Learning How to Drive an EV in Three Easy Steps
May 20, 2022
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
As a former corporate communications professional in the energy industry, Sheila helped educate external audiences on the potential and value of current and future technologies for powering our planet. Today, she is a freelance writer and student still exploring how people can live in harmony with the planet we inhabit
On any given day as you drive down the road, it is more commonplace than ever to see an electric vehicle (EV) pass you by or drive up next to you. However, those who have actually experienced driving in one are still a vast minority of our country’s licensed drivers. Because, in a lot of unexpected ways, driving an EV can be different from driving a conventional combustion engine vehicle, I believe that easing into it can be beneficial.
I perhaps started earlier than most in my interest in driving an electric car. I worked for a company that was in the energy industry, and they had started to explore the market for EVs and the infrastructure that it would take to support such a market. In addition, quite by chance, I saw the movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Those two factors started it all for me.
As I went shopping for a new car in 2009, I was determined to get a plug-in car. Unfortunately, my desire and automobile needs did not match the market. There were very few models to choose from and none with the range and/or price tag that met my requirements. Disappointed, I consoled myself by purchasing a small combustion engine car that got very good gas mileage.
Fast forward to 2014, and I was back in the market for a car. While the choices were much wider, most fully electric vehicles still had major range restrictions. As a working mother of two, I was often driving hundreds of miles a week to and from school, practices, friends’ houses, Girl Scouts meetings and camps, and company offices around the state. After quite a bit of research and a few test drives, it became apparent that I still could not go fully electric, but I happily purchased a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). I diligently tracked my trips to the gas station and went to bed with a smile on my face on the days that I never got off of the EV battery for my car’s power. I celebrated with friends on social media when my car’s dashboard reported that I was averaging 90 miles to every gallon of gas that I consumed. And I went weeks and weeks without visiting a gas station.
As the evolution of the EV market has continued, so has my purchasing power. And finally, in 2021, I was able to buy my first fully electric car – the Chevy Bolt. Nine months into being an EV driver, it is everything I had hoped. I truly have no idea what gas prices are. I never look at stations when I pass by. If something happens to a gas pipe or a storm takes down the supply in another part of the country, it means nothing to me. There are no oil changes or maintenance. (Although as I write this, I wonder when I should get my tires rotated.)
If anything, getting my first fully electric vehicle was a bit anticlimactic. After driving a PHEV, I found very little difference between that and a fully electric vehicle. Perhaps the only adjustment I had to make came when I took my first drive to the beach, 2 ½ hours away. There was ensuring the battery was full before I left, and then the “range anxiety” kicked in when I was still a half hour away, and I wasn’t sure my battery was going to have enough juice to get me to my destination. (It did, by the way, with 27 miles to spare.)
So, my 12-year odyssey to become an EV driver has left me with some knowledge and advice for those who may be on the same journey to become a fully electric vehicle owner and operator.
STEP 1: Commitment
Unlike me who was looking to drive an EV before ever seeing one on the road, today’s EV hopefuls have the perks of many resources. There are an increasing number of people to ask, articles written about EVs, and numerous car models of varying shapes, sizes, and battery ranges. But, even with all that, you need to know that driving an EV will be different. And you need to be open-minded and ready to embrace the differences. Think about how long ago it was when you first learned to drive. It took getting used to. A lot of practice and some mistakes along the way. Now, it won’t take as long to get used to an EV. It is still a car, after all, and you know how to drive one of those. But there are differences, and like anything, they will take time to learn. Most are small, and you may not even notice them right away. So, to make your experience positive, I suggest dropping the compare/contrast thing our minds always want to do with something new and just accept each EV lesson with open curiosity.
STEP 2: Training Wheels
I am a huge fan of PHEVs. I think they are the perfect training wheels for the rookie EV driver. As my C-Max Energi was for me, PHEVs can be for others. They accomplish so many positives for the novice EV driver without all the range anxiety and pre-trip battery charging that fully electric vehicles require. Specifically:
- They make the driver feel like they are helping the environment by encouraging them to stay on their battery as much as possible, thereby avoiding frequent trips to the gas station and reducing oil changes.
- They teach the EV driver in training about important things like the location of charging stations around the city, how to brake gradually to allow power to be returned to your car’s battery, and what kind of at-home charging situation works best for them.
- They also educate you on the intricacies of batteries, such as how quickly they charge in the cold versus hot weather, how much they store in cold versus hot weather, and how various systems in the car affect them when used (e.g., turning on heat or air conditioning will drain batteries faster).
STEP 3: Nothing but Plug
Of course, anyone can jump right to Step 3 and go fully electric right off the bat. Plenty of people have done it. Just remember Step 1 as you encounter subtle surprises behind the EV wheel. I couldn’t possibly name all the adjustments you have to make, but here are a couple:
- EVs have very fast pickup. It took me some time to get used to this with my Chevy Bolt. And there were a couple times in the early days when I took turns on two wheels because I was going too fast.
- There is a lot of information on your dashboard. In addition to the usual stuff (speed, how full your battery is, whether your lights are on, etc.), the car may also be telling you how well your braking is “regenerating” miles to your battery. My Ford C-Max used to give me a score each time I brought my car to a full stop. In my eyes, anything below a 90 was upsetting.
- Unlike a gas car, you will not play the “how long can I drive on fumes” game. Most EV drivers simply charge when they can. Running into Target, plug in and get 10-20 miles added to the battery. Going to bed at night, plug in. You don’t need to “fill up” every time you charge. It’s more the mindset of charging when you can so your battery is always ready to get you where you need to go.
Change always brings a combination of excitement and fear. But take comfort in the fact that I have spoken to many EV drivers over the last five to six years and have yet to encounter one who wants to ever drive a combustion engine vehicle again. The word used most when describing their cars has been “love.” They love their EV, and that goes double for me!