EV: Getting it wrong

This is a little additional post, following my experiences where I got a range calculation very wrong. It isn’t part of the main roadtrip, but a separate trip I undertook after a day of rest.

Firstly, I had to get to Cannock, which is 102 miles away. I’d been out the night before and as I don’t have a home charger, I’d plugged the car in when I got home at 10:45pm. When I went to leave at 9am the next morning, the car was still charging. This is the downside of a bigger battery – it takes longer to charge up! Most LEAF owners will have a fast charger at home, which should charge a LEAF up in just a few hours, depending on which charger is fitted to the car.

However, I had over 100 miles of range, so off I set. As the journey went on, I began to realise that while I could make it to my destination, I probably wouldn’t have much left ‘in the tank’ when I got there. I suspected my chums would want to have a quick ride in the car, so stopped at Telford for a quick ten-minute charge. That took the battery back up to 51%, putting in 7.2kwh of juice.

A joyful morning was spent watching awful cars fetching baffling amounts of money at a car auction before I headed off for the next leg. A friend had offered me a set of wheels and tyres for my 2CV Project, so I now headed south to Stow-On-The-Wold in the Cotswolds. Hilton Park services on the M6 was handily placed, so I headed there for a charge-up. Sadly, I utterly failed to remember how much juice I put in, but I felt it was comfortably enough to get to Stow, then to proceed to Strensham Services on the M5.

Cruising around The Cotswolds was truly joyous. I risked ruining the aerodynamics by opening the windows as I whispered along the lanes. With the tyres and wheels collected, all of which fitted in the generous boot, I headed for the M5, where I arrived with 13% battery remaining. I suspect the enormous 50mph section through the M5’s roadworks helped the range a great deal!

I’d checked the status of the chargers before I set off, but forgot that one of the Strensham chargers is offline. I spent several frustrating minutes trying to get it to work before giving up. Sadly, there was a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at the other charger, and the display indicated it hadn’t been there long. Some EV owners get angry about these hybrids, as they don’t HAVE to charge up – the joy of still having an actual engine. I’m not like that. Electricity helps improve the economy, so it could be argued they’re just as welcome at the chargers as EVs.

After about ten minutes, the owners came back. I suspect they would have liked to keep charging, but they were kind and let me take over. I had to fend off another PHEV that had just arrived, but they were kind and understanding too.

I now had a long wait, so spent some time reading the owners’ manuals and cursing the fact that motorway tea costs £2.50. Disgraceful. I refused to partake and stuck with water. After exactly 39 minutes, I was a bit fed up. The battery was at 85% and the range was showing as 111 miles. The distance to home? 99 miles. I’ll concede that after our first long trip of 98 miles, I may have got a bit over confident. After all, that trip was with a battery at 100%…

Things get scary

It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was in a spot of bother. I think it was after about 20 miles that I realised this was going to be a struggle. You see, the route from Worcester to Wales feels like it’s almost entirely uphill! I felt ok with 15 miles between range and distance to cover, but that gap soon began to close up. I started to deploy the first stage of panic stations. No air con and letting the speed drop by 10-15mph going up hills. I limited to the top speed to 53mph (a realistic 50). For some time, range and distance remained near-identical. I’d drop into negative figures when climbing, but would get miles back coming down the other side. Not enough though.

My back muscles began to tense, and an uncomfortable feeling developed in my stomach. Ah yes. My old friend range anxiety! I desperately tried to conserve momentum, using racing lines to try and keep my speed up through bends. My economy went up, so it was having some effect. Would it be enough though? Approaching Leominster, things were getting so worrying that I refused to overtake a tractor.

The anxiety was extra bad because I’d stupidly left the 13amp charge cable at home. That meant that it was impossible for me to just find a kindly person to pinch some electricity from. My only option was to push on for home. After Kington, there’s an awfully steep climb before reaching Pen-y-Bont. I allowed the speed to drop to 30mph, despite the 60mph limit. As we came down the other side, I allowed my speed to build, pressing the throttle enough to cancel the regen, but not so much that power was used to build speed up. Regen was employed for sharp turns, but my speed was still very low. I couldn’t build up enough momentum and was soon on the power again.

The range continued to sit at a lower figure than the miles remaining as I headed toward Rhayader. I’d turned the speed limiter off at this point. I’d control the pace and keep it slow as I climbed, but if I could get up to 60mph going downhill without using power, I would, employing the subsequent regen before the inevitable bends, but only slowing down just enough to get around the bend. The aim was to avoid heavy acceleration on the exit.

As we snaked along the A470, I was starting to think this was hopeless. I had 18 miles still to go, but only 14 miles of range. My speed dropped to 40mph and I nervously kept watch on the rear-view mirror. People who overtook must have ended up thinking that these electric cars are hopelessly slow!

At Llangurig, I had 13 miles to go, but now just ten miles of range. I also had to climb over the Cambrian Mountains again. I called home and requested emergency help! Rachel dashed to the garage, grabbed the 13amp charging cable and hopped in her Perodua Nippa to come to the rescue. I pushed on. Would I actually get to find out what it feels like to run out of juice?

Even the LEAF was worried. Not that it could find any charging stations in mid-Wales!

Even the LEAF was worried. Not that it could find any charging stations in mid-Wales!

By now, I was doing 30mph as an absolute maximum, and even less when climbing. Thankfully, it was after 8pm at night, and traffic levels were very low. The range kept dropping. With 11 miles to go, the range dropped first to 8 miles, then went blank. It was refusing to tell me how far I could now go. I checked the battery level. That also was refusing to tell me how much was left. My back was no longer touching the seat because I was so tense!

However, owning a 2CV means I know a few tricks about conserving momentum. It’s about being as smooth as possible. I continued to use racing lines, and allowed speed to build when gravity could assist. I eased the car over the crest at Eisteddfa Gurig and allowed myself a smile. Now, I had a fighting chance. The road immediately began to drop steeply. Balancing the throttle, I allowed the car to get up to 60mph, before employing medium regen. I’ve no idea how much power I generated on this section of slopes, but we were still moving. Excellent.

Fuel light roulette, EV style.

Fuel light roulette, EV style.

I then reached the ‘splash road,’ or the B4343 as it is known on maps. This was another steep climb, but no traffic was approaching, and I could crawl up at 20mph. A flying Perodua came towards me – the rescue team! However, there were now just four miles to go, and once I crested the hill at Parcgwyn, I knew it was mostly downhill.

Arriving at Devil’s Bridge, I felt much calmer. If the battery level was dangerously low, the LEAF would have gone into ‘turtle’ mode, where it really cuts back on the power. I still had a small hill to climb, and the car did it easily.

But I’d done it! I managed to coax the car home. The relief was palpable. I’d managed to cover 11 miles with dire warnings of extremely low battery level, in hilly terrain.

Made it! Phew. Back home.

Made it! Phew. Back home.

In conclusion, this highlights the problem with living in rural Wales. There just aren’t any charging options. At all. Stay close to the motorway network and range anxiety just isn’t really an issue. Departing from it is still a bit of a leap of faith though, and it must be said, driving with range anxiety is no fun at all. This is exactly the opposite of joyful motoring, though it does also remind me how much fuel is used to keep speed up on hills, and to accelerate away from bends.

Just one rapid charger along the length of the A44 would have taken the stress away. A ten-minute charge would have been plenty. Then I could actually have enjoyed this great driving road, because the LEAF handles well, rides well and is actually very pleasant to drive. The infrastructure has improved hugely in the 2.5 years since I last tested a LEAF, and none of the long trips I have made this time were even remotely possible back then. This was my second 300-mile day in the LEAF, taking me to 720 miles covered in just three days of driving. It proves that electric vehicles are viable, but I have also proved that when it comes to Wales, issues do remain.

2 thoughts on “EV: Getting it wrong

  1. Viable, if you have no time constraints in your life, at all. Plus driving at 30 in a 60 needs a almost sociopathic attitude. I wonder how long it will be before there is violence between ev owners at a charging point. I will be watching the headlines with interest.

    • I can’t disagree. Pained me to drive that slowly. Chargers are increasing in number, but so are the number of cars that can plug in to them. I think there have been a few incidents where major fallings out have happened – notably when EVs park in the bays when they’re not even charging! Rightly causes upset. Also a debate on whether it’s ok to disconnect a fully-charged EV so you can use the charger.

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