The Electric Vehicle Road Trip

Electric Vehicles are great! Except when you need to charge them…

Hey, we went to Wales! First, the trip itself was awesome. It’s a beautiful country. Now, the last time we were in the UK we were in Scotland, and ScotRail was our primary means of transportation. We stayed at a place right next to the train station, and just hopped the train for our trips, which was totally awesome. When people talk about countries with great train systems I think of Scotland. For Wales we opted for a car, since rail didn’t seem like it would work for the locations we want to visit… We hired a car (that’s “rented a car” for you Americans) and requested an automatic, and we had a gasoline powered car reserved, but the best laid plans…

Oddly enough, trains. So the trains from London to Cardiff were all running late due to a fatality on the tracks and some issues with switching equipment. This meant we did not get to Cardiff in time to pick up our car on Friday, so we rebooked the car to pickup on Saturday morning. When we got to the rental place they said “We only have an electric car that is an automatic” and well… not great. We explained we would be driving all over Wales, and did not think that would work, but unfortunately they had no petrol-powered automatic transmission cars. (Dana is okay driving on the “other” side of the road, but adding stick shift into the mix would have been too much.)

We came up with a plan where we would stop at another rental car location along the way and swap it for a petrol-powered automatic transmission car. (Spoiler alert: That never happened. They didn’t have any.) So, how was the electric vehicle? It was great, except for the charging, which was not great.

While I know a little bit about EVs due to a number of friends with them (including friends who built their own a decade ago) I have never had to drive one or be in charge of… charging one. At the rental place they showed us how to charge on their charger. They said “You tap you payment card, grab this charging cable, and plug it into the car.” It was not even close to the reality we faced. Oh, there was a case in the trunk with a big cable and I said “What does that do?” and they said “Oh, you won’t need that.” But yeah, we totally needed that!

We waited at a cafe next to the car hire for about an hour while they charged it up before they closed at 2pm, and they got it close to 100% charged. Good enough for us to hit the road. We traveled to Barry fine, then to the place we were staying for the night. We knew we would have to charge up the next day so asked at breakfast where we could charge, and (remember, we were in a small village in Wales) no one knew of any charger in town. We searched online, found nothing. We altered our plans to go to the nearest city with a charger. We ended up parking at a parking lot and paying to charge. It was a 7kw charger, which we quickly learned is a “slow charger” and spent maybe two hours and, well… didn’t add too many miles to our car. Oh, and that cable in the back we “shouldn’t need”? We totally needed it. Many chargers do not have cables! You need to bring your own. It’s like having to bring your own hose to a gas pump. (I can’t even imagine running your own cable on the ground in the winter in Wisconsin without having a pair of heavy gloves and tub in your car to stare the filthy and wet cable.)

We managed to get enough to make it to our next destination (keep in mind we were typically driving a few hours each day) and really needed to charge. We now new we needed a fast charger. We finally found one! At a university in a parking lot, on a Sunday. Luckily the security guy was super nice and got us sorted. Okay, so for this one it didn’t take cards, you needed an app. With my slow data connection in the UK I downloaded the app in about 20 minutes. Argh! Then I had to buy credits. At this point I had no idea how many credits I would need, but had to make sure it wouldn’t run out while charging. I think we got 50 pounds. Once we were fast charging we walked to town, which took about 25 minutes, in the hot sun. It totally sucked. Actually, it sucked coming back, because that was all uphill. Also, I now have 17 pounds credit for a charger I will probably never use as I do not own an EV.

The next day charging was, well… hold on to your butts! We located a fast charger but due to some road construction and endless roundabouts we could not seem to get to the Lidi store that had fast charging, so we went to Tesco where they had a 7kw slow charger. We had this plan to leave the car charging, take a bus to a castle, grab lunch, have a day, and then come back hours later. We did come back hours later, to find it only charged for under an hour. Maybe since it’s a store they only allow charging for one hour? We’re new to all of this and don’t know shit. But basically this meant we barely charged at all, and had a long journey the next day. So we tried again and managed to get to the Lidi in the evening and did not get to use the fast charger at first, and used the medium charger (so 22kw instead of 50kw I believe.) At some point charging stopped. Do you know why? Because the people next to us on the charger hit the goddamn e-stop button which seems to shuts down charging for everyone! Anyway, they left so we grabbed the 50kw charger, reset the e-stop switch, and charged up. This was an extremely rough one.

While we were charging a group of women came to charge and they knew less than I did about it. They were also given an EV from a hire car company, and it was not fully charged, and they said they spent the entire day trying to get it charged so the could start their trip. They were pissed. And look, I am all for EVs, they are the future, but car hire companies need to do a better job. Charging companies need to do a better job. Right now it’s a fucking mess. And yeah, I know… everyone I know with an EV says “I just charge at home!” but for a hire car on holiday, that’s not an option.

The chargers are hard to find, often located way in the back of parking lots, often near bushes and bugs, and sometimes require you to install yet another app, and set up yet another account. I know we are in early days, and I really hope it gets better/easier. It has to.

(Note: I did learn that most (all?) EVs come with a very slow charging cable you can plug into a standard outlet to charge at home. If we had one of these we could have used it overnight a few times to get 10 to 12 hours of charge. Of course at such lower power it probably would not have helped much, and we’d need permission from the property owner to do so. Yeah, forget I even mentioned it.)

Sorry, this is getting long. Like the time it takes to charge on 7kw…

The next day we stopped in a small town for lunch, were unable to locate a charger and I think eventually said “fuck it” and kept going. Which meant we’d need to find something the next morning. Well, we opted to try at night, and our Airbnb host was kind enough to lead us to the nearest charger. This one had no interface at all, and required… an app. After 20 minutes to download this one, it would not work. A friend of our host’s showed up! He was charging his car and wanted to help. See, for the app I installed I put in my info and it kept thinking I was in the US instead of Wales. He told me to delete it and reinstall it. I was not convinced this would work, and told him it would take 20 minutes. (At this point we’ve been there 30 minutes, and not charging.) He had me connect to the WiFi on his phone and I reinstalled in a few minutes. Amazing! It still did not work. It would not believe I was in Wales when I crouched down on the ground to scan a QR code about 50cm off the pavement. We gave up, said we’d figure it out in the morning, and went for dinner and a walk.

But wait! After dinner and the walk we decided to give it one more try. The friend mentioned a health club that had a fast charger, so we went for it. We managed to find it and got charging, and all was good. Except that we had to just sit in the car and wait for like an hour and a half. It was a parking lot at a golf course / health club at night with nothing around. Another rough one. But we got all charged up!

We were convinced we had enough power to get back to our starting point and return the car. Funny that though… You know how you think you’ve got plenty of something and then you’re like “Hey, where did it go!?” Well, the numbers showing how many miles you have kept going down, unless we went downhill, then they went up. Bleargh! We decided we should get one more charge, because had this vision of running out of battery a few miles from the hire car place. So the final charge was at some restaurant, a fast charger so it didn’t take long, but damn, we were so ready to be done charging that goddamn car.

(Note: I read a post on Reddit about some car hire company that requires you to return the car fully charged, which is a pile of bullshit I am glad we didn’t have to deal with or it would have probably ruined an entire day.)

So just to reiterate: Our trip was great. Wales is lovely. We would have preferred a petrol-powered automatic transmission car but we got an electric car that needed charging every day, which was not easy to do. If we subtract the issues around charging, the car itself was fine, the trip was grand. All good… We just need the charging to be better. The “how to charge” information was almost useless, so that needs improvement, and car hire companies have a lot of work to do if this is to be painless in the future, which I hope it is. At one point we called the hire car company in the city we were staying in to ask if we could use their charger. Guess what? They don’t have one! Seriously… if your company is renting EVs you need to have a charger at every location and offer charging.

Thanks for reading. Sorry it was long and complainy. I wanted this as a record for how things work(ed) in 2023 in Wales, UK with an EV as a hire car for a holiday. Cheers!

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