What You Need to Know About Taking a Road Trip in an Electric Car

There's a lot of fun—and a little more planning—involved.

Recently, I drove my Hyundai Kona Electric SUV for 232 miles. This much-needed beach trip was my first foray into longer road trips with an EV. On the plus side—charging up was significantly cheaper than filling up the gas tank on a traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) car—we're talking under $25 to power the whole trip. On the minus—at least at the moment, there's a slight learning curve when using electric cars for long road trips.

I learned a lot on this first trip and am much better prepared now for future distance driving in an EV. For a successful and memorable road trip, it just takes a little additional planning to make the journey smooth. Here's what you need to know about driving electric cars long distances.

01 of 10

Learn what type of charger your car needs.

Just like the rest of your tech, different electric cars use different types of chargers for high-speed charging—and so you'll want to make sure that you choose fast-charging stations that offer your kind of plug. Most electric cars use either CHAdeMO or SAE Combined Charging System (Combo/CCS)—Tesla has its own proprietary version that can only be used for its cars, though Tesla owners can also use CHAdeMO chargers if they spring for a separate adapter.

02 of 10

Know that your actual range may vary.

My Kona is expected to clock in above the 200-mile range for a trip, but many factors can affect an electric car's range. Here are a few examples that can dramatically decrease your mileage because of the extra energy they require:

  • Cold weather
  • Blasting the air conditioning or heater
  • Driving with a lot of uphill climbs
  • Speeding and driving with a heavy foot

I'm typically a very fast driver, but watching my range tick away quickly encouraged me to slow my roll to a by-the-books 65 mph.

03 of 10

Map out charging pit stops in advance.

As I quickly learned, opting to wing EV charging meant that I ended up pulling off the highway, using my phone to search for a charger, and driving an additional 15 minutes to get there. The handy Chargeway app gives you a much better read on what's near you than other apps I tried—and lets you set your car type, so it only shows chargers your electric car can use.

You can also use its trip planner tool to input temperature, current charge, and destination, and it'll tell you how much additional charge you need to make it to your next destination.

04 of 10

Choose the fastest chargers available.

Different chargers work at different rates:

  • Level 1 chargers are like your home electrical wiring and will take many hours (or days!) to give you a full charge.
  • Level 2 chargers might work for you if you want to spend a few hours nearby checking out the sights (for instance, if you want to spend the day at a zoo, mall, or amusement park that has Level 2 chargers).
  • Level 3 or DC Fast chargers offer the quickest charge, which can get you to an 80 percent charge in as little as an hour.
05 of 10

Pick charging stations with amenities.

Even if you're using an ultrafast charger, you'll still have at least a half hour to kill. Fortunately, you'll find more and more of the chargers at places where you might want to spend a short amount of time.

We had good luck at Royal Farms, a gas station chain that's getting in on the electric thing (and offers some good road trip snacks for an impromptu picnic while we waited for the charge). I've also found electric car chargers at Target, Wal-Mart, and other major stores—so you can easily kill the time picking up sunscreen and other essentials you may have forgotten to pack while you wait.

Unfortunately, you can't always count on highway rest stops—those zip-off, zip-on rest areas may have gas pumps, but the ones we tried along our route only offered Tesla Superchargers.

06 of 10

Sign up for a few of the charger networks.

EV charger companies like Chargepoint, EVGo, and Electrify America offer speedy ways to pay for your charging, like tapping cards or using apps. It's easier if you're already signed up pre-trip, so you can speed through your charging stops (though it's still pretty easy to use your credit card instead).

07 of 10

Take shorter charge breaks if possible.

When I was only about 50 miles short of what I needed to get to my destination, we opted for a partial charge. We were able to quickly grab that extra battery juice with a shorter, 20-minute stop—just long enough to let our puppy stretch his legs, take a bathroom break, and pick up a few snacks.

08 of 10

Have a plan B.

The infrastructure is still catching up with the demand—so you may find that there are places (especially off the beaten path) where chargers are few and far between, or you may find that the charger you planned to visit is out of order or in use.

It's a good idea to make sure there's an alternate spot where you can charge—and that you give yourself plenty of range to get to another charging destination if you need to.

09 of 10

Charge up where you're staying.

Many hotels have started to offer free level 2 charging for their guests—a perk you may want to take advantage of for an even longer road trip, so you wake up in the morning with a fully charged car ready to face the road. Make sure you book your hotel stay ahead of time to get the best deal.

10 of 10

Pack your home charger as a back up.

You may need it to plug in at your destination or in a real pinch—so it's best to make sure you have it waiting in your trunk.

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