November 14, 2022
Are you someone who needs to go to a gas station as soon as your vehicle hits a quarter of a tank? Or do you wait for the low fuel light to come on?
If you fall within the latter group, you could own an electric vehicle (EV). In the year since I bought my first EV, the question I’m asked about the most is how far I can go without charging and whether I’ve ever feared running out of “gas.” Random strangers have approached me in parking lots to pose this question and others.
When it comes to electric vehicles, how quickly your battery charges depends on the kilowatt (kW) output of the charger, as well as your vehicle’s voltage capacity.
It’s an issue that came up when I attended a recent conference in Atlantic City. I was at a session on EV adoption, and someone pointed out the lack of chargers in the area. The question I just asked you was posed by one of the panelists. When she asked, a few people raised their hands in response to the quarter-of-a-tank habit but many more admitted to waiting for the gas light to come on.
“How many of you like to play chicken and see exactly how long you drive on E,” the presenter asked drawing many raised hands. “Okay, you all can be EV drivers – TODAY!”
While the audience laughed, it was a good analogy for why range anxiety shouldn’t be so scary. If that low gas warning light doesn’t bother you, neither should the warning that you only have 20 percent of your charge left. The only difference is charging an EV takes a bit longer than it does to top off your gas tank.
I was one of the handful of people in the room who owns an electric vehicle. Since I bought my car in July 2021, I’ve been stopped in parking lots more times than I can count by people asking me questions about my car. The spaceship sound it makes travelling at low speeds has turned many heads. I’m most often asked about how far I can travel on a charge, whether there are enough places to plug in and how expensive it is. To answer them in order:
- I often go days without charging (this includes commuting 45 miles round trip and running errands). Longer trips require some planning to plot out where the fastest chargers are. I’ve always been able to find a charger when I needed one. I spend significantly less money than I ever did on gas (even doing most of my charging at home).
- A lot of people tell me they want to go electric but feel safer transitioning to a hybrid first. That was my plan too until a chip shortage left me unable to find a small hybrid SUV. I wasn’t willing to buy a car that I never had a chance to test drive and they were all selling before they arrived at dealers within 100 miles of me.
- I hadn’t seriously considered an EV because I thought they were too expensive. And even though I changed jobs years ago and no longer did as much driving as I used to, in my head I still piled on the miles. (My EV replaced a 2007 Honda Civic with more than 265,000 miles.) The hunt for a new car to replace my failing 14-year-old one was stressing me out.
Then my husband saw an ad for the Volkswagen ID.4. It was similar in size to the hybrid SUVs I was considering, and it was a lot more affordable than I expected. I did some research and discovered the average range was 250 miles, which would more than cover my round-trip commute each day. I knew of at least a few chargers at shopping centers nearby and figured if we wanted to take a longer trip but charging was too complicated, we could just use our other vehicle (even if it does guzzle gas).
Several local dealers had models available for me to test drive and after I did, I was sold on going fully electric. Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of a $5,000 EV incentive New Jersey was offering at the time. Unlike the federal incentive, which is a rebate you file for on your next tax return, the New Jersey incentive lowered the price of the car when I bought it. The state incentive, combined with the $7,500 federal tax credit made the car more affordable. Here are a few takeaways from my first year as an EV owner.
There are a lot of different chargers and charging companies, so get used to having a lot of apps on your phone. Some manufacturers, like Tesla and Volkswagen, offer three free years of charging at their chargers when you purchase your vehicle. Unfortunately for me, there aren’t a lot of Electrify America chargers (the one Volkswagen offers free use of) in my area, but the numbers are growing.
There are three levels of charging:
- Level 1: Plugging into a standard home outlet. You can only add about 3 to 5 miles an hour when charging through standard outlets.
- Level 2: These are the most common for everyday use. You can install a higher capacity outlet in your house to install a Level 2 charger, like I did. You’ll also see these at shopping centers and in downtowns. (Some major shopping centers offer free charging to incentivize people to shop.) These chargers vary greatly, offering anywhere from 12 to 80 miles an hour.
- Level 3: These are called direct current fast chargers or DCFC. When people tell you they can charge from zero to 80 percent in about 30 minutes, this is what they’re using. These can also vary greatly, providing anywhere from 3 to 20 miles per MINUTE.
How quickly your battery charges depends on the kilowatt (kW) output of the charger, as well as your vehicle’s voltage capacity.
I have a relative who has owned an EV for years and he had told me I would become very familiar with kW charge rates. Clearly, I didn’t familiarize myself enough, because I learned the hard way, on my way back from that conference in Atlantic City, that not all fast chargers are 150 kW like the Electrify America ones I had used closer to home. At the rest stop on the Garden State Parkway, the charger was only 50 kW, which meant it would take me more than an hour to recharge, rather than under 30 minutes. So, if I leave you with nothing else, always remember to look at the kW rate on a charger before planning to use it (the apps and your car will know what the rates are for the chargers nearby).
You might have noticed that I mention charging up to 80 percent and not 100 percent. While you can fully charge, and I do when I’m going on longer trips, EV manufacturers recommend only charging to 80 percent when you don’t need the full range because it will extend the life of the rechargeable battery.
If you’re using a fast charger, the charging rate drops off dramatically once you hit 80 percent capacity to protect the battery from overheating. Charging rates are also affected by weather. It can take three times as long to charge at a fast charger in freezing temperatures, according to researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory. The battery technology and car reduce the rate to protect the battery.
One of the earliest things we learned is that my car doesn’t have AM radio. This may not be a big deal to you, but if you like sports or news radio, you might notice this, as we did. And it isn’t just my make and model. I was curious, so I investigated and learned that the electromagnetic noise from the car’s electric motor causes interference, resulting in static. (For any sports fanatics out there, the cars do have satellite radio receivers, if you’re willing to pay for a subscription.)
One other thing I learned recently is that some EVs have different sized front and rear tires. My rear-wheel drive ID.4 happens to be among them. I didn’t realize this until I got a flat tire and inquired with the dealer about whether I could buy a spare to keep in the trunk (my car didn’t come with one). It turns out some EVs have slightly larger rear tires where the battery is located. It’s something worth looking into if your car doesn’t come with a spare and you’re thinking about buying one. Like me, you might need two different sized tires.
Melissa Hayes is Senior Manager of Outreach at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.