First Impressions After 1,000 Miles of Electric Car Ownership

After about two months of being a car owner again, after almost 17 car-free years, I haven’t yet internalized the basic features of personal car ownership. I keep carrying a backpack around with me, instead of keeping it in the car, because I’m used to a world of buses and rented or hailed cars that I can’t use to store any possessions. Just like when I rented cars by the hour or by the day, I’m often watching the clock when I drive, even when I don’t need to. My first few car trips to supermarkets resulted in me buying lots of bulky and heavy things, like cases of beverages, until my refrigerator started to fill up. Although my shopping habits are a work in progress, I’ve spent my first 1,000 miles as an electric car owner seeing more of the beautiful state of Washington.

Although I get anxious about other things, range anxiety hasn’t bothered me as much as I’d thought it would. Electric vehicles have three “levels”, or speeds, of charging. At a full state of charge (SoC), my Bolt gets an estimated 260 to 280 miles of range. Because I mostly drive on the weekends, I can come home and plug into a 110-volt outlet at home for “Level 1” charging, which adds about 40 percentage points to my SoC per day. Apps like PlugShare can point me to Level 2 chargers, which add about 12 percentage points to my SoC every hour, or Level 3, which can take me up to 80% charge in under one hour. A complete level 1 charge cycle at my home would cost me less than $10 at regular electric rates, which in Seattle are among the cheapest in the nation. I pay about twice that for Level 2 charging and about four times as much for Level 3. Because the Bolt EV gets about 4.5 miles per kilowatt-hour, 45 miles’ worth of charge would cost me about $1.30 at home, $2.60 at a public Level 2 charger, or about $5 at a Level 3 charger. Not too shabby, considering that a gallon of gas is still about $5 in my neighborhood.

One downside to longer EV trips is that, for the best experience, I find myself planning my stops before the trip begins. PlugShare is useful, but it’s not integrated with any navigation apps or my car’s infotainment system. The sparseness of charging stations in rural areas, coupled with the confusing arrays of charging networks and plug types, reminds me of the early smartphone days, where a trip to an airport might require some serious luck or charisma to finagle a power outlet for a pre-flight recharge. (No in-seat power outlets, portable power banks, or USB sockets in gate lounges back in those days.) My Bolt can only charge at about 50 kW, slower than most EVs, but I’ve found that a charging stop makes for a convenient excuse to shop, get a bite to eat, take a bathroom break, go through my recent photos, or listen to a baseball game on the stereo with the air conditioning on. The public stations I’ve used require me to set up an account with a companion mobile app; although this is annoying compared with a gas pump that takes cash or a credit card, I do appreciate that I can get real-time updates on my SoC, my cost so far, and any interruptions to the charging process.

I’ve done a few weekend trips with the Bolt so far, including to Snoqualmie Falls (about 25 miles away), the Tulip Festival near Mount Vernon (60 miles), Bellingham via scenic Chuckanut Drive (80 miles), and a roughly 100-mile “mini-loop” to the eastern fringe of the Olympic Peninsula. My longest trip so far has been a roughly 400-mile full loop of the Olympics, including a few stops into the national park, and an overnight stop in Forks. (Forks, a little logging town better known as the setting of Twilight, has three fast public charging stations, including one exclusively for Rivian owners.) So far, I haven’t had much range anxiety. Even though it seems scary to be at 25% SoC, with about 70 miles remaining, that would easily get me to a populated area from almost any part of Washington, and in that area there’s likely to be a car dealer, a big box store, or some other parking lot with a fast enough charger to keep me going. Owning an EV has made me more likely to stop by Walmart, because their stores often have Electrify America charging stations on site. For two of my upcoming trips, I specifically sought out hotels that had on-site charging stations, with at least Level 2 charging for an overnight top-up, and with good reviews on both PlugShare and travel review sites. Again, I’m having a flashback to an earlier era: before Wi-Fi was considered a basic hotel amenity, there were volunteer-run guides to connect travelers with hotels that not only promised good Internet access, but consistently delivered it, too.

Driving 100 miles used to seem like a huge distance, but more recently, that’s been typical during a weekend. One hundred miles per week would only be about 5000 miles in a year, but even that’s overly generous, since I don’t plan to do long trips in bad weather. Pleasure driving puts a lot less distance on the car than regular car commutes do. I’ve still been riding my bike to the office and to events in the local vicinity, out of desires for exercise and not to pay high in-town parking prices. It’s also possible that my car could save me money; several days’ worth of parking near the airport would cost less than a wee-hours rideshare round-trip, for example, and I won’t have to get stressed about driver shortages or surge pricing.

I’m looking forward to more trips in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, including to the coast and to the rolling hills of the Palouse. Instead of range anxiety, my main concern is the finite amount of good weather we have. Time to enjoy it as much as I can, while I can.