What I Wish I Knew before Buying an Electric Vehicle
After reading and editing countless articles about electric vehicles over the years, I felt certain that buying an electric vehicle would be a good decision for me. I knew many of the pros and cons associated with electric vehicles and I understood it would change my traveling experience. All-electric vehicles require a change in mindset, and I felt prepared for the change.
By day two of EV ownership, I discovered that, much like having a baby, people tended to focus on the good and leave the hard facts for you to figure out on your own.
If the past few months of EV ownership had taken a downhill plunge into despair, I would have sold the car, bought another gas-powered car, and licked my wounds. That didn’t happen though. In fact, I can’t imagine ever buying another gas guzzler. I adore my EV and have embraced every aspect of it. The road to this happy place was rough, though, and hope to save you some anxiety by sharing my story, along with some of the things nobody tells you about (or they didn’t tell me!)
BUYING THE CAR WAS EASY
Buying my Chevy Bolt was easy. The dealership explained all the incentives and included them in the paperwork so all I had to do was sign on the dotted lines. I was pre-approved for the loan, so that was a breeze. By the time I drove out of the lot, I was in a state of bliss.
The drive home was great too. The car had a full charge when I left the lot, and I drove home, intrigued by the “regen” feature of the car. I had heard about this feature before buying but was struck by how much fun it was to watch my car generate its own electricity. You will never find a gas-powered car that can fill itself up while you ride, but an EV uses the electric motors to regenerate electricity when slowing down, rather than using the physical brakes, so that when you slow down you regain energy. Because I bought my car in Rutland and had to drive through Killington, I went down some large hills on the way home. As I went down, my electric charge went up! Beautiful!
CHARGING WAS A SURPRISE
When I got home, I plugged the car into my house using the cord that came with the car. I knew it would be slow, but I’d never really considered how slow “four miles of range per hour” was. For a battery drained to 20 miles, which you’d like up to at least 160 miles of range, that’s thirty-five hours. In other words, three days of charging. Ouch!
Fortunately, I received a free level-two charger from Green Mountain Power and was able to get it installed relatively quickly. That brought charging speed up quite a bit and now it takes a few hours to charge, which generally happens overnight while I’m sleeping. Problem mostly solved. But…
Then there’s the charging I need to do on the road. I was excited to use a DC Fast Charger. I figured it would take about twenty minutes and I’d be on my way. As it turns out, I have a slow-charging car. Never in all of my reading had I learned that different models had different charging speeds. For example, while someone with a Kia EV6 will wait less than eighteen minutes for an 80% charge (at the right charger), I could spend nearly an hour waiting to “fill up” at a level 3 (DC charger).
Though this sounds like a terrible experience, what I’ve found is that…
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TRAVEL IS MORE FUN
People often listen to me talk about how long it takes me to get to distant places with a look of pity on their face. You poor thing, they’re thinking. It must be awful to wait for half an hour instead of zipping in and gassing up in five minutes. But I have to say, what you might think would be an inconvenience has made my trips exponentially more fun. I’m a type A person. I find the most expedient way to do something and travel has always been a challenge of how to cover the most distance with the fewest stops. It has always made me anxious and I hated stopping places. Now, I love to stop. Instead of driving through and feeling exhausted by the end of a trip, I stop, pull out a book, and read a few chapters while I wait for my car to charge. If it’s a nice day, I might go for a walk. If it’s nighttime, I’ll take a nap. It’s amazing and has brought me more joy than I ever would have imagined, given my personality.
THE APPS ARE RIDICULOUS
In order to charge your car, you will have to download a number of apps. There’s the app that comes with your car and probably gives you information about your car’s charge and range. Then there are the apps for each charger vendor. Most of these provide pricing information, allow you to track the progress of your charge, and show you where their chargers are located. The problem here is that they often only show you where that one vendor’s chargers are, so you find yourself opening five different apps to see where all the different charger types are. Fortunately, PlugShare provides a crowdsourced list of chargers and their reliability. Many Charge providers plug directly in to PlugShare, so you can see real-time availability as well.
The biggest learning curve in buying an EV is charging stations. All chargers—even those of the same level—are not alike. There are some chargers that are super easy to use. You attach the cord to your car, apply your card to the app (if you haven’t already), and the app takes care of itself. But then there are other chargers that don’t start when you plug in your car and with apps that don’t work intuitively—one of my first visits to a charging station took me twenty minutes just to get my car plugged in and the only reason I was successful was because the guy in the car next to me led me through the process. You had to move through an intricate series of steps, making sure not to plug in before you had clicked something on the screen but after you activated the app. It was ridiculous and there were no instructions. The only blessing was that it was free. Which leads me to…
FREE CHARGING ROCKS
Since I bought my car, I have found numerous charging stations where I can get free electricity. A level-one charger just down the street from my house was a godsend before my home charger set up was set up (though is was incredibly slow), and another group of free level-two chargers near my place of work resulted in a lot of free miles. I even found a free DC fast charger, which was a real blessing during a visit to my sister’s house in Massachusetts.
The problem with free chargers is that they can change from free to not-so-free overnight. You can check your app though to find where the free ones are.
CHARGER EXPERIENCE AND PRICING ARE ALL OVER THE PLACE
Charging is truly like the wild west. Pricing is all over the place. Some states require companies charge by the amount of time you spend plugged in, while others use a more logical method—charging for the amount of electricity delivered. As noted above, there are free chargers—those beautiful little easter eggs that are so fun to find. Some are more expensive, though still not as expensive as gas. And the rest are somewhere in between. Fortunately, the apps tell you the cost of electricity at each station, so there are no surprises, and you can use the mapping feature on your car’s app to determine the least expensive string of chargers to visit, so it’s usually not a big deal, but when you’re just learning the ropes, it can come as a surprise.
RANGE ANXIETY IS REAL (INITIALLY)
My first trips were fantastic, but I have to warn you that range anxiety is a real thing. Though I live in Central Vermont now, I have a lot of friends in the Upper Valley because that is where I lived for about 20 years of my life. I visit often, so I need to make it there and back without fearing I’ll run out of charge. I bought the car just before Halloween and decided I’d go to White River Junction for their annual Halloween parade. I got dressed up in my bat outfit and slipped behind the wheel of my partially charged vehicle (remember, I had the toaster plug). What I didn’t do before I made the trip was pull out my handy Chevy app, which tells me how far I can safely go and return without running out of charge. By the time I got down there, I had a quarter of a tank and a belly full of anxiety. I was meeting my friends and I had never charged my car before at a station. So I was freaking out!
Fortunately, my friend followed me to the nearest charger, which was just down the road and I left it there to charge while we enjoyed the parade. When I got back to my car is was charged up and I rode home without an issue. I no longer have range anxiety but it did take a while to get a sense for how far I could go on a charge and how easy it is to find chargers when you need them.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES ARE THE BOMB
Despite the fact that the first few months of owning the car were difficult and admittedly plagued by anxiety, I cannot imagine owning a gas vehicle again. I love my zippy little EV and have come to appreciate everything it brings to my life. It is a life change, though, so if you’re thinking about buying one, keep that in mind and allow yourself to acclimate to the new experience. Some of it may feel difficult immediately, but if you’re willing to keep an open mind through the learning curve, I can assure you that owning an EV is the bomb!
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