The challenge: Drive 430 miles to Edinburgh and then 750 miles in the Scottish Highlands – all using an electric vehicle
Demand for electric cars continues to grow across the country. It is reported there are now 590,000 fully electric cars on the roads in the UK. However, In a survey by Uswitch, almost a third of drivers worried their battery would go flat whilst on the road. Range anxiety and infrastructure are the biggest barriers holding people back from going electric.
The common belief is that an electric car is great for short distances but no good if you want to travel long distances and are therefore incapable of completing a road trip. But if you own an electric vehicle and want to go on a road trip – is it possible to do?
I’ve owned an electric car for a year, and when planning a trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands it never crossed my mind to use my EV. After all, electric cars have a range and infrastructure problem, right? Only once I had seen how expensive flights to Scotland and car hire were going to be, did I start to consider using my own car. And, after watching a few YouTube videos, I became inspired- confident I could drive to Edinburgh but I knew the drive into the Highlands would need investigating.
Driving long journeys in an EV requiresa good deal of planning. Right now, Tesla is the only brand with the infrastructure to connect cars and chargers allowing you to navigate to them like you can in a petrol car. Outside of Tesla, there are multiple charging brands and unfortunately, they do not yet have the ability to talk with your car directly. The good news is that for other brand owners (like me) there are plenty of apps that can help you.
A Better Route Planner (ABRP) is an electric car journey planner that lets you enter a route and your EV details, and it will plan your route for you, including where to stop and how long to charge for, helping you plan out a route that works for you and your vehicle. Its calculations take terrain into account, while its customisable options allow you to connect your car to the app for more accurate range info. Meanwhile, Zap-Map is a comprehensive map of EV chargers across the country. It’s great for planning backup options in case I needed to charge sooner than planned or there was an issue with the chargers I planned to stop at. That is the biggest issue right now for EV drivers. It's not the range of the cars or the infrastructure, it's the unknown of whether the charger will work or not.
Using EV car charging apps
Once you’ve made it to a charger, the next point of concern is what I believe to be the biggest area of improvement: charging apps.
At last count, I had 8 different charging apps on my phone. This is because, due to the vast array of charging providers, the knowledge of whether the nearest charger will work with your vehicle or not, is not automatically updated into third-party apps like ABRP and Zap-Map.
I would highly recommend downloading all of the apps and setting up an account/billing info before you travel. While chargers do have touchscreen options, I found that the apps are much more reliable. You can also check on your charge when you’ve headed off for a bite to eat or stretch your legs.
How to charge an electric car on a road trip
Once you are on your way, the key to charging your electric car on a long journey is to use fast and super-fast chargers. (That’s anything above 50 KW/h and charge to 80-85%). The charging speed will slow when you pass 80%,so it takes much longer going from 80 to 100% than 20-80%. That’s time better spent driving to your next charge point. So, each time you want to make a charging stop use a fast or super-fast charger and get to 80%.
The chargers themselves were easy to use especially if you have the app. In most instances to start the charge, you just plug your car in and connect with the app. You don’t even need to stay with your car while it charges, because it locks the cable in so no one can unplug your vehicle when the car is locked, leaving you free to grab some food or stretch your legs.
Are there enough charging stations for electric cars?
As of October 2022, there are 35,778 electric vehicle charging points across the UK. That’s an increase of 35% compared to October 2021. Throughout my trip not only did I have plenty of choices for charging locations, but I never needed to wait for a charger to become available and only a few times were there people waiting whilst I was charging. The doom and gloom about the lack of infrastructure seems to be a myth. Even in remote areas of Scotland I had charging options and access to the fast chargers that help cut your charging time to 20-30 minutes.
The cost of an electric car road trip
One of the key benefits of having an electric car is the saving on fuel. Although charging costs are starting to increase it was nothing compared to the sharp rise in fuel costs we experienced through the summer.
In total it cost me £50.95 to charge my car across 4 stops. The estimated cost of driving a petrol car (using the price of petrol at the time) was £69.50. That’s a saving of nearly £20 by using an electric car.
Charging at Motorway service stations is the most expensive cost per KW/h, so driving off the motorway will offer greater savings. The 757 miles I spent driving through the Scottish Highlands would have cost £121 in unleaded petrol. I paid almost half of that in £68.02, just bygoing electric.
How much longer does it take in an electric car?
Using Google Maps, the estimated time for my trip with no stops was 7 hrs and 30 minutes. Add time for fuel stops and the likelihood of food stops on the way and we estimate the fastest time to be around 8 hours.
In total it took me 9 hrs 55 minutes including the 4 stops I made for charging. Of course, it’s going to take longer doing a road trip in an EV, but as someone who has done long road trips before and stopped as little as possible, I found this trip was a much nicer driving experience.
How to maximise the distance?
Efficient driving can maximise the range of your EV. Maintaining your momentum, as with conventional cars, is one of the most effective techniques for long-distance driving.
Avoid harsh braking to better maximise the effect of regenerative braking. Reading the road ahead can help you do this and in turn, better maximise the effect of regenerative braking. When you lift your foot off the accelerator the electric motor acts as a generator and creates reverse torque to the front wheels. This slows the car and also adds energy back into the battery.
More so than in a traditional car, high speeds can increase the energy used and the most efficient driving speed is lower in an EV, meaning driving at motorway speeds will drain the battery quicker and reduce your range. The use of air conditioning and heating will also eat into your range. Consider how necessary these are, especially when driving long distances and avoid opening your windows when driving above 45mph, as this will add more drag to the car, requiring more energy to maintain that speed.
Yes, it’s possible to take an electric car on a road trip! The charging network is there but you will have to do some forward planning. You will add time to your road trip by using an electric car, but it might not be as long as you think. How much time will depend on your car and the type of trip you are going on.
What is certain, is that you will save money, compared to a traditional car. With rising petrol costs that can be a very significant saving. If you’re not driving on the motorway all the time you can find some very cheap charging opportunities.
There are lots of apps available to make your trip run smoothly and the charging network is better than we are led to believe. If you’re on the fence about using your electric car for a road trip my advice is simple - get off the fence. It will be okay. The chargers are there. The apps are there. And with good planning, you can have an amazing time!
Our top tips for a smooth trip
- Plan your trip: EV drivers won’t have the luxury of just jumping in the car and driving. You need to plan when and where you will be charging.
- Make use of apps: There are a lot of them but they can really help you to plan and minimise charging stops.
- Fast chargers are your go-to: Use chargers with a speed of 50 kw/h and above. Anything slower is only effective for overnight stays or if you planned to be parked for a few hours.
- Only charge to 80% (unless you’re charging overnight):Charging speeds drop as you near 100% (even on fast and superfast chargers). It’s much more time effective to get to 80-85% and then move on. You won’t get your full range but it’s still the best option.
- ABC - Always Be Charging: If you have the opportunity to charge then take it. If there is the opportunity to get a quick 5–10-minute top off it’s worth taking.
- Do not use regenerative braking all the time: Regenerative braking adds energy back into your battery but when you are driving at higher speeds or are able to maintain a constant speed you are better served to turn off regenerative braking.