Summer’s on its way, and we’re itching to get out on the road again. If you're one of the many people who switched to an EV in the last year, a road trip in your new electric car could still feel like a journey into the unknown. Even seasoned EV drivers might need some refreshing when it comes to planning a journey beyond their local supermarket.
First up, let’s explore that thorny issue of range anxiety. Very few current EV drivers won’t have had a journey when their range drops faster than expected, or a crucial charger is out of action. However, the ranges of electric cars being bought today are vastly greater than they were only a couple of years ago. And the public charging network has improved dramatically, despite a year of lockdown for drivers. With around 1,000 rapid chargers added since 2019, it’s likely that every longer journey you go on will take you past at least one brand new, lightening-fast charging option that wasn’t there just a summer ago.
Despite the shrinking reality of range anxiety, there’s no doubt that before you pack the sandwiches and buckle up for a long trip, you’ll still need to take a moment to plan. On top of the satisfaction of knowing there's not a whiff of toxic air coming from your exhaust, you might rediscover some extra joy in your first electric road trip.
Master the electric car road trip
Most of your journeys can be covered by an overnight charge on your driveway or street charger. The right EV tariff will help make this home charging ‘tankful’ cheaper and greener.
Over a longer distance trip, electric motoring does require a little more research and planning than you might be used to with a petrol or diesel car. Stopping every 150-200 miles to charge 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 fitsCheck your EV tariff match
Electric journeys are easy if you plan ahead
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 points and timings. Zap Map will remember your car model and only show you compatible chargers.
The chemistry of an EV battery means you can add miles faster when your car is between 20% and 80% full. Depending on your driving style and the number of chargers on your route, plan to head to the charger that is the one before the point at which you expect to hit 20%. Cautious EV drivers like to refill when they still have 50 miles in the tank - that's 25% of a 200-mile range. 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).
In the advanced settings of your journey planning app, we recommend you 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.
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 overoptimistic (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.
Before you set off on your first long trip with family in tow, do some fieldwork. See how your charge level compares to the app’s calculations on a medium length journey that doesn’t require a charge-stop.
Head for a charging network that’s reliable
You can use advanced filters in your journey app to favour the networks that are more reliable. The same filters also hide networks that require an app or special RFID card.
As an idea of which networks are working well, Zap-Map’s league table ranks the UK’s most popular EV charging networks based on data from its annual survey of their community of EV drivers. This year Tesla retains its top spot as the country’s most appreciated EV charging provider, but if you don’t have a Tesla car, users also generally have good things to say about Instavolt and Osprey networks.
When you’re on the road, you’ll find the same smartphone app will be able to give you live network data to show you where other charge points are in case your plans change. The app will give you the reassurance that the chargepoint is online and 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.
Leave the motorway behind
While a work trip means you just want to be 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 Google maps and search along the route to remind yourself of places you’ve always wanted to stop at.
At slower speeds you’ll get much higher efficiency 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.
If you’re off the motorway, consider a ‘destination’ stop enroute. 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.
A further reason that EV drivers may favour ‘A’ roads is due to the dire state of the motorway charging network to date. If you don’t drive a Tesla, motorway service station charging has been the weakest link in the UK’s public charging backbone. The great news is all that is about to change, as a partnership with Gridserve means banks of new fast chargers are added to the Ecotricity network. The first of these opened in a brand new service station near Rugby this Easter.
The welcome arrival of the charge hub
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.
Bp and Shell are both joining in, and expect to have working hubs in various locations before the end of the summer, each with a mind-blowing 24 ultra-fast charging points.
Take a charge at your final 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 that probably came with your new car. Check they have an extension lead if you need one to reach your car. Always make sure you fully unwind the extension, as prolonged charging can create heat that may trip the house circuit.
If all else fails, who can you call for help?
Last year, the RAC fitted 80 patrol vans across the country with their EV Boost system, capable of giving a charge to motorists at the side of the road. If you already had an AA policy, you’ll be pleased to know it also covers EVs, and they promise to tow you to the nearest charging station or to your destination - whichever is closer.
So there you have it - you're ready to go ahead and enjoy that first road trip in your new electric car. To get the most out of your EV for any summer outing, long or short, read on for our best tips for driving and parking that maximise the efficiency of your electric car.
Five more top tips for efficient summer driving
While summer weather is generally more forgiving than winter temperatures as far as electric batteries are concerned - you get around 20% more miles than you’d get from a full charge in the dead of winter - there are several things you can do to tip an EV’s efficiency further in your favour:
Check your tyres - the more miles you cover the bigger the difference a dip in tyre pressure makes to your range. Make sure you check the recommended pressures (inside your car door) and adjust. Don’t just wait for the dashboard notification of really low pressure!
Plug-in to precondition - in the winter you’ll have come across this tip to pre-warm your car. Preconditioning has its uses in the heat too. It’s not just about your comfort for that first ten minutes, it also ensures you can depart from home with maximum battery range when you need it.
Park cool - seek out the shade to save your battery from the heat. You won’t need to waste your battery on air-con when you start up on the way home.
Eco mode - If you know you’re prone to being a little heavy on the pedals, these modes help by ‘dulling’ the responses of the accelerator, which makes them great for helping you get the most miles when you need it. As you get used to keeping an eye on the efficiency of your electric car, you’ll probably end up doing this all by yourself, by anticipating the slow-downs and not accelerating or braking aggressively. This is the zen of EV driving.
Leave room for regen - If you can do the day’s trips without a full battery, depart at 80%. This allows room for regenerative braking to add to the battery. Once you get used to how easy and smooth it is to drive in regen mode, you won’t want to return to normal braking on country roads or stop-start traffic.