Everything You Need to Know About Road Tripping in an Electric Car

As someone who's driven a 2001 Isuzu Trooper most of her life, getting the keys to an electric car made me feel like I was trading in a Blackberry for an iPhone. Earlier this month, I traveled to sunny California for a weeklong trip in Palm Springs, where I drove a 2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback around the area and to Joshua Tree National Park.

Since this was my first time getting behind the wheel of an electric vehicle (EV), I wanted to make sure I was in an area filled with charging stations. To my surprise, I lasted an entire week without needing to use one. While this was due to a combination of limiting myself to short drives and my hotel — Parker Palm Springs — having a place to power up, most of the latest EV models also average 250 miles per charge.

All in all, there are many benefits to going green. Not only is opting for an EV great for the environment, but it also allows you to use the HOV lanes in certain states. Plus, you'll save on gas, and don't get me started on how useful it is to have two trunks (thanks to no engine).

Convinced and ready to hit the road? I picked up some tips and tricks from my recent trip, got more advice from experts, and even chatted with some friends who drove their Tesla from Richmond, Virginia, to Yellowstone. Ahead, I compiled everything I learned to create the ultimate guide to taking an electric car road trip.

You can travel across the country.

As a first-time EV driver, I didn't push the limits by only going from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree. However, it is possible to get your electric car across the country. Electrify America, the largest network of EV charging stations, is set up in many states and continues to expand. To get to where you're going faster and save power, don't forget that certain states allow EV drivers to use the HOV lanes. A popular long-haul route is from L.A. to Washington, D.C. via Interstates 15 and 70; another is from San Diego, California, to Jacksonville, Florida, through Interstates 10 and 8.

Newlyweds and Tesla owners Wes McLaughlin and Emily Martin took a road trip from Virginia to Yellowstone, and back again. "For our honeymoon, we drove from Richmond through the Midwest to Colorado, where we stayed for a few days before continuing north to Yellowstone," McLaughlin shared. "We stayed near West Yellowstone in Idaho, and there was a charger just outside the park. We drove through snowstorms and buffalo herds without issues or worry that we wouldn't be able to get to a charger."

Choose hotels with charging stations.

Next up, where to stay? Opt for a hotel with a charging station. This way, you can park the car when you're done for the day and power it up overnight. PlugShare has an easy-to-use map that shows accommodations with free charging stations alongside those you have to pay for. Use the platform to help you decide where to spend the night.

Fortunately, the Parker Palm Springs offered a charger, which fully juiced up the car battery overnight. For more options across the country, Marriott has a variety of locations with complimentary chargers available for guests.

RV parks are made for EVs.

The best way to save during your trip is by stopping at RV parks along the way. In addition to giving you a place to camp and park, eliminating the need to pay for a hotel, RV parks allow you to charge your vehicle.

"Level 2 chargers are the same ones used by RVs for power," McLaughlin said. "If you rent a spot for an RV, typically $35 to $50, you get a full charge and a good night's rest for a decent price. We spent several nights camping in the car when we just needed a place to sleep before continuing on the next day."

Know the different types of EV charging stations.

Not all EV chargers are the same. In fact, there are three different tiers. Level one is the slowest. If your battery is nearing empty, it will take a full 24 hours to power it all the way up, and overnight, you'll only get a charge of approximately 50 miles.

Level two is the most common and delivers a charge of up to 28 miles per hour. As for cost, it could range from $1 to $5 an hour, which is still significantly cheaper than paying for gas. "Shopping centers are popular places for EV charging stations — some even offer preferred parking spots," Chase Auto product strategy director Jason Zehr said. "You can have a meal and/or run errands while the car is charging, and some stores offer free charging to shoppers."

Level three, also known as direct current fast chargers (DCFC), is all in the name. It's the quickest option and gets you back on the road with a full battery in as little as an hour for anywhere between $10 to $30, depending on the EV's battery.

The warmer, the better.

Similar to a phone, EVs lose power quicker in cold weather, proving that summer road trips are the way to go. For those who end up hitting the open road in the winter, charge your car more often. "If you're driving to a destination in cold weather, make sure to have an extra charge to get you there," said Martin. "We drove at 17 degrees Fahrenheit and lost battery fast."

Test the waters by renting an electric car.

If you don't own an EV, a road trip is the perfect way to try one out. Turo, Sixt, Hertz, and Enterprise all have their own electric car fleets, making it easy to set up a rental.

Understand the pros of buying an electric car.

There are incentives for investing in an electric automobile of your own. Car owners can snag up to $7,500 in federal tax credit on all plug-in EVs and possibly more at the state level. Beyond not having to waste money on gas, you'll also save on maintenance. "I don't miss oil changes or replacing alternators and belts," McLaughlin said. "As someone who has never been a 'car guy,' it's nice to know that I can actually do all the maintenance on my car by myself, which is just adding windshield washer fluid."

When you're venturing out on long distances, it's reassuring to drive something that has a low chance of breaking down. Even when I was imagining a worst-case scenario of the EV running out of battery, I relaxed after remembering that Audi offers complimentary towing. Matt Mostafaei, Audi E-Tron product manager, said, "Should a customer run out of battery unexpectedly, Audi roadside assistance will dispatch a tow truck and bring the customer and vehicle to the nearest charging location to ensure they can get back on the road as soon as possible."

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