Monday, April 24, 2017

Attention to detail!

The story I am about to tell can serve as a warning as to how a couple of missed details can cause a huge headache when going on a road trip in an all-electric vehicle...even one with a relatively ample (compared to non-Tesla BEVs) 238 mile EV range like my Bolt EV.

This past weekend I took my family on a trip to the Philadelphia area to go to the Brickfest Live! Lego fan festival as an advance birthday gift for my son and daughter. After purchasing the tickets 3 months prior, I had looked in the area where the event was being held to scope out the charging station situation. As the trip would be a minimum 250 miles round trip, I would need to charge my Bolt at least once while in the Philly area. 

I noticed that there was a Hilton property listed on Plugshare that had a 240V L2 charging station (along with a couple of Tesla destination charging stations) that I could use to charge overnight. I thought to myself, "Perfect!". To top it off, I also noticed that there were several DCFC fast charging stations listed on Plugshare as well. I was going to be staying in a charging station haven! Shortly after doing my research, I booked the hotel and that was that. Or so I thought.

As I thought charging my Bolt would not be an issue during this road trip, I actually departed from home with only about an 85% charge on my Bolt (this was mistake #1 ). The Guess-O-Meter (GOM) stated I had 233 miles of range, but I knew that was an overly-optimistic estimate due to the fact that number was achieved mainly through local city driving. During the drive up to Philly, it was raining decently the whole way up, so I had to use the defroster whic ate up some range. Combined with driving 65-70 mph on the freeway, the 233 mile estimate quickly disappeared. 

We arrived at the Brickfest location with about 60 miles of range displayed on the GOM. After the event, which was overall entertaining (if a tad nerdy), especially for the kids, we headed to the hotel, which was 10 miles away, to check in and figure out what to have for dinner. After arriving at the hotel, about 50 miles remained on the GOM. 


One of the many Lego sights I saw

After checking in to our room, we relaxed a little while discussing what to have for dinner. It was then I realized my first big problem: the hotel were were staying at did not have any onsite charging stations! It turned out the hotel I had booked 2 months earlier was DIFFERENT from the one I originally was going to book and looked up on Plugshare. Both the original hotel and hotel we ended up booking were Hilton properties, and I had mixed them up like an idiot! Doh!

But no problem, I said to myself! I had seen those handful of fast charging stations listed on Plugshare previously, so I could still just quick charge at one of those before leaving for home the next day, right? Ehhhhh, no. While looking at Plugshare that one fateful evening, I had inadvertently set the filter to list all CHAdeMO stations in addition to CCS stations, so non-compatible CHAdemo fast charging stations were listed as well (mistake #2 ). It turned out among those few DCFC stations in the area, none were actually of the Bolt-compatible CCS variety! All that was available were CHAdeMO-only Blink stations! 

So no fast charging options, no hotel L2 option, no nearby L2 station. Not even a 120V outlet, as I found out after chatting with the hotel staff. The nearest CCS-compatible station was over 20 miles away, and even then its operational status was questionable at best, based off its Plugshare rating. I was in a pickle!

Mind you, the whole time I was humming the “Everything is Awesome!” Lego Movie song in my head, and did not want to let my wife in on the fact I was secretly semi-freaking out. The last thing I wanted to do was to give her the impression the Bolt was not suitable for a road trip. That is one reason I did not resort to some late night charging station searching like I read in other Bolt road trip reviews. 


Or something like that

My wife then asked me, “Hey, where is the nearest Lego store? Let’s go get some new Lego sets for the kids”. I Googled the nearest Lego store, and it turned out there was one at a large mall about 10 miles away from our hotel Then I look at Plugshare and saw there was actually a couple of 240V charging stations located in the mall's parking lot! But I found out that they were the notorious Blink stations (f**k). However, the Plugshare rating was 7.6, so there was a decent chance they actually worked.

After agreeing to get dinner and shop at the Lego store at that mall, we drove the ~10 miles and found both stations empty. After downloading the Blink app (and noticing the 39 cents/kWh pricing....gross), I start the charge session. But the Bolt’s charging light indicator stayed yellow. You gotta be kidding me, I thought to myself. I restarted the session a couple of times, but still no go. I then tried the other station, and luckily I got it to start charging. Whew, crisis averted! The GOM stated 37 miles of range when it started charging.

A working Blink station! Holy crap!
After chowing down on some Shake Shack and getting the aforementioned Lego sets, we came back to the Bolt 2 hours later. It turned out my Bolt had ingested 10.88 kWh of juice, and the GOM stated I had 79 miles of range. I also found a Volt owner putting some shopping bags in his Volt, and chatted with him a bit as he asked me how I liked the Bolt. I told him I loved my Bolt, and that the only potential issue would be charging while road tripping, though I didn't let him in on my self-inflicted problems. Afterwards, I (carefully) drove back to the hotel and parked the Bolt for the night with 72 miles of range on the GOM.

I woke up the next day, realizing the charging fairy did not visit my Bolt and finding I still needed about 70 miles of range to make the trip back home. After grabbing some breakfast, we head back to Brickfest to check out a couple of things we didn’t get to see the day prior. 60 miles of range remained on the GOM when we got there. Ended up seeing a Delorean from Back to the Future and equipped with that 1.21 jigawatt onbaord charger. If only I had one of those in my Bolt!


Where's Doc Brown when you need him??
After we were done with Brickfest, the wife decided we should head back to the mall to grab lunch and do some shopping (and to get some much needed charge!).

When we arrived back at the same Blink station I had used the previous night, I saw a Porsche SUV was plugged into the (broken) station #2. Whoops. First time I had ever seen the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid (turns out it only has 14 miles of range). I plugged into the other, working unit, and while were gone for 3 hours and 40 minutes exploring the mall and grabbing lunch, I was able to put 20.56 kWh of juice into my Bolt. The GOM now said I had 133 miles of range, and since our drive home was only 121 miles, we were probably good to go!

I drove around the speed limit (55-60 mph) during most of the trip to MD, trying to preserve that 12 mile buffer, and by the time we were about 40 minutes from home, I had built that buffer up to 19 miles. That’s when I decided that we have enough to make it home comfortably, so I then droved to 65-70 mph the last 40 miles or so. We end up stopping at the local Whole Foods (GOM was now blinking “Low” by this point...guess I shouldn't have sped up. Whoops), and I found a Bolt was plugged into the only working station! Cool since it was my first Bolt sighting (besides my own) in the wild, but also not so cool because I wanted to “top off” my Bolt.


Why hello there!
During the 5 mile drive back home, in propulsion power reduced mode and the Bolt’s GOM still blinking LOW at me, I drove gingerly and made it back home on e-fumes. According to my Torque Pro app, the battery SOC (probably raw SOC) was 5.7%. I parked the Bolt and I got the GOM to tell me I had 5 miles of estimated range left. Plenty to spare!

Tons of range left!

So lessons learned during this trip:

#1 – ALWAYS start out with a 100% charge before any trip you will need to charge to get back home, even if you think you are in a charging station heaven at your destination
#2 – triple check that the place you think you are staying at is actually the hotel you are staying at
#3 – don’t be a dumb@ss and leave the CHAdeMO filter on while checking DCFC stations on Plugshare
#4 – Check items 1-3 again

My Bolt performed just as advertised. The owner just screwed up with the trip planning. The morale of the story is to never assume! Or else you may end up even unluckier than me getting the "Tow of Shame". ;)

5 comments:

  1. Certainly not piling on, but with a Bolt EV, why would you ever have the CHAdeMO stations showing up in your list? :)

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, and I'm really happy that you made it home without freaking out your family.

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    1. I sometimes change the settings to compare the charging networks.

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  2. Not to mess with you, but did you think of going to a nearby L2 and charging after the family was down for the night. That way you are prepared for the curve balls that show up in the morning. Yah! You lose some sleep, price to pay, etc...

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    1. I had faith I could get things figured out the next day. 😉
      Plus the wife would have went "hey! WTH do you think youre going??"

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  3. Cool story. Years from now, you'll laugh....

    Two suggestions: First, even though the Hilton you stayed at didn't have any official L2 chargers, I would have inspected the exterior of every building in the area for L1 outlets and plugged in, if possible. It's better sometimes to ask forgiveness instead of permission. There are ways to secure the L1 charger to the wheel, or lock on in some other manner, too. 12 hours of overnight L1 would have certainly helped. Several motels in Ocean City have discovered the hidden value of their exterior wall plugs......

    Second, could you have used the Royal Farms near Chester (https://api.plugshare.com/view/location/77809), Homewood Suites near Newark (https://api.plugshare.com/view/location/76658), or Royal Farms at Northeast (https://api.plugshare.com/view/location/76658)? When you left Philly, you only needed enough range not to get completely home, but only to get to one of those.

    Now that you have the bugs worked out, Philly should be no problem the next time.

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