We figured that if we spent two months driving across the United States with a baby, it wouldn’t be as difficult to do it in an electric car. It turned out that being in an electric vehicle made everything so much easier.
The plan was simple: After 13 years of living abroad, we would return to America in grand style. We would drive 5,500 miles across the west U.S. to visit our friends and family in California and Arizona. The Ford Mustang Mach-E California Route 1 has a range of 304, but we found that it can go further on flat legs.
On December 10, 2021 we set out from San Francisco and drove 371 miles to Santa Clarita. We drove off with confidence, despite the fact that our car's navigation system had plotted our charging stops.
We were confident even after our first bathroom break. We arrived at Firebaugh, just outside Fresno, three hours later. After fiddling around for five minutes, it was time to charge. It seemed that everything was working.
We realized that things weren't going as planned at the next stop. Our four-month old woke up hungry so we stopped at Buttonwillow near Bakersfield. This is a stop that offers no services or charging. Unexpectedly, after driving an hour, we had to stop at Lebec to charge our phone. Our car didn't know how much work it would take to drive to higher elevations. The quick 10 minute charge became a 45-minute baby care stop when our baby woke up.
This was the moment when the lightbulb went off. We had it all figured.
You can plan your charging stops
The car's built in navigation system attempted to reduce the travel time by letting us plan where we would charge. The algorithm suggested that we charge the battery when it was at its lowest point, which was close to 20%. It would then not charge it above the 80 percent mark. This approach had three issues:It took us longer to eat, wash our hands, and feed the baby during breaks than it took to charge the car. This was at a level 3 charger with 75 kW average, which is less than half the maximum charge speed. We didn't need to reduce the charge time. Instead, we took more time to eat, drink, and feed the baby during breaks than it took to charge the car (about 25 minutes at a level 3 charger averaging 75 kW, which is only half of the total potential charge speed for our car). However, changes in weather and gradients affected the battery performance and then it added charge to our route. We were climbing as we crossed the Transverse Range and out of the Central Valley. The temperature dropped to minus ten degrees. Although we were fine because the planning system knows exactly where the chargers are, it doesn't prevent you from getting in trouble. However, the last stop was not how we planned.
We changed our strategy and picked charges 1.5 to 2.5 hours later in order to better align with our needs.
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Photo by Weldon KellyThe car can recharge faster than its occupants. Network of EV charging stations
You can find chargers in every part of the west U.S. We never used the car's full 300-mile range, but there were always chargers. Until Fort Collins, Colorado.
While we parked our car at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, we enjoyed a warm brunch at Ginger and Baker. They also had an EVGo charging station that allowed us to charge while we sat outside in the midwinter. We couldn't get our charger to work so we used an Electrify America station to return to Denver.
We had been using only Electricity America and ChargePoint rapid charging while on the move almost inadvertently. Both networks are excellent. ChargePoint also offers uptime and availability reporting, so you can see the number of plugs available. After our EVGo experience, those networks were our trusted partners. We never used any other network because they have such extensive coverage all across the country.
Hotels with EV chargers
We would charge our phones at the hotel, then take a few quick chargers with us on the road. There were many hotels that had chargers, and almost every booking site allows you to sort hotels by whether they have them. Salt Lake City, Utah was the only city where we couldn’t find a hotel that had chargers. We pulled into TownePlace Murray, south of Salt Lake. It had just installed four charging stations and didn't list them yet on its website. Infrastructure is being built quickly.
We would drive between 150 and 200 miles, then stop for a quick-charge break. We would then go to the bathroom, feed the baby and sometimes eat ourselves. Sometimes we will even pee again just for good measure. Hydration is essential. It was always possible to charge our cars well before we did other activities. You won't have to worry about charging time if your car is capable of charging at 75 kW.
How EV charging works
It is important to distinguish between home chargers from the types of rapid chargers that you use on the road. You can charge your phone at home with a plug-in wall outlet for approximately 1 kilowatt an hour. A higher-powered charger can be installed, which will provide you with around 4-6 kW. These chargers are known as level 2 chargers. The real powerhouses of charging can be found out on the roads. Level 3 chargers are capable of charging at 50-150 kW. Some cars and chargers can charge even faster.
The official range for our car is 304 miles. It has an 88-kilowatt hour battery. We used approximately 50 percent of the battery between charges, as we drove for two hours. We were able to top up most chargers in less than 20 minutes. This shows you that you don’t necessarily need the huge range to make a trip like this. We could have done almost everything in a car that had 260 miles of range.
Photo by Raisa Nastukova/UnsplashThere are plentiful charging stations--and more on the way--across the U.S. Even in the Sonoran Desert.
Road-tripping with an EV has many surprising benefits
You should take your EV out on the open roads if you have one. We're not going to lie if we say that an EV is a lot more efficient than a regular car. It was called "magic on wheels" by friends who saw it in Seattle. This is a far cry from our 2005 internal combustion car. It vibrates in a different way than a car with thousands of controlled explosions. It is also very quiet. It is easy to drive and rides smoothly.
After a long day of driving in our EV, we felt refreshed and ready to take off.
Our most popular meal was fresh vegetables, hummus and cheese from our mini-fridge. A large battery means that we only need to plug in an electric cooler once a day. We got to enjoy the best road trip food and pumped breastmilk kept cold. There was no mess or concern about refreezing the blue ice. Another win for EV.
People always wanted to know how they got the car, from Bandelier National Monument in Montana to a Portland residential street. This was admittedly the most difficult part of the trip. It involved calling every dealership within a 50-mile radius. We are optimistic that the supply will improve and we hope you will join us on this classic American road trip.
Weldon recorded his adventures in a series videos. You can see more from Weldon on YouTube.
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