Electric-car road trip: lessons learned in Chevy Bolt EV over 1,300 miles

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

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Launched in December, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is the first mass-priced electric car to go on sale with a rated range of more than 200 miles: 238 miles combined, according to the EPA.

Most owners use their Bolt EVs for daily commuting and trips, just like any other car. But road trips are an American tradition.

We’ve done several stories about using Bolts for trips of various lengths, from taking a daughter to college in California to traveling the width of Canada.

DON’T MISS: Drive a Chevy Bolt EV electric car 313 miles on a charge: here’s how

Our reader Jay Lucas of Alexandria, Virginia, sent us the following account of his own recent trip. What follows are his words, lightly edited by Green Car Reports for clarity and style.

I live in Alexandria, Virginia, and my wife Maxine lives in Louisville, Kentucky (don’t ask). Could my new Bolt EV take me the 650 miles to her house and back? I decided to find out.

On a bright June Monday morning my buddy Stew and I drove out of Alexandria just before the morning rush hour to reach Louisville that night. 

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

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We didn’t make it by sundown, but over 1,300 miles of highway travel, we learned some important lessons.

(1) Good planning pays

A long distance EV trip starts a while before leaving home with some planning on your computer or smart phone. 

To get “there” you will be driving from charger to charger until at last you are close enough to get to your destination.  And at that destination, you must find a local charger to start you off on the trip back.

READ THIS: Driving a Chevy Bolt EV electric car halfway across the U.S.: what it takes

Days before Stewart and I left, we studied the PlugShare map of U.S. charging sites—both on my desktop computer and on the app on my phone.

Clearly, my usual route from Alexandria (I-66 west to I-81 south to I-64 west to Louisville) would not work. There simply weren’t enough high-speed chargers on the way, especially in West Virginia. (Tesla Superchargers don’t count; Bolt EV drivers can’t use them.)

However, a northern route seemed fine: I-270 to I-70 to Hagerstown, Maryland; I-70 or I-68 to Jeanette or Canonsburg, Pennsylvania; I-70 to Columbus, Ohio; I-71 to Cincinnati, Ohio; and on to Louisville.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, June 2017 road trip from VA to KY and back [Jay Lucas]

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Each of those cities contains multiple DC fast-charging stations, which deliver 90 miles of charge to the Bolt EV in the first half-hour, and 50 miles in each additional half-hour.

If you intend to reach your destination expeditiously, these are the sites to seek.  If  you’re willing to drive to an intermediate hotel and charge overnight while you sleep, the 240-volt Level 2 charging station suffices: it takes 9 hours to fill a totally discharged Bolt EV battery pack. 

We wanted to drive through, and only stop if we were forced to. (Hint: we were).

CHECK OUT: Chevy Bolt EV: 800-mile trip in 238-mile electric car shows challenges remain

Each charging site on our route was near some kind of place we could eat or rest. Some are free, some charge fees, and many are on different networks.

It’s best to enroll in advance, so you receive the activation cards in the mail before leaving. I signed up for ChargePoint, EVgo. and Greenlots for this trip.

Without membership cards, you either use a credit card if the station has a card reader, or phone the company to have it activate on the station after you provide the credit-card number.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

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When planning your route, make sure you keep the distances between chargers reasonable. The Bolt EV has an EPA range of 238 miles, but air conditioning and highway speeds significantly cut into that range. 

I decided we wouldn’t count on more than 180 miles between stations, which turned out to be doable without too much stress.

Finally, make sure to plan for time as well as distance. The time spent charging is not insignificant: spending an hour or more in each of four intermediate stops changed our one-day journey to an overnight trip.

Because of those extra hours, we arrived in Louisville less than 24 hours before we had to leave for home again, which left no time for leisure. 

Next time we will have a much more realistic itinerary. We will allow 2 hours per hundred miles of traveled road, plus two hours for each charging (allowing for the side trip to the charger from your route).

LESSON: Plan ahead: be sure not only that the distances are within your battery’s range, but that you are allowing time for charging, rest and relief.

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