With many EVs now boasting ranges of more than 200 miles per charge, it’s easier than ever before to go on a road trip. The only complication is that for all but the shortest road trips you’ll have to charge your vehicle. Calculating the cost of that can be tricky. There are multiple types of charger, multiple charging networks (some of which are proprietary), and the costs of electricity vary a lot from state to state.

In general, it will cost between $10 and $30 to charge your EV while on the road, depending on what level charger you are using. That makes the cost of an EV road trip comparable with that of the same journey in a regular (i.e., gas-powered) car. There are, however, plenty of factors that can complicate this apparently simple math.

Key Takeaways

  • Charging your EV at a commercial charger on a road trip, from almost empty to almost full, will normally cost between $10 and $30, when using a level 3 charger.
  • This cost can vary a lot, however, depending on a variety of factors—where you are, and what kind of chargers you use.
  • That can make the cost of a road trip in an EV higher than the cost of using a conventional vehicle. In order to limit costs, you should use apps like A Better Route Planner or PlugShare to plan a route that takes in charging stations, and use supermarket and hotel chargers when possible.

How to Charge an EV on a Road Trip

Most sources agree that the average cost of charging an EV at a commercial charger, from almost empty to almost full, is between $10 and $30. However, this headline figure can hide a lot of complexity. In other words, there are a number of factors that can affect how much it costs to charge your EV.

The first fact to recognize is that charging your EV on a road trip—that is, at a commercial charger—costs a lot more than charging it at home. How much more? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer, because fueling costs vary much more for EVs than for ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. This is caused by multiple factors:

  • Wide variation in electrical power costs. Commercial charger rates are often double or triple those of residential rates, and even commercial charger rates can vary more than 50% within the same network. In comparison, gas prices vary by about 10% or less.   
  • Charging speed varies with the type of charger, level of charge in the battery, temperature, and the working status of the charger. This can make the time it takes to charge your battery vary considerably as well.
  • Pricing at commercial chargers is often not directly comparable because there are different pricing systems. These are typically some combination of per kWh, per unit time, and per session costs. This produces charging costs that vary considerably when calculated on a per kWh basis—that is, when calculating the amount of charge you are getting for your dollar.

A second factor to consider is the type of charger your car accepts, and which you use. Not all EV chargers are the same. In fact, there are three different tiers:

  • Level one is the slowest and can take a full 24 hours to charge your car all the way up.   
  • Delivering a charge of up to 28 miles per hour, the cost for level 2 ranges from $1 to $5 an hour. Normally these types of charging stations are found at shopping centers.
  • Level three, also known as direct current fast chargers (DCFC), are the fastest. They can charge your battery to nearly full in as little as an hour and will charge between $10 to $30.

To make things even more complicated, Tesla has a proprietary network of chargers: The company calls them superchargers. The cost of using these chargers for your Tesla varies depending on location and various other factors, but it’s been calculated that the average cost is around $0.25 per kWh, so a full recharge to 250 miles of range would run approximately $22 (unless you purchased a Model S or Model X before January 2017, in which case, it’s free).

Fully charging your EV at a commercial charger on a road trip will cost somewhere between $10 and $30, depending on location and the kind of charger.

Saving Money on Your EV Road Trip

Things get even more complicated when we consider the extra time costs associated with finding a commercial charging station. If you don’t plan your road trip around the location of EV charging stations, you could spend a significant amount of time (and charge, and therefore money) driving out of your way to use one, and even more time waiting for your EV to charge. These deadhead miles can add to the cost of your trip, and charging times can make you less flexible than you’d like to be.

There are ways around this problem, however, and also ways of making the cost of your EV roadtrip more predictable. The most important is to plan your route so that you can visit chargers when you’ll need them, and plan your time while you wait for your EV to charge. There are plenty of tools available to help you with this. Teslas come with their own route planner, and you can use apps like A Better Route Planner or PlugShare. Google Maps can also be filtered to highlight EV charging stations.

There are also a number of other ways you can save money on EV charges while on a road trip:

  • Try to find charging stations with local accommodations, like restaurants or grocery stores, to make the most of your charging time.
  • Select hotels with charging stations. It’s often free, and you don’t have to go looking for a gas station in a strange city.   
  • Bring your charging cord, an extension cord, and adaptors if you have them. This will allow you to use a wider range of charging stations.

Finally, don’t try to fill up your battery at every charging station. Just get enough juice to get you comfortably to your next stop, so you can spend time enjoying your trip.

Can You Do a Big Road Trip in an Electric Car?

Absolutely. Many EVs now have ranges in excess of 200 miles, so with a little careful planning, you travel almost as freely as you can with a gas vehicle.

How Long Does It Take to Charge an EV on a Road Trip?

It depends on which kind of charger you use. Some chargers will take a full 24 hours to charge your EV, others can get you on the road again in under an hour.

How Do I Calculate My EV Road Trip Charging Cost?

It’s possible to estimate this manually, but the range of networks and prices can make it very difficult. Instead, use an app like EEVEE that can calculate the cost of charging, and show you chargers near you.

The Bottom Line

The cost of charging your EV on a road trip can vary a lot, but will generally be between $10 and $30. That can make the cost of a road trip in an EV higher than the cost in a conventional vehicle. In order to limit costs, you should use apps like A Better Route Planner or PlugShare to plan a route that takes in charging stations, and use supermarket and hotel chargers when possible.

Though the cost of EV road trips is comparable to those in conventional cars, the overall cost of ownership of an EV is much lower. A 2020 Consumer Reports study found that EV drivers can expect to save substantial amounts on both maintenance and fuel costs. It found that EVs cost half as much to maintain and that the savings when charging at home more than cancel out any charging costs on an occasional road trip.

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