The benefits of going with an electric car seem obvious. You spend less on fuel. You get a tax credit. And it’s better for the environment (in some cases, anyway). But for all that’s good about it, electric cars present a challenge for one of the country’s great pastimes: the road trip.
Most electric cars have a range of around 100 miles, with a few more costly models exceeding 200 (or even 300 in the case of the newest Tesla model). That’s plenty for most commutes and errand runs if you have a charging station in your own garage, but it makes even just a day trip out of town tricky, much less a full road trip.
Charging stations for electric cars aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations, so we’ve gathered the resources you need to find the nearest one to you.
Free EV Charging Station Apps and Maps
The first thing you need to know is how to find electric charging stations when you’re on the go. Luckily, there’s an app for that. (Apps, actually.)
Plugshare’s the most useful and comprehensive app available. It includes public charging stations, high-speed stations, and residential stations. Clicking on a station on the map reveals details like what the station charges (if anything), whether it’s for customers only, and how to find the charger.
Residential stations are installed in the home of someone who has chosen to include them on the map to alert drivers that they’re comfortable with some level of sharing. With these, you should always contact the owner in advance to let them know if and when you hope to use their charger – don’t just show up to a stranger’s home unannounced. When you click on the icon for a residential charger, you’ll see a way to contact the owner (usually a phone number, but you can also send messages through the app).
ChargeHub isn’t quite as comprehensive as Plugshare, but is another option for finding public stations and high-speed stations. Clicking on the icon will sometimes provide details on cost, but the information for many entries is missing. They also offer a Trip Planner Guide to help you map out visits to stations along your way.
ChargePoint is one of the leading providers of electric charging hubs and offers an online map and app that shows its charging stations in a particular area. As with the other apps, you can find pricing details by clicking on a particular station and you can limit your search based on connector type, charging network, or to just free stations.
The Alternative Fuels Data Center’s map of charging stations provides similar details to the others, but also offers the option of mapping a route to see the closest charging stations located along your route. You can download a spreadsheet with information on each of the stations on the way to have it all in one place.
6 Car Charging Etiquette Tips
Whenever you’ll be using car charging stations other than the one at your own home or office, there are a few best practices that will make your life easier and keep you from seeming like a jerk to other electric car drivers.
1. Plan ahead
For long trips, don’t wait to figure out where to charge as you go. Look up the car charging stations on your way in advance and write down or print out the details on the ones you expect to use, including one or two backups for each stop and maybe a note on somewhere nearby to kill time while you wait. If your phone dies or you have trouble getting service, you’ll be glad to have the information still accessible.
2. Keep your phone charged
Having written notes is worthwhile in case, but ideally you want access to those apps during your whole trip. Make sure your phone is fully charged before you head out so you can use it as you go.
3. Join AAA
If you do run out of charge before you manage to get to a station, AAA members can get help pretty easily. They’ll send out someone to either tow you to a charging station or charge your car where you’re stuck.
4. Pay attention to signage on private charging stations
Don’t use chargers that aren’t available for public use. If there’s a sign saying the charger is for customers or employees only, move on to to the next option, even if it’s inconvenient. If it is available to anyone, be sure to use basic etiquette, which includes…
5. Don’t unplug another car
In general, the rule of charging stations is first-come, first-serve. If all the spots are taken, you either have to wait or try the next station. What you don’t do is unplug a stranger’s car while it’s still charging. (I mean, come on.) If the other car is clearly done charging, it’s still impolite to unplug it, but a bit less of a cardinal sin, especially if you’re down to your last few miles.
6. Make sure you get back to your car soon after it’s charged (or leave a note)
Don’t be that guy taking up a spot for hours after your car is done charging. Make sure you get back to your car and move it soon after you’re done. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to get back quickly, leave a note letting other drivers know that it’s ok to unplug your car when it’s done if you’re not back yet.
Out-of-town trips in an electric car do come with their own set of challenges, but they’re manageable if you take the right steps. Do some planning, download the right apps, have patience, and be courteous when you do stop to charge. Having an excuse to stop at a few new places to charge may even add something to your road trip experience.