Home » True Misery Is Combining America’s Woefully Inadequate EV Infrastructure With A $2,000 Electric Car

True Misery Is Combining America’s Woefully Inadequate EV Infrastructure With A $2,000 Electric Car

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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.

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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.

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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?

Apparently not.

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.

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Here’s a look at the setup: Three fast chargers and one smaller charger that I assume was a Level 2

Google Street View 1

Only the charger that the VW ID.4 at the end was using was working — the other three were broken.

Vw Gti Charging

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.

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Charger Port

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

Google Maps
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…

Outside Nissanleaf Storage

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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.

Nissan Leaf Interior

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?

It’s idiocy.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Jblues
Jblues
1 month ago

Somebody needs to invent a small briefcase sized gas generator that can charge an EV to 10% or so in an emergency.

KC Murphy
KC Murphy
1 month ago

I’m interested in the concept of electric cars and I often think I’m a good candidate for one. My next car likely will be EV, I think.

Because of articles like this (which will likely become common scenarios as EV’s age, just like we have IC beater cars now) as well as all the stupid memes about “hur hur hur, look at the diesel towtruck pulling the EV” and “lol loser running a generator to charge his electric not very environmental ha ha” made me wonder…

I predict at some point there will be a battery port in the trunk, and one could either buy or rent suitcase-sized expansion batteries. Much like the ones we get for our phone chargers. Going on a vacation and want extended range? Maybe I rent one from Batteries Plus or U-Haul or the dealer, and get an extra 500 mile range. Run out of charge on the road? AAA comes out and passes you a fully charged 100 mile battery and maybe you have to put down a deposit or something when you return it. Or maybe it’s a temporary solution to situations like this one. “battery is going bad, put an aux unit in there so I can get to work until I can save up enough for a new one.”

John J Gerding
John J Gerding
1 month ago

I am still struggling with the fact that YOU, Mister buy a bunch of Junk Cars and just play with them and not worry too much about what the neighbors think has actually moved to California. I guess it had something to do with the new website, but jeez, you were my idol.

Mark Pikaart
Mark Pikaart
1 month ago

This is a great read, EVs make sense for some folks in more dense areas, but I think its really frustrating how so many auto makers are pushing a full switch to EV when our giant countries infrastructure for reliable charging still is a long way off, it seems like a lot of this has also slowed more options in efficient hybrids

Karl Jacobs
Karl Jacobs
1 month ago

Thank you for confirming that EVs are NOT ready for prime time in America due to a variety of issues.

EVs are great, IF, you can charge at home, and/or IF you can always charge where your destination is, but tiny ranges driving in LA where the chargers might be broken, you might have hills or a 2 hour traffic jam.. no thanks.

Sure, I’ll take a non-plug hybrid, but it’s either that or ICE for my next vehicle, and NOT a full EV.

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
1 month ago
Reply to  Karl Jacobs

I think you’re taking the wrong message from this article if you think that an old gen1 Leaf is in any way emblematic of…well basically any other EV out there.

The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
1 month ago
Reply to  Beasy Mist

an old gen1 Leaf is emblematic of the promise of what would happen to any EV that you’d own longer than a few years, especially in a state where it is hot all the time, which is more and more states each year.

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
1 month ago

You must not know, then, that a gen1 Leaf is the only one without active thermal management for the battery.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
1 month ago

I have an idea. What if we made cars that use some kind of fuel – maybe something liquid – that you could just dispense into an onboard container. It would be almost like using a charger but it would be done in just a couple of minutes.

The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
1 month ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

OK, Jezza.

Space
Space
1 month ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

Kerosene, great idea! Has anyone made a kerosene only production vehicle? I suppose a turbine vehicle could probably run on kerosene.

Turbeaux
Turbeaux
1 month ago

The line waiting for the charger makes me wonder if there should be “charging station valets” that can rotate the cars without you having to sit in line.

Karl Jacobs
Karl Jacobs
1 month ago
Reply to  Turbeaux

Sure, that’s great for the rich folks.. but.. for EVs to actually reach the supposed potential, they need to be suitable for working class folks that live in apartments without charging, and don’t need any extra EV fees.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
1 month ago

A key thing to note in the article of why your personal guestimating(and the cars) failed is inclines. Especially with very low capacity EVs, inclines are range killers.

So say in a 10 mile incline if you’re getting 3mpkwh on the flats, for sake of example say you’re only getting 2mpkwh up an incline, so 5kwh used on the way up where you’d normally have just used 3.3kwh on the flats. On the way back down you get most of that back but if you’ve only got 5kwh to play with…you don’t really have the ability to drive back down lol.

Maybe go back to your Jeepin’ roots and put an inclinometer on the Leaf with little notches for 2mpkwh/3mpkwh/4mpkwh to help with the guessing 🙂

Duke Woolworth
Duke Woolworth
1 month ago

Your EV history suggests a latent interest in self flagellation and lifelong masochism. I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on tv, but I have more than around the block mileage (1.5million of them).

The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
1 month ago
Reply to  Duke Woolworth

ain’t anything latent about his self flagellation, man

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago
Reply to  Duke Woolworth

It’s definitely not just his EV history. A Leaf with almost-unusably-short range is about par for the course for someone who bought an old Jeep that could barely make it up the passes on I-70, not one but two rolling hantavirus incubator FCs, and at one point owned 5 broken cars and zero running ones.

EVDesigner
EVDesigner
1 month ago

Although we don’t want to download apps, I’ve found that using those apps to check the charger status has been the best way to avoid broken chargers. Simply pulling into a parking lot because you see a charger isn’t the best of ideas (although Tesla/ICE owners would laugh at that)

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago
Reply to  EVDesigner

 Simply pulling into a parking lot because you see a charger isn’t the best of ideas (although Tesla/ICE owners would laugh at that)

That’s the point though. It needs to be like that.

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