Category Archives: Trip

An EV in the mountains – Our first Volt vacation

IMG_20140717_095125939_HDRWe made a long vacation trip this summer to North Carolina, driving our Volt. We had a lot of fun on the trip and all of us in our family found the Volt a very very good touring car.  We had always had a minivan or SUV on past trips, so driving any car was a different experience.  But I must say IMG_20140715_165100964that the Volt feels so solid and safe, and it handles super well in all the driving conditions we experienced.  Long segments on the Interstates were not bad at all – the seats were comfortable and the cruise control and voice controls made the trip easy when driving. 

Mountain Experience:

IMG_20140717_100909421In the mountains itself, the EV drive better than any vehicle I have ever driving there.  There was superior power in climbing, and the regen brakes were fantastic going down. Not only did the car recharge the battery pack on the way downhill, the ‘engine braking’ also meant that I hardly had to use the brakes at all.

IMG_20140718_105655914There is a mountain mode program that you can select as the driver that helps use the battery and ICE to boost power on really steep grades.  I did test it, but the normal power of the car was super!  I went up gravel driveways IMG_20140713_181221232where people in normal ICE powered trucks, cars, and SUVs have to rev up the engine to climb, building up speed to take on a steep grade.  The Volt could climb those at any speed.  In fact, an EV electric motor has maximum torque at zero RPM, so climbing at 5 MPH of whatever is as good as any speed.  I was very impressed with the over all performance.

If you do want to use mountain mode, you need to use the hold mode to save a little battery power. We usually switched to hold mode anyway, when driving for long distances on the Interstate.  Saving the battery for in-town driving makes for better energy stewardship.

Places to charge:

IMG_20140713_205817398We were able to make reservations at the Hotel Indigo in Athens for the trip up.  It is a ‘green’ hotel and was itself fantastic.  I had selected it though, because it had EV charging stations.  In fact, they had 3 rental EVs (a Volt, a Leaf, and one other type).  Very cool place.

IIMG_20140714_083300953 IMG_20140714_093544761t was nice to have a full charge every morning. Even though we used some gas on this trip, the charging helped with our overall MPG.

IMG_20140715_165125702 IMG_20140715_164200727 IMG_20140717_095125939_HDR IMG_20140718_105705494While in the mountains, I was able to recharge at our cabin using the Level 1 cord.  So every day we had a full charge.

On the way back, we stayed at a B&B that had advertised it had a charging stations.  It was a great place as well, but the staff had to work hard to make the Blink charging station work properly.  It was my first experience with Blink, as here in Tampa Bay we seem to have mostly Chargepoint.  I did get a full charge by the next morning.

IMG_20140714_142557227_HDRIMG_20140718_200230269 IMG_20140718_200212528 IMG_20140718_200205339 IMG_20140718_200253328We did also charge at an odd place – a Burger King (honestly we hadn’t been at one in a decade ) on the Interstate in South Carolina. It was like 100F that day (we eventually had temps as cool as 53F in the mountains).  I had seen from my smartphone app that there was this fast food place ahead of us that had a charger, so we did stop there.  It was in a parking spot with no EV sign – a level 2 charger just sitting there.  I don’t think anyone had ever charged there in recent memory – a staff person ended up moving their car to a different spot so I could charge (that was really appreciated by us).  So maybe we educated a few more people on that stop about what an EV is, etc.  That is part of the adventure. Oh yeah, they had vegi burgers – which I commend Burger King for doing.



IMG_20140713_210142059Everywhere we go in one of the EVs, we meet people who are interested in the cars.  If you are willing to take a little time to map out your charging opportunities and just like to do something a little bit different, I highly recommend an EV :)

Our First Trip Over 50 Miles In The Leaf

During the Memorial Day Weekend, we had our first opportunity to drive the Leaf on a bit of a longer drive.  Our son James just recently moved to Pinellas County, which is about a 50 mile round trip.   We had a great time and an excellent driving and charging experience.  This post might give you an idea of what is possible with a little creativity on the part of an EV driver.

Leaf on Crosstown Expressway Toll CameraWe left Tampa with not quite a full battery charge, as we had done some driving around town in the morning.  So we had about 84 miles of range on the dash indicator.   Remember, the range is not a ‘set-in-stone’ thing.  It is a combination of your battery charge, your driving style, the speeds and accelerations used, how much you used the brakes, etc.

For those of you not familiar with the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas is a peninsula, which has 3 main bridges connecting it with Tampa to the east.      Kim, who has been using the Volt as her daily ride, took the driver’s seat for the outbound journey.  It was a combination of 50% divided highway and 50% expressway conditions, including a ride over the bay on the Gandy Bridge.  In total, it was a 25.7 mile segment.  She pulled into the apartment complex, which does not have an EV charging station, but was able to pull right into a visitor spot with a close by 110v outlet.  I had talked to the apartment management earlier about the options for charging my EV while on visits with James.  They had said they had never had that question asked before, but they agreed that I could use the outlet there any time I visited.

plugged into 110v outletStrictly speaking, we would have had absolutely no problem doing the entire round trip journey without charging during the stops.  Even with the air-conditioning running full blast (it is already very hot and humid here in Tampa), the range of the vehicle makes a 50 or 60 mile trip possible without charging.  However, when you drive an EV you will become like a thirsty explorer in the dessert.  You might have used only half a canteen of water, but would you pass up a well or water hole without topping off?

The Leaf plugs in the front of the carSo we pulled out the charging cord and plugged in.  The 110v charger that comes with the Leaf (the Volt has a similar and interchangeable charger too) is referred to as a trickle charger.  It is by far the slowest method of charging the Leaf, but it works almost everywhere.  It also takes 30 seconds to plug in  (right now, it is what we use to charge at home.).  We ended up being plugged into the 110v for only about 20 minutes, as we decided to all go to a restaurant to eat lunch.

The restaurant was only a couple miles away, and as we approached the area, I pressed the ‘Find Nearby Stations’ on the center screen.  This showed that there was a level 2 charger at Applebee’s restaurant, in the same complex as the BJ’s restaurant we were headed to.  I immediately selected  to home straight into that EV charger, using the navigation system.  With just a click of the touch screen, in a couple of minutes we arrived.  The charger was at the back of the Applebees, with no other cars around it. Usually, EV spots are marked EV Only and are in the front of most places that have them.

free charging at St Pete ApplebeesThe charging station was not of brand that I was familiar with, and it did not require any type of credit card or swipe card.  In fact, all I did was pull the charging wand out from the charger and plug it into the car.  The charging started immediately.  Of course,  we then did a very non-typical things for Americans… we walked 2 blocks down to the other restaurant!   Sorry Applebee’s, but we promise to eat there another time.  I have no connection to Applebees but just looked up their website and found this really great page on how they are trying to be a positive force in the world – rock on!

The following are readings from the smartphone app (no, I didn’t keep getting up from my lunch to go outside LOL).

  • 2:15pm, range of 53 miles remaining at the start of the charge.
  • 2:38pm – 61 miles
  • 3:12pm – 77 miles
  • 3:40pm – 88 miles
  • 4:48pm – 91 miles

So we got 38 miles of free energy.    After an excellent lunch, we drove back to the apartment and – you guessed it – plugged into the 110v plug again!    It was enough to charge (at a much slower rate than the level 2 charger) enough to cover the distance from the restaurant to the apartment.

We spent more time with James, and a few minutes before we departed I sent the Leaf (using the app on my phone) a command to start the air-conditioning!  It was very hot out, so turning on the climate system while still hooked up to any charger lets the car cool down without using any range up (the Volt has the same type of app and capability).    In Florida, this is VERY cool.   After a great visit, we left at 5:53pm with 91 miles on the range.  We had traveled a total of 34.6 miles at that point.

Being a Sunday evening, with less traffic in the Interstate system, we decided to drive back on I-275 and the infamous Howard Franklin Bridge (often called the Howard Frankenstein Bridge).  I-275 is all torn up with construction on the Tampa side, but luckily we flew along the whole way home.  Driving the car in Eco mode with occasionally taking it off Eco to really accelerate – EVs are FUN to drive!

24.8 miles on the return trip, with a time of 34 minutes  (return trip average speed of 44.28 miles per hour with speed bursts in mid 70 MPH).  We made great time, and got home at 6:27pm,

60 mile Leaf road tripThe total trip was 59.4 miles,  with 59 miles of range remaining on the Leaf when we pulled into home.   So we went on an almost 60 mile trip and used only about 25 miles of our electricity.  The rest was all free for us to plug into.  Now even if we had to pay a reasonable rate of say, 25 cents an hour to charge on a level 2 charger, that would have been worth it!!!!    The SUV we traded in would have used at-least 2.5 gallons of gasoline on this trip.  At about $3.70 a gallon here, that means we saved about $9.25 of gasoline on this trip.  Even if you factored in that we ‘spent’ maybe – MAYBE – a $1 or so of electricity, it is amazing.  Kim’s overall reaction was “it was pretty darn easy!”.

Now to be honest, I personally find this all A LOT of fun.  Hunting down free places to plug in, saving money, driving around in a cool car full of apps and touch screens – it is heaven for a Computer Engineer.  Remember, we could have just driven there and back as well, and still have saved real money on fuel.

I hope this example, with the charging and trip details provided, helps people understand what real-life driving for a family is like with an EV these days.