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Articles on Electric Vehicles

December 28, 2021
Paul Gipe

Covid Escape: Our Final (We Thought) Pandemic Excursion—1,700 miles in an EV


At the end of this past summer it looked like the pandemic was finally winding down. In celebration, we planned a two-week excursion to Northern California and Southern Oregon in October to see family and friends we haven’t seen in nearly two years. We were vaxxed, boosted, and raring to go. The state of California had finally—after many delays—installed a slew of new DC Fast Charge stations, Electrify America had opened more of their Diesel-gate stations, and the weather was good. It was time to hit the proverbial road.

For sure, there were storm clouds on the horizon. Forest fires were burning out of control in much of the state, closing roads and fouling the air, and the Delta variant was laying waste to counties on our route. Then GM announced a battery-fire recall for our Bolt limiting the amount of range we could use. Nevertheless, we were determined to venture forth and test how we and our Chevy Bolt EV performed on an extended road trip.

The short answer is we all did fine. The Bolt worked as expected. The DC fast charging stations were plentiful and more or less worked as expected. We did run into some road closures and had to adjust our plans en route, but otherwise the trip was uneventful. We covered 1,725 miles in total that included high-speed freeway driving and slow, tortuous back roads through dark groves of redwoods.

The regular stops to charge fit our style of travel well. We don’t like driving for much more than two hours at a go so we’d stop after a few hours to stretch our legs whether we needed to charge or not.

Little Affect from Battery-Fire Recall

In response to battery fires in a few Bolts, GM recommended that we limit our charge to 90% of capacity and to recharge the traction battery when there was 70 miles of range remaining. (GM is replacing the batteries on all Bolts.) We limited full charging to 90%, but we didn’t worry about limiting our range on the low end. Of the 14 legs on this trip, we only ran the battery down below 27% (70 miles of range) four times and only substantially below 27% twice.

Since we were often charging at DCFC stations where it doesn’t make any sense to charge much above 80% anyway, GM’s charging limit had little effect on our use, including the few times we charged overnight.

Overnight Charging

Three of the hotels we used included overnight charging. The luxurious Noyo Harbor Inn on California’s Mendocino Coast had a JuiceBox pro Level 2 with dedicated parking for guests. The Beachfront Inn in Brookings, Oregon was old school. It provided a NEMA 14-50 outlet for those who know how to use it. We did, and we brought our Jesla 40-amp EVSE for just such an occasion. Though the parking in front of the outlet is reserved for EVs, there were reports on PlugShare advising to get there early before the spot became ICEd. We had no problems and our expensive EVSE was there unmolested the next morning as well. Granzella’s Inn in Williams had two ancient Sun Country branded ClipperCreek J1772s for guests. They worked trouble-free.

While it’s always wise to charge as much as you can overnight, GM’s 90% charge limit didn’t really affect how we used the car or the number of charge stops we needed during the next day’s travel. We missed some free juice from the overnight charges, but that was all.

ABRP as a Travel Companion

The Bolt has no native route or charge-stop planner. We used A Better Routeplanner and PlugShare to plan our route and charge stops. ABRP works with an Android smart phone running Torque Pro and an OBD scanner, projecting the route onto the Bolt’s big center screen via a USB cable. The integration with the OBD dongle and Torque Pro allows ABRP to display the Bolt’s state-of-charge and an estimate of what the state-of-charge will be when you arrive at your destination. While ABRP is free, the integration of Torque Pro and real time state-of-charge data is not. ABRP charges a nominal monthly fee for this service.

Like Google Maps, ABRP requires access to a mobile signal. This is seldom a problem in major metropolitan areas or along major highways. However, much of our route to Northern California and Southern Oregon was rural without cell phone service. On some remote legs, ABRP would spend the entire time searching for a signal. In those cases, it was no help at all. On some legs it would catch a signal and update and then function for a period of time until it needed more data from the internet and then go searching for a signal again.

Despite this drawback, I find seeing my state-of-charge on the center display and a regularly updated estimate of what I will have when I arrive at my destination essential information I need to drive confidently in an EV on an extended trip.

Previously, I’d only used offline maps for navigation because we often drive out of cell-phone range. Unfortunately, I haven’t found an offline map vendor that provides the integration with Torque Pro and the Bolt that ABRP does.

While we don’t use PlugShare for navigation, we do use it for choosing our specific charge stops. In this, I don’t rely on ABRP alone. I weigh the reliability of the station, the number of kiosks that might be working, the network, and access. PlugShare remains invaluable for this.

Near-Field Communications

Most of the DCFC stations we stopped at on this trip were compatible with Near-Field Communications. NFC is a step up from the RFID cards most DCFC networks use. If your phone is NFC capable, and you have an account with the network, you simply hold your phone up to the radio symbol on the charge station kiosk until it registers your account and begins charging. I found this required that I place my phone directly on the symbol and hold it there until it registered. This worked for EA and ChargePoint stations. EVgo doesn’t use this technology.

Most of the stations could be activated with RFID cards, except for EA. They require you to use an app, a credit card, or your phone with NFC.

Short of plug-and-play, NFC is the way to go for seamless fast charging without a wallet full of RFID cards since most of us now carry smart phones.

Longest Leg

The longest leg between charges was 228 miles from the Eureka EA station on the coast to Williams in the Central Valley. Our preferred route was closed due to fire so we had to cross the coast range on Hwy 36. There was a lot of construction due to fires the previous year and the road was slow overall.

ABRP couldn’t update crossing the coast range. So I relied on Torque Pro directly and the GOM to gauge our state-of-charge. There were no charging stations between Eureka and Red Bluff. It’s a charging desert.

We picked up I-5 at Red Bluff, bypassed the ChargePoint stations there, and then roared down the interstate until the highway rest stop at Maxwell. By now ABRP was updating regularly and it was estimating our charge when we would arrive in Williams, our destination for the night. When the charge remaining dropped below 5% I decided to pull into the rest area and pick up a few kWh from a single kiosk Caltrans’ station. We probably would have made Williams a few miles further, but I needed a bio break and the Caltrans station was right on the interstate highway.

We drove on into Williams’ and its famed Granzella’s inn and restaurant complex and pulled into one of two slots reserved for EVs. Got out, plugged in the Sun Country J1772, and started charging—for free. No fuss, no muss.

Efficiency

We logged 4.6 miles per kWh on the longest leg because of the low driving speeds through the Coast Range.

We logged 4.9 miles per kWh on a 135-mile leg from Grants Pass in the interior to coastal Crescent City by way of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and the Howland Hill road through virgin redwood groves. There were times we felt like we were driving through Jurassic Park, expecting a T. Rex to come charging out of the mist.

We averaged 4.2 miles per kWh for the total trip of 1,725 miles

Longest Day Driving

The most we drove on any single day was 340 miles returning home to Bakersfield from Williams. This required two charging stops, one at a ChargePoint station in Stockton, and another at EA’s Harris Ranch station.

Experience with DCFC

We found the ChargePoint DCFC stations easier to use than EA and we found that CP consistently began the change at a higher capacity than EA. For some reason EA stations often started sessions at 30-35 kW when we expected to see 55 kW. The CP stations often gave us a full 44 kW.

Bolt as a Road Car

We found the Bolt satisfactory for a road trip. It was comfortable enough and had plenty of room for our belongings and the paraphernalia you take on a two-week road trip.

As died-in-the-wool small car owners, we’ve never owned a big car or an SUV so we don’t know what we’re missing. We owned a Toyota 4-wheel-drive pickup for two decades, but I wouldn’t call it an SUV. It was a utility vehicle and that’s how we used it. I drove it to San Diego once, but I’d never drive it on a longer trip. It was just too uncomfortable.

So the Bolt continues to work for us.

What the Bolt lacks is high-powered fast charging. The Bolt’s battery design and charging is now dated. It’s limited to charging at a maximum of 55 kW. Today most drivers expect to charge twice as fast at say 125 to 150 kW. This cuts your charging time accordingly.

Covid-19

We found all the hotels and restaurants fully compliant with Covid restrictions. Staff wore masks and the restaurants practiced social distancing. Though most of the area we traveled through was a conservative part of the country, there were no scofflaws flaunting Covid protections.


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