Out of range trip from Albany, NY to Washington, DC

Preface

I’ve had my 2017 Chevy Bolt for 9 months now. I’ve made a number of trips from my home in Albany, NY to: Burlington, VT; Oswego, NY; and Boston, MA. One-way is within the range of the car, so it’s a relatively simple matter to find a charging station at the destination before making the return trip home. My other car, my wife’s daily driver, is a 2015 Chevy Volt. If we need to do a fast round-trip or there is a lack of fast charging stations on a given trip, this is our go-to vehicle. My recent trip to Washington, D.C. was my first trip that exceeded the range of the car, and by nearly 2x.

Part 1: Trip from Albany, NY to Washington, D.C.

For our trip to D.C., my original assumption was that we would take her care. However, I used Plugshare to get a sense for how ubiquitous the fast charging stations were along the routes I was considering. It looked like there were enough locations that I would have alternates, should one location prove to be unavailable – be the charger(s) in use, or not working.

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Plenty of fast-charging options along the way (orange icons). Slower L2 chargers as backups (green icons) are even more plentiful.

After mentioning to my wife, she was immediately onboard to take the Bolt. The family finds it more comfortable than the Volt, and it offers more safety features as well. More on that in another post.

As a side note, I usually enable “hilltop reserve” mode, which limits charging to about 88% of full capacity. This ensures full regeneration is available as soon as you start driving, and I suspect it will also help prolong the life (usable capacity) of the battery as well. Disabling hilltop reserve allows you to fully charge the battery to maximize range. I usually fully charge before embarking on a long distance trip of 100 miles or more.

Plan A was to fully charge at home. Driving 189 miles should be doable, and would take me to the Molly Pitcher Service Area Southbound on the NJ Turnpike. Plugshare reports two stations, and rates it a 10 (out of 10) for reliability. These chargers are part of the EVgo network, for which I already have an account. If I fully charge there, I can then do the remaining 183 miles to our hotel in D.C.

Fast and ubiquitous charging is the achilles heal of long-distance travel by electric car.

This sounded good on paper. I researched some stations a bit closer, in case my range estimates proved to be too optimistic. My experience with EVgo chargers in VT and MA has been quite positive. They have seemed to support the maximum 54 KW charging rate of the Bolt. Unfortunately, my experience South of my home proved to be slightly less rosy.

We set out on June 24, which as luck would have it, was a mild day. We ended up using the A/C for a fair amount of the drive, but it had minimal impact on the range of the car. We arrived at the Moly Pitcher Service Area uneventfully, after about three hours of driving at around 70 mph. We had about 17% charge remaining on the battery, having started at 100%.

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There are two DC fast chargers supporting CHADeMO and CCS connectors on the left (my Bolt using one of them) and 4 Tesla SuperChargers on the right (2 Tesla Model S’s and one X currently charging).

I used my EVgo card to initiate a charging session, and my family and I proceeded into the service area building where the restaurants were located. After about 30 minutes I had just finished eating when I received a notice from EVgo that my charging session had ended. EVgo had changed from 30 minute sessions to 45 minutes sessions back in April of this year, so I expected the car to still be charging. I opened the app and tried to resume charging, which I’ve done successfully in the past. However, both chargers were displayed, but neither showed as busy… so I wasn’t certain which of the two my car was still plugged into to restart the session. My past time doing this was at a location with a single charger, so it didn’t occur to me it wouldn’t be obvious. Since I was done eating, I left my family and went outside to manually start a second session. I then noted that my car had not received as much charge as I was hoping, given the elapsed amount of time. I verified on a label on side of the charging unit that this was a 100A charger, not the 150A units I had used in VT and MA. It was peaking out at about 34 KW, rather than the 54 my car is capable of.

Most DC fast chargers operate at about 350 Volts. 350V x 100A = 35,000 Watts, or 35 KW. The chargers I had used previously would be 350V x 150A = 52,500 Watts, close to the maximum rate of my Bolt.

So it was going to take quite a bit more than the 1 hour or so I had planned on to charge the car, and the charge rate slows down as you get above ~80% to protect the battery. Given this, I double-checked charging options between this service area and D.C., and found another stop about two-thirds of the way there that would allow us to “top-off” again. Since EVgo charges per minute (not per kWh), it is more economical to charge when the battery is closer to empty so you maximize the rate of charging; balanced, of course, with not running too low and not making it to the next stop!

I ended up completing two 30 minute charging sessions, each of which provided a little over 17 KWh of power, for a total of just about 35 KWh and a total cost of $12.16.

We left the NJ rest area and drove 117 miles on to the “Maryland House” rest area in Maryland. They had 4 DC fast chargers and were reported as 50 KW units. Unfortunately, they were also 100A units, thus limited to about 34 KW in reality. The good news… the chargers were free!

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At the Maryland House rest area in Aberdeen, MD. My first time seeing a new Nissan Leaf in person. I like the looks of the car better than the first generation, but personally wouldn’t purchase an EV lacking a liquid thermal management system for the battery.

We had some food here and made use of the restrooms. 2-3 hour stretches of driving are about right for us before needing a break. If the charging could be completed in 30 minutes, it would be quite convenient. Instead, in both cases we spent about an hour charging to get enough range to continue the trip.

At this point we had plenty of charge to make it to our hotel, about 66 miles away, as well as drive around D.C. without worrying much about charging immediately upon our arrival.

Part 1 notes and reflection
  • The rest areas in NJ and MD that have DC faster chargers appear to have both CCS/CHADeMO combo chargers as well as Tesla Superchargers. It seemed there were usually two Tesla chargers for every one CCS/CHADeMO charger.
  • Tesla Superchargers don’t appear to be allowed on the NY Thruway. I’ve only seen them off Thruway exits, usually at malls and shopping centers. I’m guessing NYS doesn’t allow proprietary chargers at state rest stops. This seems like a mixed bag. I think they should be allowed, but it’s nice that there are Superchargers in nearby communities without limiting the usage to Thruway (toll) drivers, or having to build out chargers in two nearby locations to satisfy both needs. However, its at least a minor inconvenience to have to exit the Thruway whenever you want to charge, and spend a bit more time (and EV range) getting to a charger.
  • The Tesla Superchargers are a little bit more than twice the power (and speed) of the current generation of CCS DC Chargers. Teslas would come and go while I was still charging the Bolt. Even as 150 and 350 KW chargers get rolled out, my Bolt will unfortunately still be limited to 54 KW, as that is all this first generation supports. GM tends to be conservative with charging rates… presumably to maximize battery life, and minimize dings to their bottom line for warranty claims.
  • Plugshare could do a better job of accurately and prominently noting the charging capacity of chargers in the app.

Part 2: Parking and charging in Washington, D.C.

There were a number of L2 chargers in D.C., though few were particularly close or convenient to my hotel. I had looked at this ahead of time, and based on plug-share comments, there appeared to be street parking with some L2 chargers within walking distance. It was reported that parking was free, but the chargers were $1/hr. I figured I’d park there over night, have a full charge in the morning, and park wherever I wanted for the rest of the week. It turned out that the parking was not free, and there was a baseball game the night we arrived, so they were charging a premium for parking.

Plan B was to go to the Warf about a mile or two away, get dinner, and leave the car at the garage there over night to get a full charge. The garage was reported as having about a dozen L2 chargers. That plan worked fine. We took a Lyft back to the hotel, and returned the next evening to eat at a different restaurant, and relocate the car to a less expensive parking garage. Union Station seemed to be one of the more reasonably priced, and in a pinch was walkable from the hotel, but also available via the metro (subway). The car sat there until Friday night. There was free parking on the street near the hotel on weekends, so I moved it across the street from our hotel Friday evening.

I had a brief detour to a Trader Joe’s that had free L2 charging so I could top-off the battery while grabbing some snacks.

 

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Getting some juice at Trader Joe’s.

One semi-related item of note during the trip was the electric tour bus we rode on Thursday evening as part of a “twilight tour” of D.C.

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There were 7-8 double-decker, open-air buses that give sight-seeing tours during the day, as well as twilight tours in the evening. One of their buses was electric, and happened to be the one my family was directed to from the long line of sight-seers.

I missed the bus driver at the end of the tour, as I was hoping to get some details on the range, impressions, and how they charged it.

Part 3: Return trip from Washington, D.C. to Albany, NY

The following Saturday, June 30, we left D.C. for the return trip to Albany. A heat wave had started a few days prior, and continued for our trip home. The car registered temperatures of 101 degrees F at times during the drive, and was still a bit above 90 into the evening. The car handled this admirably, both in terms of keeping the cabin cool as well as not taking too large of a hit to EV range. This became a minor issue late in the day. More on that in a bit.

Our first stop to charge was in Maryland at the Chesapeake House Travel Center in Port Deposit, MD, about 81 miles from D.C. There was heavy traffic, so it took much longer than I had expected. This rest stop has 4 CCS/CHADeMO combo units. Once again good news/bad news: they were free, but only capable of about 34 KW. Also, at least one charger was not functioning.

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It also turned out that at least one of the 4 units was not functioning, which happened to be the one I tried first.

Fortunately it wasn’t busy, as another spot was blocked…

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Another spot was “ICE’d” by a Ford plug-in hybrid car, which was not capable of using DC fast chargers.

I moved to the last spot on the left, and successfully started charging. We spent about an hour here to eat and get charged up. Looking at my Plugshare check-in note:

Charger #1 closest to 4 Tesla chargers. Charging at 100 A. Currently 96° F out and car was a bit below 25% when I arrived. I’m getting 30KW charge rate with the car on and running the AC.

Much like the Southbound trip to D.C. where I had stopped at the Molly Pitcher service area, this was also a paid EVgo station. Two 30-minute sessions netted me a bit over 35 KWh at a cost of $12.16. We didn’t have a full charge, but seemed to be in good shape to continue on. Our next planned stop was at the Joyce Kilmer Service Plaza (Northbound) as that was about 109 miles from our last stop.

After a bit more than an hour of driving, my daughter needed a restroom break. We took the next exit, which ended up being Woodbury Commons Premium Outlets, about 77 miles from our last stop. Plugshare showed two DC fast chargers, and there were places to eat. Since it was now about 6 PM, we thought this would be a good place to eat. I dropped my wife and daughter off to find a restroom, and proceeded to the parking garage to locate one of the chargers. After circling the lot for 5 minutes or more and feeling stupid, and stopped and looked at Plugshare for more details on where the chargers were located. In my experience, they are typically on an outer wall of the parking garage, so I was always looking in the wrong direction. I finally found them. Unfortunately, they were both in use. A family had just plugged their Bolt into one spot and were walking away. The other spot had a (new) Jaguar IPace charging, with the driver hanging out inside. Had I not been exacerbated at that point, I would have walked up to him (window was down) to ask him how he liked the car and how long he thought he’d be charging. Instead, I plugged into one of the two L2 chargers in the adjacent spots so I could get some charge while waiting. There were L2 EVgo chargers, which I hadn’t used previously. I kept swiping my card an nothing was happening. After a minute or two of that, and trying the app, I gave up. I picked up my wife and daughter, and figured we’d move on to the next stop.

This is where our rather uneventful trip started to become… more eventful.

We had used up a little range driving around the Woodbury Outlet mall, getting on/off the highway, etc. The next stop looked to be the Plattekill Rest Area (Northbound), only about 22 miles away. I was using Waze to navigate, and started getting some unusual alerts about traffic ahead. It was saying that our 20 mile trip was going to take over 45 minutes, then more than an hour, more than 2 hours, and so on. It seemed there had been a bad accident ahead that was halting all traffic Northbound. I didn’t want to sit parked on the Thruway for hours, so we took the next exit and started planning for alternate charging locations. The thought crossed my mind to go back to Woodbury Commons, where I knew there were working chargers, but I wanted to keep making progress home. It looked like the Plattekill Rest Area was just past the accident, but there was no alternate onramp to get us there, and there were no chargers at all in the small town we now found ourself in. After some researching, it looked like the Malden Travel Plaza (Northbound) was the next DC fast-charger on the Thruway without back-tracking. It was about 50 miles away, which is the amount of range we had left on the car.

It was after 6 PM by now, but still in the low 90’s out. I decided we needed some buffer…

  • What if the Malden charger wasn’t working? I need to get on the Thruway going Southbound to the next closest charger, so I need some spare range to make that.
  • What if the range estimate changed as we got closer? Different terrain, etc.

I turned off the A/C after about 10 minutes and cracked the windows. I’m sure this wasn’t popular with my family, but they knew I was stressed at this point from dealing with a few unexpected issues, and surely didn’t want to get stranded on a back road somewhere any more than I did. Turning the A/C off had the desired effect. We got to the next Thruway on-ramp and to the Malden rest area with 20 miles of range to spare. It was also somewhat surreal to be on the Thruway with only a handful of other cars, as the road must have still been closed further South. The traffic had been heavy all day, so it was a marked difference.

The charger was part of the Greenlots network, which I had never used before. Thanks to the local EV Facebook group of which I’m a member, I knew these were located South of Albany, and had already signed up for a membership and an RFID card. However, since I hadn’t elected to do a pre-paid balance with the RFID card, it was rendered useless. Thankfully the iPhone app allowed for pay as you go, and I was able to initiate the charge that way after a brief moment of worry (not quite panic).

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The Greenlots charger opens a door to release the charging cable after you swipe your card to enable the charging session.

At this point, we were only about 47 miles from home. We didn’t need much charge, but considering the minor snafu we had just experienced (and the flat $8 fee for the charger) I let it charge until we had about double the needed range so I could drive without worrying about A/C or hyper-miling at lower speeds.

The last leg of the trip was uneventful, and the car performed admirably throughout the entire journey.

Closing Thoughts

I would say a major lesson learned was to plan for the unexpected, but I had already done that, which is why I didn’t get stranded. This was the second time since owning the Bolt I had been on a longer road trip and encountered a major accident rendering my intended route impassible. The last time this happened was in the middle of winter on my way from Burlington, VT to Albany, NY. A Subaru crossed the center line and collided with a tractor trailer. I read later that the driver was airlifted to Albany Medical Center, about 70 miles away from the site of the accident. I tried to find a nearby road that would by-pass the accident to no avail, and had to back-track and take an alternate route. I still made it home with range to spare, but there were some moments of worry driving in winter with reduced range and a strong desire not get stuck somewhere without heat. So I make a point of having range to spare whenever possible, should such issues arise.

The other thing I noted at one of the stops (I don’t recall if it was in MD or NJ) was the issue a Nissan Leaf driver was dealing with in the extreme heat. The Leaf doesn’t have a robust cooling system for the battery. Fast charging causes extra heat normally, and when it’s 100 degrees out, the fan it uses to try to cool the battery can’t keep up. A Plugshare user noted that their Leaf stopped charging as a result, in order to prevent the battery from over heating. Keep this in mind if you plan on taking road trips in an EV that doesn’t have a liquid cooling system to maintain battery temperate. Tesla and GM have robust temperate management systems to heat the battery in the winter, and cool it in the summer when needed.

One comment

  1. Mijn familie leden elke keer te zeggen dat ik bezig ben met omleggen van mijn tijd hier op net, behalve Ik weet dat ik veel ervaring opdoe de hele tijd bij het
    lezen zoals plesante inhoud.

    Like

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