Is there anything more American than an annual road trip? The fact is that to get from A to B by car in much of America means a bit of a road trip compared to smaller countries like the UK. When you’re preparing to undertake a road trip in an electric car, trip planning becomes more important than ever.
You always have to plan, of course, preparing enough food and water, knowing where you can stop and sleep overnight if need be, and also places to make pit-stops on the way to recharge yourself. If you’re driving an electric car, these become literal recharging stops, and they need very careful planning. For that, a lot of people already rely on the Electrify America app, but while it’s perhaps one of the best-known EV charge point apps out there, it has been dismissed by some as inadequate for proper road trip planning.
In today’s blog, we’ll be assessing the functions of Electrify America, as well as its shortcomings, and what other options are on offer for those who want something more suited to their own EV.
Background: About Electrify America
Electrify America is a large and growing network of public DC fast chargers and level 2 charging stations, owned and operated by Volkswagen. Despite its ownership, you by no means have to own a Volkswagen ID.4 in order to gain access! It’s open to all EVs, but Tesla owners will have to be ready to use their adapters.
At the time of writing, and according to the Electrify America website, the organization operates 791 stations, running 3,435 fast chargers, as well as another 116 level 2 chargers. Among the fast chargers are CCS and CCS-CHAdeMO connectors. Most stations are concentrated in the northeast, Florida, and California, with other stations generally following major highway routes across the midwest, southwest, and Pacific northwest.
The Electrify America App: A Review
Next, let’s take a look at the Electrify America app itself. It’s free to download and available on both Android and iOS platforms. No payment method is required when creating an account, just your first and last name. But you will need to add a card as a payment method when you start to use it for charging. It does offer some paid/premium features, too, which we will cover in more detail in sections below.
Below is a summary of the main features one can find within the app:
- Premium plans with discounts on charging, contactless payment ability, and more
- Live, up-to-date charging locations nearby with availability
- Notifications when charging points become available
- Charge tracking from your smartphone after the process begins
- Home charger management with preferred charge time management
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration
The chief advantage of Electrify America over other apps is in its ability to give strong amounts of detail when it comes to nearby chargers. Unlike apps such as Google Maps, which will tell you locations of chargers, Electrify America gives you a lot more about their status, exact location within certain premises, and condition.
In addition, you can get the majority of the key features without having to subscribe to any payment plans. Even if you do opt for a payment plan, they start at just $4.00 a month (Pass+). You might wonder about spending monthly premiums when you’re paying for charging services anyway, but a Pass+ membership actually gives you up to 25 percent discount, which makes it very worthwhile for regular chargers.
Finally, being able to easily integrate it with your Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions also makes life a lot easier for users, meaning you don’t have to be looking at your smartphone the whole time and get the information safely while on the road.
One of the chief criticisms leveled against Electrify America is that while it presents itself as a uniquely “all-in-one” app, its features are neither unique nor all-encompassing as one might hope. For one thing, it lacks a useful trip planning feature for longer journeys, which in a country like America seems like a pretty big omission. Fans of the app defend it by pointing out that it is built primarily for local use only, and not for road trippers, but with an engaging, wide-reaching name like “Electrify America,” why not consider America more widely, including road trippers?
Furthermore, those who don’t use the app and instead favor their own vehicle app platform such as the Ford Pass app, for example, have found that Electrify America locations are frequently not added in time, leaving key gaps in their own maps and planners. Whether this is entirely down to Electrify America or whether it’s more Ford’s fault isn’t entirely clear, but it all seems to contribute to the fact that Electrify America doesn’t feature in virtually any list of “Best Apps for Route Planning.”
Payment options are affordable with Electrify America, but you are forced to pay the fee if you want to access the best features. This might be expected for some, but when you’re already paying for the fundamental service being offered by them, it seems a little unfair not to have more premium features available for free.
What Other Journey Planning EV Apps Are Available?
Typically topping the list of recommended journey planning apps is Tesla’s own app that its owners use every day. The main advantage of Tesla is its own massive Supercharger network, currently offering some 1,500 locations across all 50 states and even 2 overseas territories. While superchargers are concentrated in similar locations to Electrify America stations, they are still more common, and are even now starting to roll out plans to allow non-Tesla cars to use them.
The journey planning feature on the app allows you to plot every supercharger station you’ll need to stop at along the way and how to break up the journey. It also features Tesla’s other great in-house features like instant calls for roadside assistance.
The best thing about the EV Hotels app is that it’s focused on accommodation spots rather than just charging stations. Knowing where Tesla Superchargers are is great, but what this app does is point to hotels and other accommodations that come with their very own charging points. This means you can plan your trip killing two birds with one stone at every major stop — where to charge overnight, and where to sleep.
A Better Route Planner (ABRP)
An interesting quirk about ABRP is that it lets you program in your car make and model, which is then taken into account for the journey ahead, using more precise data. If you’re using it in your Tesla, you can even share your drive data with it to improve its accuracy even further. It also tells you which routes to avoid, and keeps you informed on traffic, road, and weather conditions ahead.
Google Maps is a great choice chiefly because of how familiar most people are with the system already, having been using Google Maps in some form or another for many years. The main drawback with Google Maps is that while it does have a route planning feature that Electrify America lacks, it also lacks the detail that Electrify America offers. Having said that, it’s easy to use, familiar, and requires no payments at all for the service of route planning or locating charging stations.
General Tips for Long-Distance EV Road Trips
Let’s say you are planning for a long-distance road trip in your electric car, Tesla or otherwise. What are some useful tips that can help you on your way?
We’ve pretty much covered this in the above points, but it’s good to emphasize the importance of planning when you’re taking an electric car on an extended road trip. The thing is, the way things are currently, the country just can’t cater to EVs in the same way that it can to regular gasoline cars. Not only do gasoline cars typically have a range advantage, but they have an extreme flexibility advantage, too, given that there are gas stations large and small to be found all over the place.
EV drivers will have to stick more to their plans, and probably deviate a lot less. Mistakes in planning could easily lead to your becoming stranded, and that’s no fun. So, however experienced you are in road trip planning, if it’s your first time doing it in an EV, then spend some extra time and attention on it.
Make Contingency Plans
Following on from the previous point, it’s also critical that you make more detailed backup plans for if and when things go wrong. Keep estimates on range conservative, and always plan to stop and charge earlier than you would need to according to those range numbers. Have a “plan B” for every eventuality. It takes more planning, but until the infrastructure is really there for EVs, it’s necessary to play on the side of caution.
Minimize Energy Waste
During your road trip, try not to burn up too much juice through things like bad driving habits. Being too aggressive with the throttle and brake, for example, is an excellent way to drain the battery too quickly. Drive at steady speeds, and don’t overtax the battery.
Charge to Full Before Departure
Charging to full is something that most EV experts tell you not to do, but when getting ready to set off on a long road trip, it is one of the times when you are actually supposed to charge to full. Equally, you shouldn’t let the battery completely deplete while out on the road. It’s bad for the battery chemistry to combine full charging and full discharge, so try to hit your next recharge stop when you get to about 20 percent or below, and before you hit 10 percent.
Don’t Overload the Car
Finally, as another measure to save energy, don’t overload the car with too much gear. It’s a road trip, we understand, so there’s bound to be supplies aplenty, but try not to pack too much superfluous gear. Electric cars are heavy enough without all your useless gear weighing down even more and taxing the battery even further.
Happy road tripping! Plan well and all good things will come to you!