The 10 commandments of EV road tripping 

Don’t be afraid of charging your EV on the road, no matter what you’ve heard about the public charging infrastructure.

Congratulations on your new EV! You’re probably eager to take it out on its very first road trip. 

What’s that? You’re not? You’ve heard things can get messy on the electric highway? Chargers are broken, lines are long, your car’s stated range is more guesstimate than promise, and let’s-not-even-talk-about-winter? 

OK, that’s all true. Long-distance travel in an EV requires patience, planning, and a pioneering spirit. But in return, you’ll get that smooth electric ride, zero tailpipe emissions, and—above all—a slightly shifted outlook. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction of an EV road trip is the way it brings a different future into focus. When things go right, it proves (you prove) what’s possible. 

Be humble in the presence of this transformative technology, and always follow these 10 commandments of EV Road Tripping.

1. Don’t treat your EV like a gas car. As an energy carrier, gasoline is hard to beat. Yes, it is highly flammable; its fumes will literally kill you; and the byproducts of its combustion are making Earth uninhabitable. But hey: You can buy it almost anywhere. None of that is true for EVs. Someday soon, there will be chargers at every exit and improved battery technology will fill-er-up in five minutes. That day isn’t today. You, setting out on an EV Road Trip, are a pioneer. Stop complaining. Start planning. It’s going to be fine.  

2. On this road trip, we DC fast-charge. AC charging—whether Level 1 (a regular outlet) or Level 2 (a dryer plug, or its equivalent)—is great at home, at work, or anywhere your car is sitting for hours. We want to stop for minutes. Only DC—Level 3—charging can do that. DC chargers vary in how quickly they can deliver electricity (usually from 50 kW to 350 kW). EVs vary in how quickly they can take that power in (also from 50 kW to 350 kW). And just to keep things interesting, factors like temperature and how full your battery is can impact how quickly it charges, too. Every AC charge is slow, but each DC charge is fast in its way. 

3. Get the apps before you get going. PlugShare is the cornerstone. Its map of chargers is unmatched, and its crowdsourced reviews are crucial. All of the big charging networks also have their own apps, which come in handy for checking charger availability ahead of time, starting a charge (without relying on a weather-beaten credit card reader), and seeing how that charge is going. Before hitting the road, spend 15 minutes looking at your route. Download every app you could conceivably need. This will save time and aggravation along the way. Set up accounts with them, and log in. 

4. Don’t let the promise of speed slow you down. Think hard before driving 20 minutes out of the way for a 350 kW super-fast DC charger, when a 50 kW pretty-fast DC charger may do. Conversely, it might be worth driving 20 minutes out of the way to avoid a particularly congested charger (on a holiday weekend, for example). Be the tortoise, not the hare.  

5. Make your pit stops multipurpose. If you stop obsessing over getting a full charge, you might notice that you’re taking enough breaks on a normal road trip to easily keep your ride juiced up. Think carefully before saving 10 minutes of driving just to sit in the dark behind a closed Chevy dealership. A good charging stop is when the car is ready before you are, but the best is when the battery fills up while you were doing what you wanted to be doing. Charge where you pee—don’t pee where you charge.

6. Do your own planning. Your EV will calculate range and suggest charging stops, but the world is complicated and you are a special snowflake. Your computer on wheels knows nothing of your proclivities (Walmart vs. Target, Burger King vs. Five Guys) and won’t be able to predict some factors that affect range—like a forecast for rain, or a stretch of open road that begs for sweet lead-footed inefficiency. A Better Route Planner is a good tool for customizing your trip, but don’t follow it blindly. You’ll want to check its work using Plugshare, looking out (in particular) for overcrowded and unreliable chargers. Read the comments, and leave some of your own.  

7. Know your charging curve. Lithium-ion batteries charge at varying rates depending on how full they are. This is called a “charging curve,” and it’s different for every EV. Typically, though, an empty battery charges fastest, and then tapers off as it nears a full charge. That’s why most EVs advertise how long it takes to charge from 10%–80%; no one wants to talk about how long 80%–100% takes. (A while.) Depending on the car, it might be faster to charge past 90% and go farther between charges (like in a Volkswagen ID.4)—or cut off the session around 75% and race to the next one (in a Polestar 2). You can find a good rundown of charging curves here. Use your car’s quirks to your advantage.

8. Forgive the window sticker of its falsehoods. In the real world, your car’s road trip range is 60% of what you think it is. That’s because charging above 80% can take way too long, and going below 20% requires perfectly located chargers and a high tolerance for risk. Especially on a new route or in a new ride, give yourself plenty of buffer. Don’t be a hero. 

9. Pay for speed. DC fast chargers are expensive pieces of equipment, easily exceeding $100,000 each. Pumping that kind of juice burdens the grid, and electric utilities often slap operators with a premium for their peak usage (“demand charges”). In the early years of EV adoption, you didn’t see these charges on your fuel bill. Now you do. Save big charging at home; spend big charging on the road. 

10. Have faith. In Norway—where 25% of all cars and 90% of new cars are electric—EV infrastructure is as robust as gas. That is not the case in the US, at least not yet. In May 2021, America had just under 18,000 DC fast chargers. By May 2024, that had more than doubled to 42,000. The federal government’s NEVI program will fund 20,000 more chargers over five years. But automakers, oil conglomerates, big-box stores, convenience stores, and a host of startups are also pouring money into new charging networks, collectively promising tens of thousands of new chargers each year. The important thing to recognize is that a single new well-placed station can entirely unlock a trip. The daunting journey this Fourth of July may feel like a fast fill-up by Thanksgiving. Don’t give up.