I grew up in northern Indiana, where I didn’t know life without a car. My first vehicle was a giant, green, gas-guzzling Chevy Suburban we named Big Mama. She was handed down to me from my mom, who used it to haul her three kids and our dog around while buying months-worth of groceries at a time.
Since then, I’ve spent most of my adult life in large cities with plenty of reliable public transit. I hadn’t even thought about getting a car until I adopted an adult dog with lots of health issues. Her vet was too far away to walk, transit prohibited dogs, and rideshare drivers were reluctant to pick us up even when I checked that little “pet-friendly ride” option in the apps.
I wound up getting a gas Subaru Crosstrek, knowing my trips would be rare and brief. Not to mention, EVs and hybrids with reasonable mileage felt way out of budget at the time, and my parking lot had nowhere to charge.
When my husband and I packed up our dog and moved to my hometown for the sake of restoring a house, getting an EV actually started to make more sense.
Charging at home
Before even looking at cars, I did some research on my charging options.
There are a few levels of charging stations, and a few different types of chargers.
Level 1 chargers can plug into most grounded wall outlets (the ones with three holes). I’m renting an apartment while the house is in its uninhabitable stages, and our building’s parking garage has a few spots with outlets. For a flat fee, our building lets us plug in as much as we need. The car is parked more often than it’s in motion, so we have plenty of time for that slow-but-steady Level 1 charging.
How slow is slow-but-steady? According to power company PG&E, Level 1 chargers refill at about 5 miles per hour. Here’s a screenshot from the Subaru Solterra app – you can see the SUV is about 90% charged, and it has about 6 hours left until its battery is full.
The full range is around 220 miles with climate control on, so I can drive around town for a couple of weeks before I need to charge it. At that point, I just plug the car in like a toaster, right where it’s parked.
And there’s another benefit to Level 1 charging – your battery could last a bit longer.
Charging around town
Level 2 stations are available in a lot of public places, including in smaller communities like my own.
These stations often charge at somewhere near 20 miles per hour, and are great options when you’re just driving around town. Since errands and commutes often don’t require a ton of mileage, you can plug in your EV at the office or grocery store and be fully charged by the time you’re back in the driver’s seat.
You can also install a Level 2 charging station at your home with some help from a professional.
It’s important to know that Level 2 chargers pull power straight from your home’s electrical panel, which draws power straight from the power lines. Folks in older homes – including yours truly – might have to upgrade their electrical panels to accommodate the load capacity necessary for EV charging. (By the way, you can get federal tax incentives for upgrading your panel, which could save you $600.)
When it comes time to install the charger itself, you can either run wire through your walls, or rely on a special type of outlet commonly used for electric clothes dryers and cooking ranges. As for choosing the right home EV charger, Car and Driver went ahead and tested a bunch for you.
Charging over long distances
I still have to drive Betsy to Chicago twice a year for some important vet visits, so I needed to be sure I could make it about 200 miles roundtrip. The Solterra has that covered, but it’s a little tight, so I got familiar with charging options near my destination and along the highway – just like I would with gas stations.
There are a few rest stops between here and there. One has a Tesla Supercharger station, and the other has Superchargers and EV Connect. Both options are Level 3, which means they can deliver power at somewhere between 75 and 1,200 miles per hour.
Though I could probably make it to and from Chicago without needing to charge, I typically park at a Level 3 charger somewhere in the city while my husband grabs us some lunch. We have way more than enough juice to make it home by the time we’re done eating – usually in about 45 minutes.
Plugs & adapters
You’ll typically see two types of chargers available at a public Level 2 or Level 3 station – CCS or CHAdeMO.
CCS is becoming increasingly common among North American EVs, though notably the popular Nissan Leaf uses CHAdeMO, which is more common in Japan.
Tesla has its own proprietary charger – though it recently reached a deal with the U.S. government to make some of its Supercharger stations available to non-Tesla owners. Those stations are equipped with something Tesla calls the “Magic Dock,” which makes the Tesla chargers compatible with CCS plugs.
Prices and fees
Charging at home is generally cheap, and my apartment building charges me a flat rate of $10/month to use an outlet. A lot of cars and home chargers come with software that lets you schedule your charging, too, ensuring you fill up when electricity is most affordable.
If you’re out and about, an article from Investopedia says public chargers can take an empty battery to full for $10-$30.
Some stations are free, too – a few at nearby parks in my community don’t cost anything to use.
And a lot of stations discourage you from hogging a charger by billing you for time spent plugged in after your battery is full.
All told, EVs can be way cheaper than gas – and by Canopy’s estimates, I’ll save thousands over the course of my car’s lifetime. (The sales price for the Solterra is actually much lower than Canopy’s upfront estimate, too.)
What to look out for
My biggest gripe with public charging is that the apps describing stations aren’t always totally accurate.
I use ChargePoint, EVGo, and the Subaru Solterra app to find stations. In some cases, maps show charging stations that aren’t actually available to the public. Other times, chargers are broken or out of service, and the apps aren’t updated to show that. Frustration ensues.
It’s also important to pay attention to which types of chargers are available at a station – I once drove to a charger only to realize it was CHAdeMO, not the CCS my car needed.
To account for that uncertainty, I seek out large charging banks instead of parking lots with just a charger or two. That helps me feel more confident that I’ll find something available.
Over time, these issues will subside as charging infrastructure becomes more and more common. Compared to South Bend, cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York are already flush spots to charge. But even as my hometown catches up, I haven’t had any real issues yet.
So, are you ready for an EV?
Range anxiety is real, and I stared at maps of charging stations for hours before making my decision. EV ranges are between 200 and 300 miles these days, and that’s almost 10 times the mileage I drive in a day. Since my car is parked more often than not, slow charging with my current Level 1 charger is more than sufficient. And on the go, there are plenty of chargers available – with more coming online everyday.
If you’re not quite ready to go all electric, I get it. You can always consider a plug-in hybrid. Those typically have about 20 miles of battery range, with gas tanks to help you drive long distances.
Personally, I love driving an EV, and I’m having a great time getting around America’s Heartland in one.
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