What does it take to get an electric vehicle with only ~100 miles of range to cross three states and 500 miles in one shot? Barely a year ago, the answer would have been a tow truck. Now? All it takes is a little planning, a big sense of adventure, and a fairly healthy touch of luck.
At the beginning of this year, I sold my investment property in Florida. Facing a pretty hefty capital gains tax, I got it in my head pretty quickly that it was going to be the perfect year for purchasing my next EV. I could get something new and fun, and offset my tax bill with a $7,500 Federal EV incentive. I decided on a MINI Cooper SE, and placed an order with an expected build date of September. September came and went, and all the dealer could say when asked was “its delayed”.
December rolled around with not a peep from my MINI rep, despite a continual promise of updates. It was time to take things into my own hands. A search on Autotrader revealed just one build like mine, British Racing Green with Iconic trim. Someone in NYC ordered this car but backed out at the last minute. This one also happened to be a 2021, built just weeks after my 2020 had originally been scheduled for production. Did the dealer simply fail to update my build to a 2021 resulting in a stale order? I’ll probably never know, and its of little consequence because a few phone calls and virtual signatures later, the MINI I wanted was mine. Just one problem… It was on Long Island, some 500+ miles away from my home in Ohio.
It wasn’t actually originally my plan to test the entire eastern US interstate 80 charging network, but flexibility is key to being happy, right? I tell myself that only because of how often my impulsivity can land me into crazy commitments. This was no different, as it was only after signing my life away did it set in that I was now going to have to somehow get this car home, sitting far further than I ever dared take my similar range i3. The i3, which the MINI is to replace in my garage, has a tiny gas generator built in to make sure you never got stuck without a charge. If I run out of charge in the Cooper SE? I’m dead in the water in freezing temperatures… Transport costs for the route were dauntingly high at almost $2,000, so road tripping was really the only practical choice.
All hail PlugShare
So how exactly am I going to make this work? Turn to the internet, of course! For those who aren’t in the know, PlugShare is a website and app where charging station owners and EV drivers can contribute information on the type, availability, and state of repair of chargers. One of the most difficult aspects of road tripping in a short range EV is that if even one station on your route is out of service, you can easily end up stuck. According to PlugShare, there were compatible DC fast chargers along the entire i80 route, spaced a maximum of 88 miles apart, all with recent check-ins showing the stations to be in working order. This could actually work!
PlugShare also has a route planning feature, which I used to determine my exact stops. 7 of them in total. 6 Electrify America stations located in public shopping centers and gas stations, some of them barely a year old, and one questionable stop at a Chevrolet dealer. Past experience tells me that chargers located at dealerships are almost invariably blocked by careless employees, or restricted on a whim. In this case? The owners of Stocker Chevrolet specifically listed the station as free to use for any EV driver and provided detailed instructions for activating the unit. That was some what reassuring, but just in case the dealer wouldn’t actually allow my competitor car to sit out back and charge, there was an alternative. Several hotels nearby with slower level 2 EV charging meant if I was eschewed from Chevrolet, I could instead grab an overnight recharge for the car and myself at a cozy Country-Inn or Hilton hotel.
Ok, we’re doing this
I hop on a Delta flight at 7:30am just four days after signing the paperwork. The airplane is barely 1/3 full. I arrive at Laguardia right on time, greeted by a team of national guardsmen confirming my eligibility to be in the city during a global pandemic. Im leaving right away, so they allow me to proceed on. I am picked up at the airport and chauffeured to the dealership by my wonderful friend Giancarlo, appropriately in his red MINI hardtop.
Habberstad BMW has my car mostly charged (85%), and the paperwork ready and waiting. We were out of there in under an hour. I had sent no less than three emails requesting that the vehicle be charged to 100%, but I knew they wouldn’t get this right. The vehicle was at least plugged in on arrival, so I was able to precondition the climate control and have a toasty warm cabin before heading on my way.
Giancarlo and his brother happen to own one of the best pizza shops in NY, Dino’s, started by his parents in 1957. Im not a pizza guy, and I’ve never had NY pizza, but Giancarlo was insistent, and thankfully so. We stopped for a slice of what was easily the most delicious pie I have ever had. Man, New Yorkers really aren’t messing around here! Ok, I’m stuffed and it’s now 3pm, time for the adventure to begin. I‘m not sure I really comprehended that my trip was going to take fifteen hours, otherwise I probably would have just stayed in NYC overnight and left in the morning.
My first stop was an Electrify America station at a Target in New Jersey, about 61 miles from the dealer. I arrived at 30% and spent exactly 30 minutes wandering inside, getting me to 89%. Uneventful, and encouraging, but that wouldn’t last much longer.
Things get interesting
The next charging stop was an Electrify America located at Walmart in East Straudsburg Pennsylvania. This is where things started to get a little interesting. I plug in, open the EA app, start a charge with seemingly no issues and head over to get some chicken nearby. As I stare aimlessly at a wall of neon beer signs, waiting patiently for my food, I got a notification that charging has stopped at 75%. I run back to the car, no food in-hand, and my heart drops slightly as I see “charging session error” on the display. NOT good. Past experience with this has led me to believe this could mean no more charging for me. It also crossed my mind that the my new vehicle might have some kind of detrimental defect. 75% has me at a range estimate of 80 miles, not much wiggle room when I need to get 72 miles on an unfamiliar route in an unfamiliar car. I attempt to restart the session, unplug the car then plug it back in and start a session with the EA app. It appears to work so I head back to get my chicken, but almost immediately get a notification the charge session has ended again.
At this point all i want to do is eat my steamy cajun fried chicken and rice but I NEED to get this charge up at least a little more if I’m going to have a comfortable margin. I move to another station, this one with a broken credit card reader. I plug in, and before I am able to start a charge session, the display says “payment declined”. Ive done nothing but plugged in, so im a bit baffled. Ok lets try it another way, I start a charging session using the app FIRST, then plug in the car. Immediately I get a red blinking light on the cars charge status LED and the connector locks to the car while the charging display just says “please plug in”. More panic as I can’t release the charge connector! I start pulling access covers in the trunk to see if i can manually disengage the charge cable, but after about two minutes the vehicle unlocked the connector on its own. I repeat this cycle two more times before deciding to give Electrify America support a call.
Thank goodness for 24 hour access to live representatives. The agent on the phone reboots the station. I plug in, the car is recognized, and I am able to start a charge session. Momentary elation is dashed as I gain only 1% before the session ends again. She moves me to the third charging station. Reboot, plug in, start session….. ended again almost immediately. Repeat one more time on the second connector, same result! At this point there is only one outlet I haven’t tried, the #2 connector on the first charger I started with. The representative advises me to try it. She reboots the station, I then plug-in, start charging, lo and behold the season doesn’t immediately stop! I thank the agent, she wishes me luck, and I finally switch focus to my Chicken, which miraculously has not lost all warmth despite sitting on the roof of the MINI in the frigid temperatures. That elation didn’t last long though as 6 minutes later, at 84%, the session ends again with a charging station error. Ok, the car is indicating 92 miles of range. Surely that would be enough buffer to make it to the next stop, right? Not quite.
These are called mountainsThere’s a “gotcha” factor I failed to account for… Elevation! I’m spoiled because my Tesla at home, my typical go-to for road trips, accounts for this automatically when you use its built in navigation system to recommend charging stops. PlugShare lacks that feature, which is frankly a stark omission considering elevation could make or break your ability to complete a trip. The next charging stop was in a city only 100ft higher above sea level than East Strausburg, but the route requires a 1500 foot climb in the first 20 miles, and a slow decent after. In the absence of inspiration to google the elevation of my next stop, all I can tell is that I’m climbing and climbing and my range estimate is steadily creeping down. In the midst of this climb, which I was unaware in the moment wouldn’t last, I literally find my self saying out loud to the road ahead “Stop climbing!”. Experience again kicks in, and remembering that past attempts to dictate the road ahead have been mostly futile, I go into a sort of conservation mode. I engage “green plus” mode, which disables climate control, and I cut speed back to 60mph. For the next 20 minutes I am quite literally white-knuckled as I endure a continual decline in cabin comfort while semi trucks are passing me uphill. The range estimate is showing I’ll make it, but with barely single digit miles to spare.
I crest the peak and we are now descending. I spontaneously remember the existence of Google, and palpable relief sets in as the internet reveals the rest of this leg to be a steady decent, for which I can certainly spare energy for heat and more comfortable pace. I arrive at a Sheetz rest stop with exactly 20% battery and lament that I probably didn’t have to suffer quite so much early on to get there. Slightly exhausted from my self inflicted stress, I set at timer and take a nap. The sleep is light, but not without utility. 55 minutes nets me a charge to 99% costing $6.61, fantastic.
The next leg of my journey was the longest at 88 miles to Stocker Chevrolet. I had wised up at this point and checked the elevation change, It was a total climb of a manageable 600 feet. I would face an initial ascent of 1200ft feet, followed immediately by a sharp 600ft descent, and 30 miles of gentle hills. By the time I am at the summit, the car is nervously indicating that I have 43 miles of range to get 44 miles to my destination. I compulsively check google several more times to assuage any lingering fear of being stranded, maintain a steady pace on or slightly over the speed limit, and continue to allow myself the luxury of climate control for most of the journey (I still shut it off a few times, owing to my fear of exploring a single digit state of change in unfamiliar territory).
I arrive around 10:40pm with a comfortable 12% remaining. A quick loop around the dealership reveals a glorious sight. The modest 25kW Delta Wallbox DC Charger is unobstructed. I follow the dealers somewhat convoluted instructions posted on PlugShare, activate this breaker, turn that key, jump up and down 4 times on your left foot. The unit literally roars to life. I begin to hear angels sing and light shines down from the heavens as the charging session activates automatically upon gloriously mating with with my MINI’s thirsty receptacle. Ok, I admit, I was a bit tired at this point. It was starting to get late after all. There probably wasn’t any angelic chorus from the divine, but the fact that the charger was real and worked is similarly comforting. I slept until midnight and woke up from the timer on my phone to see I’ve reached something like 90% state of charge (in my groggy state I forgot to record the exact number).
Country Roads, take me home (Pennsylvania)
My next stop is 72 miles away with the last elevation gain of the journey, a modest 250 foot climb. This was by far the most fun driving of the entire trip. Leaving the dealership turned into roughly 30 miles of rural exploration through small towns and winding hilly roads, gradually weaving my way back to the interstate. The speed limits were much lower off highway, so I had no problem driving my more typical pace of 10-mph over. The vehicle handled like an absolute dream and even at night, the vistas and scenery are stunning. After an enthusiastic jaunt devoid of range anxiety, I make it to a Walmart in DuBois with a 22% state of charge. I plug-in and juice up with 0 drama. The next Electrify America station is puzzlingly close to the one I’m at, only 38 miles up the interstate. 29 minutes of rest gets me to 84%, far more than needed.
I blast through to the next station, arriving at my last stop in Pennsylvania with a 37% charge. I was getting to be somewhat exhausted as it was 2am at this point, so I quickly fade out for another nap. I felt like I barely blinked, but just 36 minutes later I was at 98%. Off to my final stop, in Youngstown Ohio. I arrive at another Sheets with 12%, plug in at 3:54am, and immediately pass out for another 40 minutes. I woke up hungry and in no rush at this point, so I grab some breakfast and relax while my charge saturates up to 99%, taking a total of 1:02. Pulling away with more energy than necessary once again I am able to drive at my preferred pace the rest of the way home. The last 20 minutes were truly grueling as I was thoroughly exhausted and utterly bored of the flat and familiar final stretch.
Finally, some 23 hours after boarding my flight, I arrive home. The MINI tucks in nicely next to its classic BMW group brethren, and I proceed to utterly collapse onto my bed fully clothed. Total time on the road and charging is 15 hours and the total Cost for the trip was $34.09 for 133kWh of energy, excepting the free charge from Stocker Chevrolet. All in all, I’m pretty impressed that I just visited 7 unfamiliar chargers with only one hiccup which did not derail the journey. Electrify America stations, and our charging infrastructure in general, is finally getting to be what some might describe as solid. And the MINI? This is the start of a love affair. The car is incredibly solid and handles better than I remembered on my summer test drive. The presence of a heat pump also means winter driving is more gentle on range than any of the 3 other EVs I’ve owned. Would I drive this car 500 miles again in one shot just for fun? In a heartbeat!