Cold weather nearly destroyed our 4,000-mile electric car adventure

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Just when we thought we’d figured out how to master a long road trip in an electric vehicle (EV), Mother Nature gave us one last lesson.

Why it matters: We nearly ruined our 1,500-mile electric adventure from Michigan to Florida and back because we were too confident in our car’s driving range.

  • As we approached home in metro Detroit, a rapid drop in temperature, along with snow and sleet, gave us range anxiety again.

We blame Ohio. The state bills itself as a growing center for battery and electric vehicle manufacturing, and yet the stretch of I-75 from Cincinnati to Toledo is pretty much a charging desert when it comes to DC fast-charging — the kind you want on a road trip.

Fast catch up: My husband and I drove from Michigan to Florida last month in a Kia EV6 borrowed from the automaker’s press fleet.

  • It took us four days to get there—not because of car limitations, but because we had planned layovers in Washington, DC; Wake Forest, North Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina.
  • After working remotely for three weeks in the Sunshine State, we headed north on a different route, with a planned stop in Nashville.

We used route planning apps like PlugShare, A Better Routeplanner and Chargeway to find out when and where to charge.

  • A built-in route planner (like Tesla’s) would have been better, but our ad hoc system worked fine.
  • It was a remarkably stress-free trip for the most part – until we reached Ohio.

Details: We were hungry and tired as we left Kentucky and crossed the Ohio River to Cincinnati around dusk on a Sunday.

  • We could have been home by midnight if we had driven a petrol car, even if we had stopped for dinner.
  • But since we needed to add time to recharge – and there were limited options along the way – we decided to get a hotel room for the night.

Yes but: Our charging options didn’t look any better in daylight.

  • We had to choose between going out of our way to find an ultra-fast DC charger or waiting at a much slower charging station at a car dealership or adult education center.
  • The Kia’s 800-volt charging system is the fastest in the industry, so we opted to stick with Electrify America and EVGo’s fast chargers, even if that meant a few minor detours.
  • For example, we had to get off I-75 and drive about five miles east on I-70 to reach an Electrify America station in a Walmart parking lot in Huber Heights, east of Dayton.
  • We charged to 96%, good for a range of 249 miles. The house was 220 miles away, so we figured we’d arrive with about 21 miles, or 15%, left on the battery.

What happened: By the time we reached a highway rest stop in Bowling Green, the temperature was dropping below 40 degrees.

  • As we entered Michigan, the sleet and snow began to fall, and so did our range. We nervously watched as that 34-mile cushion began to shrink.
  • Cold weather can significantly reduce an EV’s range, and here was the living proof.

At 10%, with 21 miles to go, we got a low battery warning.

  • At 8%, with 17 miles to go, the car informed us that it was “blocking outside air for comfort” – in other words, it was recirculating our body heat. But then the windows started to fog up.
  • Fortunately, we then rolled into General Motors headquarters in the Detroit Renaissance Center, with four EVGo fast chargers on our doorstep.

The intrigue: We were only eight miles from home, normally a 23-minute drive, but we weren’t about to take any more chances.

  • I put on my hooded parka, got out and got into the car.
  • For 35 minutes — long enough to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle — we stayed warm in the car as it charged from 7% to 82%.
  • We finally got home a little after 5 pm on Monday.

It comes down to: Our road trip in an electric car was an adventure, with suspense to the end.

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