Posted on February 02, 2019 by Charles Morris
The first question the unenlightened ask of EV owners is invariably, “what do you do when you run out of charge?” And we invariably reply, “You don’t run out of charge, any more than you run out of gas in a legacy vehicle. You plan your trips and plug in well before the range indicator gets near zero.”
Above: Tesla's Model S driving on Highway 40 (Flickr: Paul Sableman)
However, before we get too smug about it, let’s remember that unforeseen problems can and do crop up when on the road. As your correspondent has observed firsthand (and written about), in the real world, it’s quite common for public chargers to be unavailable for a variety of reasons. They may be out of order, inaccessible due to road construction or wrecks, ICEd out or simply occupied - and not even the stupendous Superchargers are immune to these problems.
Fortunately, if for whatever reason you can’t get to a Supercharger or other public charger, there are other options, even in remote regions. The latest video from the Tesla sage who calls himself Dealer_of_Happiness describes one good way to find an emergency charge. Although it’s “becoming more and more difficult to find a spot where you’re out of range of a Supercharger,” it’s only prudent to know about this resource.
Every EV needs to have a 120-volt charging cable in the trunk for emergencies. Equipped with this, if you can find an electrical outlet, you can charge. If you’re in need of a cheeky charge on the highway, look for a rest stop. These almost always have outdoor outlets, and travelers have been using them to power various gadgets since long before the advent of EVs - at the rest stop the Dealer visits, a trucker is using an outlet on the side of the restroom building to brew a pot of coffee.
Above: When there's no Supercharger, Tesla owners might find another option at highway rest stops (Youtube: Dealer_of_Happiness)
And you may be in need of coffee before you’re done charging. A standard 120-volt circuit will deliver only 3 to 4 miles of range per hour of charging to a Model S or Model 3, slightly less to a Model X.
Fortunately, there may just be a better option. At this particular rest stop, Dealer finds a 240-volt outlet mounted in a little wooden box. These are intended for the use of RVs, but if you have the proper adapter, they will charge your Tesla just fine. This one turns out to deliver 32 amps, good for up to 23 miles per hour of charging. According to Dealer, every US rest stop has one - I wouldn’t be too sure about that, but it’s certainly worth searching for one before you settle in with War and Peace at the 120-volt outlet.
Outdoor 120-volt outlets are not just found at rest stops. Dealer is being overoptimistic when he says that “every commercial building” in the US has one, but they are not rare. They can also sometimes be found on light poles in parking lots, or high up on telephone poles (they’re used to power Christmas lights, among other uses).
Above: With the right adaptor, you can plug an EV into all kinds of different outlets found on road trips (Image: Plugshare)
The key to a worry-free road trip is to be prepared. Keep a nice long extension cord and a selection of plug adapters in your trunk, and both the Chargepoint and PlugShare apps on your phone - both of these handy tools incorporate user comments, which can let you know if particular public chargers are out of order or otherwise problematic.