Yes. I, Deanna Isaacs, drained the batteries in an EV (not completely, but to the point it wouldn’t drive). Go ahead. Laugh it up now. You know you want to.
It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t set out at the beginning of my drive with the notion of being the guinea pig – ahem, hamster – in my own experiment in battery efficiency just to end up spending 3 hours on the side of the road near Seattle, Washington.
However, it happened and this is how.
I’ve recently started doing new car reviews in the very eco-friendly, hippy-tastic, Seattle car market and have, as such, been given a few EVs from the press fleets.
I didn’t dare take the Mitsubishi iMiEV out of the city. It’s a city car and there’s no two ways about that. There just isn’t the infrastructure of charging stations outside the metro area to try using the 60 mile range of the Mitsubishi, but when I got the Kia Soul EV, I had an extra 30 miles of range for a total of around 90 miles – and it gave me the desire to test out just how well EV works day to day.
I unhooked my now fully charged Kia EV from the house – starting point, 90 miles.
Start of Day – Miles of charge remaining: 90
As a journalist, I sometimes put on a lot of miles in a day – the worst was around 100 miles in one day, not including my 30 mile commute! I did my normal commute to and from work and only a minor amount of driving in between, adding up to around 40 miles (give or take).
Normal day of work – Miles of charge remaining: 50
I wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way to Marysville so, on the commute home, I stopped at Fred Meyer, a grocery chain offering Blink! charging stations. I got the battery around 80 percent charged in around 15 minutes and had to leave or else miss my movie.
Partial fillup – Miles of charge remaining: 65. Miles to go: approx. 50
Then, it was time for the small trip. My family was meeting to see The Hobbit at a theater back in Marysville, around 26 miles north of my house in Seattle.
I didn’t think I’d fully discharge the battery, as I’d topped off before heading out and knew there would be ample charging stations on the way back. Looking at the charging station finder apps was like looking at a Google-themed porcupine for as many map pinpoints there were.
Little did I know.
I picked up my mom in Everett, in between my house and our destination, and we headed off on the road again.
From mom to the movies – Miles of charge remaining: 40. Miles to go: approximately 30.
We got to Marysville and the theater with around 30 miles left to go – though I was sad to find Marysville had zero charging stations. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. (If you live in Washington and own an EV, don’t go to Marysville.)
The movie was good (ask me what I think of turning a 100 page book into seven and a half hours of movie and I’ll show you that it takes less time to read the book than watch the movies). The times I had with family were better. We joked about Hamsters with the Soul, how it was much different than my daily driver, how my family thought I looked funny next to it, then headed off in our own directions.
Now, just like with a combustion engine, higher speeds consume more energy. Eco-friendly doesn’t free one from the worries of fuel economy and, around the time I dropped my mother off, the gauge said I had 15 miles left – and I still had around 21 miles to go.
Miles of charge remaining: 35. Miles to go: approximately 30.
I dropped mom back off at her car and got back on the highway. It seems that, much like a conventional fuel gauge, the last half is variable. The miles started draining quicker.
I hopped off the highway, 20 miles from home, supposedly with about 25 miles of charge remaining, to look for a charger nearby in North Everett, near 128th Street. I headed to what my app told me would be a charger connected to a store. A charger surrounded by 4 “youths.” As a lone female in a new car around midnight. No thanks.
I went to the next charging station I could find, a few blocks away. It wasn’t even there. I looked at the app again and it said coming soon. Helpful. Thanks. The next several charging stations were already in use by people obviously not shopping inside the staffed, but customer empty Walgreen’s at midnight. Helpful.
The next I found required an RFID card, which required the foresight of getting said card prior to being put into a situation needing it. Hindsight is a bitch with very good eyesight. I would later find out, in that situation, one can call customer service and initiate a payment and charge over the phone. Argh. Hindsight, again.
It wasn’t looking good. I was getting VERY low on battery and starting to panic a little. I had the car in R (mode) for better regeneration of energy through braking, but it didn’t help much. It is probably what made it so that I could get onto a wider shoulder of a road, but still not enough to get me home.
THE KIA WARRANTY
The stress of running out of battery is pretty much the same as running out of gas, though more aggravating because you can’t just walk to a nearby station, fill up a newly purchased red gas can, and walk back to your car to revive it. Nope, you have to get it towed to a nearby charger (assuming the tow truck driver that you get is cool like mine was).
Note: I really should have gotten pictures of this, but I was aggravated from running out of charge… Please forgive me in my moment of temporary insanity.
Luckily, this was a brand new Kia and came with their Roadside Assistance warranty. All I had to do was call them up – which I did after calming down a little – and was connected through Kia to a local tower who would call me when they were about to pick me up.
Another lucky note is that the vast majority of EVs come with a buffer gap between when you run out the battery on your end and when the battery is well and truly depleted. I knew the battery still had an amount of electricity because it had enough juice to power the heater and lights, I just wasn’t stupid enough to keep those on – I’ll freeze before I destroy a car.
A few hours went by and I finally got the call (we’re skipping past the shivering as the car got colder in 40 degree weather and the many self-deprecating and annoyed texts to my husband – believe me, it’s a good thing) the tow truck was on its way.
Between that call and the tow arrival, Rob came out with a warm car, though had to park a few blocks away so he kept me company in the rain and cold.
The tow truck driver arrived and we loaded the Kia onboard.
Once inside the warmth of the tow-cabin, the driver, a VERY kind man from Iraq who came to the US years ago for a better life and desires to own his own tow truck, and I partake of deep conversation about society, family, and friendships that cross borders and cultures. It was probably one of the top five societal discussions I’d had in 2014 – and I barely knew the dude.
Of course, he was also cool and chill in that he helped me save money. His tow company’s policy dictates that a car would go from the road to the dealership and, if nothing helped from there, into long term (and expensive) storage, unless otherwise requested from the customer. With a brief nudge to my shoulder, I asked if we could go to a charging station and we were off.
The first attempt to find a charger was at a Sears only around a mile away. We couldn’t find it. Not one of our three pairs of eyes could find the charging station. Not me. Not the husband. Not the truck driver.
So we headed to my trusted one a few miles away at Fred Meyer on Lake City Way in Seattle. We get there, unload the Kia, roll it to the charger, and BAM – charging. Electricity. Potential energy to power the motors and drive.
3 hours after I died, I finally got to a charger.
On the bright side, I was out late enough for once to try the Jack in the Box Midnight Munchie Meal. It was extremely fattening and delicious, I suggest everyone try it once – any more and your cardiologist may be seeing more of you.
We got the Kia home and put it on the charger for the next day’s drive. And that was that.
Lesson in the story?
- ‘Range Anxiety’ is a very real thing; not as easy to rectify as an empty fuel tank.
- Pre-plan your EV experience by gaining card memberships (usually free for first card) before you find yourself without charge on a cold night in December.
- Don’t go to a city (like Marysville, Washington) that doesn’t have a single charger in a 5 mile radius from where you’re going.
- Tow truck drivers can be super cool dudes that are kind and helpful! Especially if they don’t follow company protocol.
- Carry a shitload of AAs with you wherever you go?
- Get pictures to provide hilarity.