Destinations

Top electric car rental tips I learned on an epic road trip

A short road trip through the Colorado Rockies turned into an unexpected EV test driveA short road trip through the Colorado Rockies turned into an unexpected EV test drive — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Picture the thrill of the open road, the allure of adventure beckoning at every turn — this is the preferred mode of travel for my husband and me. Yet, our recent journey through the majestic Colorado Rockies took an unexpected twist when the car rental agency handed me the keys to an electric vehicle (EV).

Road-tripping in an electric car rental? This was uncharted territory for us. We had never even driven an EV before. But with climate change urging us toward greener choices, I saw this as an opportunity to embrace the future on four wheels.

Would we end up stranded on a remote mountain pass, pleading with a dead battery? There was only one way to find out. Here’s what we learned when we rented an electric car for our Colorado road trip.

Electric car rental basics

Our electric rental was a sleek and fully loaded Kia EV6Our electric rental was a sleek and fully loaded Kia EV6 — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

With major car rental companies expanding their fleets to include electric options, now is the best time to take an EV for a road trip. Whether you opt for the iconic Tesla or explore other models like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan LEAF, or Kia Niro, an electric car rental offers a glimpse into the future of transportation.

Besides the make, the most crucial factors to consider are range and charging speed. In general, the longer the range and the faster the charge, the smoother the road trip. Worried about power? Fear not! Our compact SUV handled steep curves like a pro.

In the end, road-tripping in an EV isn’t just about getting from point A to B; it’s about embracing a cleaner, more sustainable way to explore the open road. With a little planning, road trips in an EV are easy and budget-friendly.

What it’s like driving an EV

Envision the serene hum of tires on pavement, the whisper-quiet glide through awe-inspiring landscapes. The ride in this electric car rental was remarkably tranquil. No rumbling engines; just the gentle hush of rubber meeting road. Yet, when the need arose, there was instant acceleration.

As we traversed silently through breathtaking scenery, we felt like eco-warriors. The Rockies, the forests, and the winding roads were all ours to explore guilt-free.

Our EV was a tech-lovers dream with advanced features like the 3D digital dashboard. It was our trusted guide, offering real-time updates on battery charge levels and remaining mileage, ensuring we stayed on course. However, the specter of range anxiety loomed. What if we couldn’t find a charging station?

EV charging station strategies

We spied a rainbow over the open road in our EV near Phippsburg, ColoradoWe spied a rainbow over the open road in our EV near Phippsburg, Colorado — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Little did we know not all charging stations are created equal, and navigating the charging landscape became an unexpected adventure. Setting off from Denver and driving west, our first stop in Vail swiftly became a quest for power. Realizing that our battery would not last until our destination in Glenwood Springs, we scoured the area for a charging station.

After circling a parking lot, we stumbled upon a charging station. The plug slid into the socket seamlessly, and to our delight, the charge was free! As we plugged in, we marveled at the convenience of modern technology, with a QR code leading us to a smartphone app that provided real-time charging updates. However, our excitement waned as we discovered the painfully slow charging speed — a daunting 12 hours awaited us.

While exploring Vail, taking in the scenic offerings, and indulging in a leisurely lunch, our charging speed suddenly doubled. Turns out, sharing isn’t always caring — especially when it comes to chargers. Lesson learned: If you need a fast charge, don’t share a charger, as sharing slows down the process.

Planning a route with an electric car rental

Downtown Vail is a picturesque spot for an EV road trip pit stop, especially for the free parkingDowntown Vail is a picturesque spot for an EV road trip pit stop, especially for the free parking — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Arriving in Glenwood Springs without further incident, we found a much faster charging station in a shopping center parking lot. In a mere 20 minutes, we juiced up to the advised 80% with a refreshed range of approximately 350 miles, and our journey was back on track.

Luck got us this far, but we realized we needed to adjust our route to accommodate the need for charging stations. The next day, our route took us along the Flat Tops Trail, a scenic byway that showcases some of the most remote areas in the Rockies. An ideal way to view pristine scenery and wildlife, this route is not for the faint of heart, with only about half of the 82-mile distance paved, lots of steep terrain and hairpin turns — and no charging stations.

Doing some mileage calculations, we realized that even though most of our route was remote, we should be able to complete it with room to spare. We set out with some trepidation, but we made it to our destination of Steamboat Springs with 50 miles of charge to spare. Also, our EV navigated the difficult terrain beautifully!

After that, we only needed one more full charge before returning to Denver, and our subsequent explorations of Steamboat Springs and Grand Lake went off without a hitch.

Things to know when you rent an electric car

Colorado's Flat Tops Scenic Byway is a remote 82-mile, partially paved road that includes the White River National ForestColorado’s Flat Tops Scenic Byway is a remote 82-mile, partially paved road that includes the White River National Forest — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

In Denver, we found ourselves in a grocery store parking lot waiting for a charger in the pouring rain. We had to give the EV a partial charge before returning it. (Like a gas car, you must return an EV rental at the same power level when you rented it.)

As we waited, we came up with several questions that others might have when renting an electric car for a road trip. Here’s what we discovered.

What is good charging station etiquette? There is nothing worse than a charging station hog! Rule of thumb: Don’t overstay your charge. Be courteous to fellow EV drivers. And don’t yank their plug — that’s not cool.

Is it dangerous to charge in the rain? Charging in the rain won’t turn you into a human lightning rod. Manufacturers wrap charging cables in watertight insulation. No water seeps into your EV. Science is magic.

Is there an environmental impact? Zero tailpipe emissions mean cleaner air and happier lungs. Plus, it smells better. Seriously, there are no exhaust fumes.

Is charging cheaper than gas? Mile for mile, charging an EV is generally cheaper than refueling a gas guzzler. But beware of the free charging stations. Many are slow and susceptible to station hogs. Fast chargers are like espresso shots for your EV but they cost more.

What happens when the EV runs out of charge? You get a warning when your EV has 20% power left, and some cars even list the nearest charging station. As the charge dwindles, the EV will go into conservation mode. That slows you to a sloth-like pace, but you keep moving — even past 0% charge.

Yes, but what happens if you have no charge and are stuck on the side of the road? The good news is some tow trucks come armed with portable chargers that immediately get you up and running. The bad news is that many don’t. If there is no portable charger, the EV has to be flat towed to the nearest charging station.

Will the EV stop charging in the cold? Winter’s icy grip won’t stop you, but it can slow you down. Newer EVs can “precondition” their batteries — like a warmup before a workout. But there’s no getting around the fact that cold temps shrink your range.

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