I could almost hear the mosquitos slurping my blood as I sat stranded at a horribly slow charging station in the parking lot of the LA County Sheriff’s Department Crescenta Valley office. I’d flown too close to the sun with my $2000 Nissan Leaf — a vehicle that, due largely to poor battery thermal management in hot Southern California — has experienced so much battery degradation that the overall capacity is at roughly 40 percent. The vehicle originally was rated at 72 miles of range, in good condition. After 12 years, mine can really only go about 25 — or so I thought.
I was at work yesterday shooting videos with our beloved suspension engineer, Huibert Mees, when I decided to join my friend in Pasadena to volunteer with the Pasadena Humane Society. I love cats, for one, and, well, I feel even more strongly about my friend. So it was a no-brainer. Plus I had faith in the Nissan Leaf; I was stuck with it as my main car since I’d lent my BMW i3 out to Jason’s awesome wife, Sally; my Wrangler was receiving Paint Protective Film from our soon-to-be-announced partner, XPEL; and Huibert was using my J10 to visit friends located well beyond my Leaf’s 25-mile range. Over the past few days, the Leaf had gotten me (and Matt) to work with plenty of range to spare; it had been a great runabout during the Galpin Car Show; I was feeling good about it.
The problem is: The Nissan Leaf’s degraded battery didn’t care how “good about it” I felt. It cared about the steep grades I’d have to take to get to Pasadena and the stiflingly hot exterior temperatures. I found myself driving 47 MPH eastbound on the 210 praying that the miles of range expected by the Leaf’s Guess-O-Meter would remain higher than the miles-to-destination displayed on my Google Maps app.
But by the time I was 14 miles from Pasadena, the Guess-O-Meter was reading 12. And then when I was done climbing one of the many steep grades about a mile later, the range was down to 9.
Eventually, the dash started blinking and chiming and telling me that the battery had reached a dangerously low state-of-charge. I was to pull over immediately. So I did. I stopped by the nearest charging station, which was in a Vons grocery store parking lot. What did I discover? A line of cars waiting for a single charging station as the rest of the stalls were broken.
Three Broken Electrify America Chargers
This is so typical for Electrify America.
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I’d been hearing horror stories about non-Tesla charging stations for years. But I figured that this is California — the land of the EV. Surely the charging situation here would be better, right? Surely Electrify America can’t be as bad as they say it is, right? I mean, the complaints have been non-stop for so long by now. Hasn’t Electrify America gotten its shit together?
Look, I’m fine with a broken charging station here and there. It happens. Nobody’s perfect. But when a station has four chargers and three of them don’t work, you’ve got a huge problem.
Here’s a look at the setup: Three fast chargers and one smaller charger that I assume was a Level 2
Only the charger that the VW ID.4 at the end was using was working — the other three were broken.
One of the chargers had two exclamation marks in red circles with the word “Unavailable” below each. The others just had a blank screen. Meanwhile, in the parking spots opposite those of the chargers, a Kia Niro EV and a BMW i4 sat and waited for some juice as I foolishly tried plugging in the CHAdeMO charger from the working charger, before I was reminded that each tower only charges one car (despite the two cables). Whoops.
Anyway, the car (I think it might have been an ID.4) using the only functional charger was only at 70 percent, and with the Kia and BMW waiting, I knew it’d be probably 2.5 hours at best before I was out of there.
I Saw Chargers On Google Maps, But I Couldn’t Tell How Legit They Were
So I desperately searched for another charger; I say “desperately,” because, according to the blinking guess-o-meter, I had only five miles of range left on the Leaf. That left me with these options (the blue Electrify America one was my starting point):
The Shell Recharge one seemed promising, with the brand name and all. But I Google Map’d it, and didn’t see anything there! Plus there were no reviews! Ditto with the Electric Circuit Charging station and the Flo Charging Station to the north. That left me with the PowerFlex Charging Station, which also featured no reviews. A quick Google search didn’t look hopeful until…
Aha! What do we have here behind that bush? It looks like a charging post! So I hit the road, and — due to the mostly downhill path to the charging station – which was in the parking lot of a Sheriff’s office — I arrived with five miles of range.
The Charging Apps Need To Stop!
The PowerFlex charging station ended up working, but the problem with the non-Tesla charging situation is that there are too many damn EV charging brands: Electrify America, Chargie, ChargePoint, PowerfFlex, Shell Recharge — I’m honestly tired of downloading all these damn apps, especially in times of desperation.
My phone was dying, I had very poor service, the charging spot was infested with mosquitos, and there I was outside a slow Level 2 charger in a Sheriff’s parking lot trying to download a damn app. And then once it was on my phone, I had to input my vehicle information, my personal information, my payment information, and on and on. It’s a huge pain in the ass. I don’t have to download an app to pay for gas at any gas station; why do I have to do it to charge my car?
There needs to be a single app for every EV charger, and it needs to be standardized like… yesterday.
I Eventually Got Home, But It Cost Me Time
I needed about 4kWh to get back home, which was 15 miles away. My Leaf does about 3.5 miles per kWh, and I had five miles of range left on the guess-o-meter (which probably translated to about 3 miles of real-world range). The 6 kW Level 2 charger didn’t actually put out 6 kW, because they never do. It was 3.5 kW, which meant I had to wait in that creepy ass lot for over an hour.
There was no one else there, just me, waiting for those electrons to fill up that severely-degraded battery. It was deeply, deeply boring, but I considered myself lucky for having found a charging station at all. I could have been stuck in that Electrify America line for three hours; this was at least a bit better than that.
Still, I wasted two hours of my day desperately trying to find a charging station and then waiting for the only working one in my vicinity to slowly trickle its juice into my car’s battery. It wasn’t pleasant.
Should I have known better buying an EV for $2000? Absolutely. But that’s sorta beside the point; anyone could have found themselves in my position, searching for a charger near La Cañada Flintridge. And they all would have faced the same problem that I had; hell, it could have been so much worse. My house was only 15 miles away. Imagine if you were 100 miles from home. You’d have to trickle charge the car at this PowerFlex station, and then hope you could get the car to a fast charger that actually works.
So I was lucky. I wasted a few hours (whereas I’d have needed just 10 minutes if the EA fast charger had worked), suffered half a dozen mosquito bites, and ended up missing my cat-volunteering appointment (and dinner) with my friend. Not ideal, but hardly catastrophic.