How to Road Trip the Right Way With an Electric Car

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PLUGGING ALONG

Electric cars are no longer a novelty, though if you own one for commuting, you still might have anxiety about an extended road trip. The good news is, your electric car is gaining ground on old-fashioned gas-guzzlers when it comes to adventures on the highway. But you do have to know the rules of the road for electric cars so you're not left in the dust.

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MOBILE APPS ARE A MUST

If you drive long enough, you'll eventually bump into a gas station. The same, however, cannot yet be said for electric charging stations. Reliable apps are critical to all-electric road trips if you want to find a reliable supply of juice along the way. Go Electric Stations has indexed more than 100,000 stations. CarStations features a well-populated global map as well as station reports. Open Charge Map boasts more than 102,000 stations across more than 54,000 locations.

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CALL AHEAD

Once you've charted the charging stations along your route, call ahead -- even if your app says the station is reliable. Charging stations, which are privately owned by individuals or companies, are often hard to find even when your GPS directs you to the location. Their contact numbers should be listed on your app or can be found through a simple Google search. Ask about locks, entry codes, hours and days of operation, and turn-on instructions.

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LOOK FOR LEVEL 3 CHARGING STATIONS

Charging stations aren't all the same. Unless you're stopping overnight, seek out Level 3, or DC fast stations, which can charge a vehicle to about 80 percent in 30 minutes. Level 1 charging, which is the slowest option, adds just 2 to 5 miles of range per hour. Level 2 charging gives between 10 and 25 miles of range in an hour.

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CHARGING TIME: KNOW THE FORMULA

Depending on the car and the charging station, you could find yourself with wildly varying amounts of time to kill when it's time to power up. Luckily, there's a simple formula to find out the number of hours you'll need to charge from empty: Divide the rating of your car's battery pack by the lower of the charging station's output rate or your vehicle's acceptance rate.

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CHOOSE THE RIGHT ACCOUNT(S)

The charging level you'll have access to depends on the charging-station provider plan you buy. Popular providers like EVgo charge $20 a month plus 20 cents per minute for DC fast charging, or $6 a month plus $1 an hour for level 2. There's also a Level 2 flex plan with no monthly fee and a charging rate of $1.50 an hour.

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KNOW -- BUT NEVER TEST -- YOUR RANGE

When on the road, schedule charges that don't force your car to the limits of its range. Know your car's maximum range and schedule charges well before. The $32,250 Kia Soul EV has a range of 93 miles. The $30,680 Nissan Leaf base model can travel 84 miles on a full battery.

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REMEMBER THE 80 PERCENT RULE

It takes much longer for the battery to absorb energy in the last 20 percent of a charge. Unless you absolutely can't make it to the next reliable station without the last 20 percent, charge your battery only to 80 percent and move on to save both time and money. Multiple fast charges are the key to electric road trip success.

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MIND YOUR MANNERS

There are far fewer charging stations than there are gas pumps, and etiquette is important. Move your car to a regular parking spot after you're finished charging. Never unplug someone else's car to charge your own if someone is in front of you. At Level 2 stations, leave a note with your cell phone number so drivers facing emergencies can ask you to come unplug.

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MIND YOUR MOUNTAINS

Climbing saps electric vehicle batteries faster than regular driving. If your road trip involves travel through mountains, hills or other steep inclines, space your scheduled charges much closer together until you get a feel for how your battery responds to the extra exertion.

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USE REGENERATIVE BRAKING

Your electric car dedicates significant battery power to braking. By turning on your vehicle's regenerative braking system, the car actually reverses the effect and adds power to the battery -- or regenerates -- when you hit the brakes. The best systems can capture upward of 70 percent of the energy that would be squandered with traditional braking.

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SLOW DOWN

When you drive slower, your battery lasts longer. By slowing down, you'll have to stop less frequently to recharge and actually get to your destination faster.