Photo credit: Philip Cheung for The New York Times
If you learned how to drive with a gasoline-burning car—and almost all of us did—you know how to put gas in it. You look for a big sign with gas prices on it, pull up to a pump, pay inside or at the pump, open your gas cap, jam in the nozzle, select the grade of fuel and hold the handle until it automatically shuts off.
But you may not know how “fueling” your car works if you’re out on the road and your EV is low on battery. It’s important to look for a charge when your battery is below 20 percent, and though it’s easy to charge at home, charging away from home isn’t as convenient unless you do a little more planning and information-gathering about how it all goes down.
First, you’ll want to know where to charge. Again, the best place is at home, but that’s not always possible. Luckily, in our information age, it’s easy to find charging stations. You can either use a smartphone app like Plugshare, Chargemap or just Google Maps (use the search bar to look for “EV Charge Station”), or your car might have charger locations integrated into its navigation function. (Psst…Flux even has a handy charging station locator on our own site; scroll down until you see the map!)
Using an app is pretty easy, but there are some things you should know about them:
- Filter out the charger types you can’t use or that are too slow. This is crucial. There are three “levels” of charging, but for remote charging, you really only want to bother with “Level 3” — often referred to as DCFC, which stands for Direct Current Fast Charge. DCFC is the only system capable of charging a long-range EV in a convenient amount of time, usually 20-60 minutes for an 80 percent charge. So unless you have six hours or more to kill, filter out Level 1 and Level 2 charge stations as well as DCFC stations that offer significantly slower charge levels than your car can use. Some of these stations work as slowly as 32 kWh—if possible, find one that works at faster than 125 kWh. (See more on charging times in the “How Long?” section below!)
- If you’re planning a trip, make sure you know your car’s range at the speeds, terrain and weather conditions on your trip. Here’s an example of why that’s important: The EPA range estimate for the 2017-2021 Chevy Bolt is 238 miles (259 for the updated battery), but that’s at 65 mph in 75-degree weather, and on flat ground with the OEM low rolling-resistance tires aired up to recommended levels. If it’s below 40 degrees, subtract 30 percent. If you want to go 80 mph, you should do the same. If you’re running different tires, deduct 15 percent or more, and blasting up the Sierras in winter will really sap your range. Some cars may even project your range based on these factors, but be conservative in your trip planning until you know exactly how many miles you can go between charges.
- Charging over 80 percent can take twice as long. Even a champion of fast charging, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range, which adds 15 miles of range every minute on a Tesla Supercharger, charges at a much slower rate once the battery’s state of charge (SOC) reaches 80 percent. That’s not a problem if there’s another charger inside 80 percent range, so just fill it to 80 and enjoy another 150-250 miles before your next 15-minute stop.
- Let your car know! Some cars can preheat (or cool) the battery to optimize it for charging, but that can take 15 minutes or more. That means you should use your car’s navigation software to let it know you’re on your way to charge—this can save you a lot of time at the charger.
Most chargers work with a credit-card reader, but some require a dedicated account or credit card on file. Again, planning is key.
The procedure varies from company to company, but it’s basically the same:
- Plug the charger in (some cars, like the Bolt, require you to move a small gate away from the charge port so it will accept the larger DCFC plug) and wait for the “handshake” signal from both the charger and your car that the system is set up.
- Complete any payment information (if necessary) and wait for the car or charger info screen to tell you how long it will take to reach the desired charge level.
- Don’t walk away unless you’re sure it’s charging.
- Set notifications on your phone so you know if the charging is interrupted.
If it isn’t functioning and there isn’t another charger available, call the customer service number—most systems offer good support and can usually talk you through it, reset equipment or help you find a functioning charger.
How long it takes will depend on your car, the charger type and even the weather or how many other cars are charging at that station. Some of the latest family of EVs (like the Mustang Mach-E, Porsche Taycan or Tesla models) can add about 10-15 miles of range per minute of DCFC charging, though the rate slows as the battery approaches 80 percent. Older EVs like the Bolt or Kia Niro EV/Hyundai Kona EV are more like 3-5 miles per minute.
If you’re on a Level 2 public charger, it’s much slower. It’s usually about 25-30 miles of range per hour. The upside is it’s usually free parking (and closer to your office entrance in many big office complexes) and you can usually replenish the energy you used to drive to your destination.
Bad news first: charging on a DCFC will cost more than charging at home. Not only are you paying a service fee and maybe some profit for the provider, you may also be paying for parking if the charger is in a paid parking garage. Your rates may also depend on the time of day: if you’re charging during peak times (usually in the afternoons to early evening), expect to pay twice as much in some places.
The good news is you’re paying for convenience. You’re charging five to 10 times faster than you would at home! You may also be eligible for discounts if you purchase a membership to a network like EVGo or Electrify America. And Tesla generally charges the prevailing rate for the utility providing the power.
Any more questions about charging remotely? You can always email or call us—we’re happy to answer questions about EVs—or you can check out this informative page from Electrtify America with more about remote charging. Happy trails from your friends at Flux!