80% full. And at the end of your charge, unless the last 20% is vital to get to your final destination, plan to set off again when your car gets to 80% (that’s 200 miles for a 250 mile range car).
If you are new to EVs it’s definitely a good idea to be more cautious until you get some miles under your belt. Charging apps can be over-optimistic (they don’t know about the four bikes on your roof or holiday luggage in your boot) and so it’s better to have early stop options that you don’t need to take.
Not all charging networks are equally reliable
You can use advanced filters in your journey app to favour the networks that are more reliable. The same filters can also hide networks that require an app or special RFID card, though most now accept contactless payments.
Zap-Map’s league table ranks the UK’s most popular EV charging networks with their community of EV drivers. This year Tesla retains its top spot as the country’s most appreciated EV charging provider. Tesla has confirmed other drivers will soon be able charge on their network. EV drivers generally have good things to say about Instavolt and Osprey networks, so you could start by limiting your results to these two networks.
When you’re on the road, the app will be able to give you live network data to show you where other charge points are just in case. The app will show if a fellow user has logged it as working earlier that day. Many also have a photograph of the exact location of the charger, to save you hunting around for the plug in a larger car park.
Some networks also have their own apps, and you may need to download some of these to pay. Thankfully contactless payments are becoming the norm for most public chargers now. There are also options to pay through your utility bill (Octopus Juice) or through Zap-Map’s app using the Zap-Pay scheme.
Do you have time to leave the motorway behind?
While a work trip means you just want to get there and back in the shortest time possible, a summer road trip in an EV can give you the chance to enjoy yourself en-route. Try exploring more leisurely routes along ‘A’ roads. Use the “avoid highways” option in Zap Map or Google maps and search along the route to remind yourself of places you’ve always wanted to stop at.
Slower speeds when you leave the motorway mean you’ll get more miles from your battery too. Like all cars, electric cars use more power at motorway speeds than they do at 60mph. It’s just that you’re likely to be more aware of it once you switch to an EV. Taking an A-road, that can often mean you travel a shorter distance too, giving you a double benefit of fewer and more efficient miles.
Consider making your charging a ‘destination’. A number of slower chargers are often free at National Trust sites and other attractions – meaning you can charge up while you take in a welcome diversion. There are 36 charge points at National Trust sites in Wales alone. Just don’t forget to pack your charger cable! Unlike rapids where you just plug in, these slower charge points are often ‘untethered’, meaning you need to supply the cable.
If you want to stick to the motorways, Gridserve has been making life easier (and faster) for EV drivers this year with new fast chargers in partnership with the Ecotricity Electric Highway network. The first of these opened in a brand new service station near Rugby.
Long journeys welcome the charge hub
As more and more motorists switch to electric, busy locations with one or two chargers could mean waiting in a queue if you are travelling at peak times. The answer to this is the charge hub, the forecourt of EV charging.
Gridserve, who opened their first dedicated EV charging hub at the end of 2020, plan to open over 100 Electric Forecourts across the UK in the next five years. At Gridserve’s first hub in Braintree, Essex, 36 electric vehicles can be charged simultaneously, with high power chargers that can deliver up to 350 kW of charging power – a whopping 200 miles of range in 20 minutes if you have a car charge speed fast enough to keep up.
Osprey Charging has announced it is installing 1,500 rapid chargers at over 150 hubs across the UK by 2025. It is targeting locations on strategic A-roads and adjacent to motorways.
Bp has started to dip its toes into charging hubs, but has stuck to locations within London and limited to fleets like taxi drivers. Shell has also limited itself to London, with a new hub opening in Fulham and over half its forecourt chargers within the M25.
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What about a charge at your destination?
Okay, we’ve covered the journey, but what about when you arrive at your destination? As electric car ownership expands, venues and destinations across the country are making moves to attract visitors with on-site charging. Hotel chains are rolling out charging stations for guests and are often the location of public rapids too, meaning that car owners can either get a quick charge en-route or a slow charge overnight.
Online booking services such as booking.com allow you to filter by electric car charging when you make a search. Self-catering booking sites, like Airbnb, also offer many stays with electric car charge points.
If you are staying with friends or family, ask beforehand if they have an outside plug socket, and don’t forget to pack your ‘granny cable’ – that’s the lead with a three-pin plug on may have come with your new car. Check they have an extension lead handy if needed, but always make sure you fully unwind the extension. Never charge on a coiled cable as it may trip the house circuit.
If all fails, who can you call?
Patrol vehicles can now tow you with raised wheels to the nearest charging station or to your destination – whichever is closer. The RAC is trialling an EV Boost system in 80 vans, capable of giving a charge to motorists at the side of the road.
So with an app and a little inside knowledge, you’re set for successful road trips in your new electric car. To get the most out of your EV at any time of the year, read our tips for maximising the efficiency of your electric car, even when it’s parked up: