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5 EV Charging Rules For When You’re On The Road

Anthony Karcz

Jul 31, 2023

I spent a miserable three hours at an Electrify America charger in Gainesville this past weekend (the same charger, incidentally, that I had issues with a couple years ago). But the problem wasn't entirely Electrify America's.

Yes, I had to call customer service and have them reboot the charger I was trying to use, which was a pain. But the 4-charger station was an EV Wild West. People were sniping spots from other drivers who'd been waiting. Waving off others who swore certain chargers didn't work. Pulling up in spots adjacent to chargers and taking the charging cables from people parked in the spot it was meant for.

Simply put, no one knew what the hell they were doing.

There are plenty of companies providing EV chargers but few to none of them offer education on EV charging etiquette. And as more and more people adopt EVs, the need for education is more important than ever. So let's make some rules of our own.

If you have an EV, keep these five tips in mind before you head out on your next electrified road trip.

(Note, these mostly apply to Level 3 charging stations that offer fast and ultra-fast charging, not Level 2 stations that are available for overnight charging.)

1. Plan Your Route and Make an Account

Driving an EV is evocative of the good ol' days of the 80s and 90s when you'd go to AAA and have them print out a triptik of your route. Then you'd pore over the paper maps and plan your stops. This is, of course, all app-based now but it's an important pre-trip step that can't be ignored.

Until a nationwide charging infrastructure other than Tesla's has been established, you can't just hop in your EV and go anywhere without thinking about your vehicle's range. Highway driving, especially, is inefficient in EVs. Especially if you travel above the speed limit, you'll only get about 70-80% of your "full" battery range. Check your vehicle's app or use the route planner in your car to figure out just how far you can go before having to stop to charge.

But that's just the first part. Take note of what company is operating the charger where you’ll stop and download their app.

Then make an account. Even if you don't plan on using it, making an account will help you in those situations where you can only operate the charger through the app or you have to have an account before you can unlock the charger. Taking care of this before you leave is preferable to trying to do it when you're already in a parking lot, in the blazing sun, with 10 miles of charge left on your car and no cell signal.

Speaking of, unless you're willing to stay at a location for an extended period of time because you can't find available fast charging, keep at least 40-50 miles of charge in reserve so that you can drive around town to other charging options.

2. Respect the Line (or "If You Can't Be Kind, at Least be Patient")

Chances are high, especially at a Level 3 charging station, that you're not the only person looking to get some juice for the battery. When you arrive at a station and all charging slots are occupied, look around and take note of others that might also be waiting nearby.

Yes, you'll need to get out of your car and talk to strangers. Yes, that can be uncomfortable. But sometimes you'll get lucky and find someone who's willing to let you skip ahead of them or if it's a station they're familiar with, they'll give you operational quirks to be aware of (both have happened to me).

No one likes to wait. And everyone wants to get back to their trip as soon as possible. But we're all in the same situation and, until there are as many EV chargers as there are gas stations, we just have to wait.

(That gives me an idea—hey, WaWa and Buc-ees, y'all are destination gas stations that are well suited to long visits…could we get a few Level 3 chargers, please?)

3. Respect the Station and Know Your Vehicle

Not every charging station is the same. Often there will be multiple types of plugs with different charging rates at a single charging location. For instance, the Gainesville Electrify America station has three 350kW chargers and one 150kW charger.

Can your vehicle handle the higher wattage or would it be going to waste? Many modern EVs can charge to 80% in around 30 minutes on a 350kW charger but for EVs with older technology, like the Chevrolet Bolt, 50kW is the max and it can take up to 90 minutes to get the same capacity.

Sure, the plugs are the same, but if you have a choice and can't take advantage of "ultra fast" charging, give newer cars first dibs.

Also take note of where the screen is on the charger. Whatever parking spot it's facing, that's where you need to park. Pull in accordingly. You might have to back in to ensure that the station's cord can reach your charge port. Don't park behind a station and reach around. It creates a cascade effect where no one's using the right station.

Operationally, there are differences between charging platforms as well. Some require you to plug your car in before starting a charge. Others won't let you unlock the charger until you verify payment. They may take a credit card. They might let you use an app to start a charge. They may only let you initiate charging with a contactless payment tap. Take a second and make sure you understand the directions before you start yanking at cords.

One special request for Tesla drivers—please, unless there's simply no other option, don't use non-Tesla chargers. You've got an entire network, often within walking distance of Level 3 stations, that no one else can use (well, that's changing, but it's not fully implemented yet). They're usually better maintained and made specifically to be compatible with Teslas. You'll have a better charging experience there. I promise. Don't be the guy taking up a Level 3 spot when the Tesla station across the parking lot is completely empty.

4. Don't Charge to Full

Fast chargers are (usually) only fast until your battery is filled to 80%. After that, the wattage is throttled significantly so as not to damage your car. That last 20% can take a long time to fill, so don't plan on getting back on the road with 100% battery life (unless you're somewhere you can plug in a Level 2 charger and charge for several hours). Your mileage may literally vary on this as a few newer vehicles can fast charge past 80%.

As mentioned above, your time to 80% will vary based on the type of EV you're driving but you can expect anywhere from 30-40 minutes on average for vehicles manufactured in the last couple of years (the Chevrolet Bolt being the exception since it uses older charging tech).

So unless you're staying overnight, be ready to free up the charger for the next person when you hit 80%. Which leads me to the final, most important, rule.

5. Don't Camp

Especially in the summer heat, it's tempting to just stay in your car with the air conditioning on while your car charges. The problem is, climate control accounts for about 15% of your battery usage. All you're doing is extending your time at the charger and making the line longer.

Unless you have a reason you can't leave your car (like a sleeping child or pet), you'll be better served by turning off the car and going to a nearby store or restaurant to wait.

This is the important part. Keep an eye on the app for the charger, or your vehicle, or take note of the "time to 80%" estimate on the charger itself (if it provides that information). When you get near 80%, come back and be ready to disconnect.

Your fellow EV drivers will thank you.

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