In the Suburbs: Getting a real charge out of my electric car

My wife and I took “Kona,” my new electric Hyundai, on her first long trip to western Virginia (outside Washington, D.C.) over Thanksgiving to be with family and the experience was definitely electrifying and memorable. While our little Kona is a great road car with a range of about 260 miles, eventually she needs to be charged. And that’s where the fun began on our nearly 400-mile trip.

I did my due diligence on locating charging stations weeks before our trip, working with Electrify America,one of several providers and the app my Hyundai dealer linked me to back in July when I leased the vehicle.

But there were some surprises along the way.

My research showed me two familiar locations on the Electrify America digital map where charging stations are located. The first was Allentown, Penn. (about 175 miles from home) and the second was Carlisle, Penn., just south of Harrisburg, Penn. and roughly 140 miles from Allentown. Both areas were stopping spots from earlier trips we’ve made and each location has universal charging stations handled by Electrify America. As I learned, beware of spots where Tesla stations are located, albeit plentiful, because the electrical connections for the cars are different. The charging stations must say Electrify America.

To be even safer, once I knew the towns and roads where the charging stations were located, I took an additional step and tried calling local numbers. For Allentown, it was a shopping center and the Electrify America folks had no idea how to get there from the highway. For Carlisle, it was a Sheetz gas station (there are many), but I found a local number for better directions.

Nevertheless, specific directions from the highway were missing and even with our GPS, finding these charging stations was a real wake-up call. Both charging stations were well off the highway and neither station was well marked.

When we arrived at the Allentown charge up, I tried to follow the directions, but the equipment on two of the charging ports wouldn’t initiate a charge and wouldn’t take my credit cards (I used three before a really nice guy explained that he had the same problem and finally was able to use his Capital One VISA card). Bravo for Capital One. It worked. And slightly over an hour later, we were on our way again.

I immediately jumped on my phone to Electrify America for some answers after we were on the highway and learned that my initial charges should be complementary as part of my sign-up arrangements. The representative offered to credit my account and that was fine.

I was much more optimistic about my next stop in Carlisle until we reached the area and I realized that the person at the Sheetz station I had initially contacted, had forgotten to give me an exit number and clear directions. So I panicked for a little while and got off at the first Carlisle exit. Bad mistake!

At first I was relieved to see a Sheetz station just up ahead, but when we turned into the lot, there were no charging stations. Fortunately, the staff put me in touch with the right Sheetz station and I thought I was following the directions properly. Not!

First we ended up in downtown Carlisle and didn’t find the road we needed. When I called again, the lady with whom I spoke, was probably more turned around than I was and told us to turn left on the main street instead of right. We were roughly a quarter of the way to Gettysburg, before I realized we had gone backwards. Got on the phone again with the very nice Sheetz lady and she confirmed we were indeed going well away from the station.

By then, it was getting dark, but we headed back in the other direction and about 20 minutes later, we turned into the Sheetz with the right charging stations. This time, a repair guy, who was servicing the portals, helped us out and gave us the good news that the charge would be free for the holiday. He also assured us that once the car was fully charged in about an hour and 20 minutes, we wouldn’t have to stop again. Thankfully he was right.

Fortunately, there was a charging station just across the highway from our hotel in Virginia. It worked great, the charge was free and our car was ready for driving around the area everyday.

The bottom line of our experience was that traveling long distances in an electric vehicle means making several adjustments. The first, of course, is knowing exactly where charging stations are along the way. There is no question that Electrify America needs to do a better job of placing these stations closer to major highways.

The second adjustment, which I am not sure can be improved yet, is the speed with which the car charges. We definitely had to build at least three-plus hours into our travel time for about a seven-hour trip in a gas or hybrid vehicle.

Nevertheless, we had a great trip with little “Kona” and would certainly give her maiden voyage an A+. It was an electrifying experience and a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.