Gas vs. Electric Road Trip

Three weeks ago I talked about why, although I was excited to be getting a Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck, I was also glad that at the moment we still will have a gas-powered car for longer trips, because the powering infrastructure for electric vehicles (particularly non-Tesla vehicles) isn’t quite where it should be. Day to day, presuming one is powering up at home, electric vehicles are going to be great; going anywhere over any significant distance is still going to have its challenges.

As if reading my mind (or at least, my post), Marques Brownlee has posted a video about taking two electric cars (and a gas-powered car as a control) on a two-day, 1000-mile road trip. One of the electric cars is a Tesla, the other a Ford, and the video goes into the experience for each, as well as for the gas car. Unsurprisingly to me, the Ford, with the less-integrated charging system, experienced some significant hiccups in completing the journey. It still did, mind you, just far behind the time of the Tesla and the gas-powered auto, which of course was able to gas up just about anywhere.

This does not dissuade me from getting that F-150 Lightning! I think it will be worth the investment, and the problems noted will almost certainly addressed over the life of the vehicle. But, yeah. For the first couple of years at least, if we go long, we’ll probably end up taking the Mini.

— JS

30 Comments on “Gas vs. Electric Road Trip”

  1. We live in the city with no off-street parking and I don’t really know how we’d do an electric car. If you have a garage or parking space with a plug, that’s great – most of our trips are short and full electric would be fantastic. But if I have to drive somewhere and then sit while the car recharges, that’s a significant barrier to going electric, and I think a lot of city-dwellers are in the same boat. And rarely have I seen anyone talking about this when they’re gushing about how electric cars will save us from climate change.

  2. “investment”? I am moved to quibble ….

    Check the resale value after you drive it off the lot. Did it go up from what you paid for it?

    Hey, maybe it is an investment, if they’re scarce on the ground.

  3. For some reason, this piece made me think of Mad Max/The Road Warrior, with electronica couture instead of all the steampunk…

  4. You are an influencer. If you decide to stop using a vehicle that emits greenhouse gas, others will make the same choice.

    Charging networks are getting better fast. Soon the only challenge to a road trip in an EV will be deciding which audio book to listen to while it’s charging.

  5. I’d buy a Tesla if I were me, which it happens I am. And being me, I own a Tesla.

    But the charging infrastructure is growing, and it will be better than it is now when you take delivery of your Lightning. Also Tesla will soon sell adapters that let your charge your vehicle at Tesla Superchargers if you want.

    And you’ll likely have this truck for years, and the travel situation will continue to improve.

  6. Soon the only challenge to a road trip in an EV will be deciding which audio book to listen to while it’s charging.

    Which is going to be a non-starter for some people. Taking a minute to pump gas vs. waiting for a while to charge the vehicle is a change in the overall cadence of travel and some people aren’t going to go for it.

  7. One of the big secrets of EV charging is that there are chargers all over the place, especially in areas where the number of traditional chargers are few: RV campgrounds. KOAs and similar campgrounds have rows and rows of fully functional 50 amp and 30 amp chargers, and most are happy to let you charge for a little cash.

    Maybe you’ll pay more and charge slower than you would at the high-speed charging stall in town–assuming it is working, available, and you can find it–but you’ll also likely be in a much prettier place complete with trails, dog walks, clean restrooms, a rustic cafe, and maybe even cabins should you decide to stay the night.

    This big secret is protected by swarms of well-intentioned and loudly misinformed “experts”, most of whom are elderly and Facebook-educated. (Sound familiar?) They will be delighted to expound at length on how EVs will short out the electric pedestals, brown out the campground network, then catch fire and burn down the whole works. Never mind that their 50′ RV with 4 air conditioners is sucking more juice per hour than your EV will use total.

    Anyway, having a couple of adapters in the trunk, a NEMA 14-50 (the same plug used for electric stoves and dryers in addition to “50 amp” RV pedestals) and a TT-30 (the ubiquitous RV “30 amp” plug) will unlock a whole new world of charging opportunities.

  8. We are frequent Tesla road trippers. (Model 3 long range) We’ve got the supercharger stop down to where the car is ready before two adults and one dog have relieved ourselves and bought some snacks. The dog is the slowpoke, even though he doesn’t buy snacks.

    I kind of hate Elon’s public persona, but he did have the foresight to build and integrate the infrastructure his cars need to succeed. VW Group made an attempt with Electrify America, but they still don’t think their survival depends on chargers.

    And yeah, we’ll consider a non-Tesla EV for our second car when the MINI retires. No need for two cross-country cars.

  9. I’ve been looking at the Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid, maybe buying a Certified pre-owned one or leasing one for two years.

    Our present car is Honda Pilot which made sense back when Tammy was going to be on the road for about 60-90 days/year going to cons and public events, but is just a gas guzzler now that those have gone by the wayside.

  10. “Taking a minute to pump gas vs. waiting for a while to charge the vehicle is a change in the overall cadence of travel and some people aren’t going to go for it.”

    If you can disregard what pumping gas is doing to the atmosphere then the cadence of your travel becomes an important concern.

  11. @Aaron,

    Most people only do a few trips a year that are more than one charge in one-way duration. Those trips would be slightly faster in an IC car, though when you factor in meals and bio-breaks, not that much faster – maybe 20-30 minutes over a long day of driving.

    However, during the rest of the year, most EV owners don’t have to visit a supercharger at all, just charge the car at home overnight once or twice a week. So they save 5-10 minutes a week vs. the IC car, which has to visit a gas station.

    So overall, most people will spend less time “fueling” an EV than an IC.

    The key question when considering an EV right now is not “Will I be able to conveniently charge during a long trip?”, but “Can I conveniently charge where I live?” Because that is where 95%+ of your electrons will come from.

  12. @ TimeLiebe. We love our Clarity plug-in hybrid. It’s a really nice car. Though for long road trips I think if we ever go on one again we will take my hybrid insight instead because it’s so much lighter and the electric from the clarity runs out and switches to gas long before a full day of driving is up. It’s great for around town driving though.

  13. I see pure electric being more of a niche market than hybrids. Not sure what will/might change that.

  14. I have friends who has a house in Louisiana and one in Pennsylvania. They make the trip from one house to the other 2 or 3 times a year at least. The last two round trips have been in a Chevy Bolt. They don’t really have any issues making the trip.
    Last week they did a hurricane evacuation to Texas and back, also using the Bolt, no problems.

  15. Thanks for that John.
    The past couple of years we have put very few miles on our two vehicles. I put less than 6000 miles on my Ranger pickup in the last year and our new Chevy Equinox of 6 months has just 1500 miles on it.
    I would seriously love to purchase an electric vehicle. I considered a Chevy Volt but given the battery problems that were recently reported, we’ll wait and see on that.

  16. @JS:

    I’ve never commented before but wanted to pipe up. Great that you’re able and willing to switch to an EV. I think it’s important to remember that EVs are no panacea for the climate: unless you live somewhere with very clean electricity, your electric F150 is almost certainly going to be worse in carbon emissions than a normal small petrol-engined car, not to mention the embedded emissions of building such a big car.

  17. I took my new Tesla Model 3 for a day-trip Montréal-Toronto-Montréal, about 1200km or 750 miles.
    If I remove the three hours spent in Toronto gaping at the CN tower and climbing it, the trip took 14 hours including the charge time. I also saved about 40 minutes of charging time by parking in a lot with free level 2 charging while visiting the tower.
    Long trips in electric? Hell yeah.

  18. The key question for me remains, will the vehicle handle nasty rutted gravel or dirt National Forest roads without bottoming out on high spots while hauling five or six adults, four or five hundred-pound hang gliders and associated gear.

    I’ve scraped the undercarriage on the old Tercel or more recent Forester (with aftermarket skid plate and differential protector) enough times to make me rather concerned about crushing an EV battery pack and catching fire.

    But yeah, that’s not everybody’s situation.

  19. Here to add concurrence to the folks who have no problem with long trips in EVs. Every year I drive 12 hours from Maryland to Maine (and 12 more coming back, though I wish I could stay there). The last two years have been in a Tesla Model Y. The total additional time was between 10 and 15 minutes, and that’s only if you assume we would have eaten lunch while driving in the gasser. Which I prefer not to do, although the TACC and lanekeeping in the Tesla is good enough that I could.

    As others have pointed out, the car is fueling while you use the restroom, stretch, get a coffee, and literally everything else you’re doing while stopped. At a typical stop for me at least, all that stuff takes over 10 minutes. In a gas car, you then have to spend 5 more minutes fueling, while for me I get enough charge in that 10 minutes to go another 2 and a half hours, by which time I’m ready to stop again. Maybe I spend an extra 1 or 2 minutes, depending on where I’d rather stop next. Still in most cases shorter than doing all that and then getting gas. I make more stops, but they’re shorter.

    So yes, if you’re in “go-like-hell” mode, you can get there faster in an ICE car. If you want to enjoy the ride and arrive unfrazzled, EV wins hands-down. With the Supercharger network, the time is almost the same and it’s a much more pleasant ride. After 12 hours the quiet of an EV really makes a difference. Also, Tesla will be opening up the Supercharger network to other makes sometime this fall or winter, at which point everyone gets that win.

  20. I’ve been riding to work at UT-Austin every morning on electric buses. Capitol Metro the Austin city transit system is currently transitioning their entire fleet with electric buses. In fact, many major urban transit systems are going electric. The ride is smooth, clean, and quiet.

    I’m not a very crazy about taking road trips in cars. I’ve driven from San Antonio, Texas to Flint, Michigan (and back) twice, once in the winter and once in the summer, both times were long and grueling in their own way. I find road trips of 50 to 75 miles (or town to town) are more tolerable. Current electric cars can easily do a round trip from Flint, Michigan to Ann Arbor, Michigan or Austin, Texas to San Antonio, Texas on a single charge.

    It seems to be a matter of charging stations and battery capacity; both appear to be advancing. The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will improve the number of charging stations across the country and upgrade the US power grid with more renewable energy assets.

  21. You might be interested in a similar experiment I ran in Western Canada: and following up, (on why “how much range?” is the wrong question). I think MKBHD kinda buried the lead, which is that there are serious reliability problems in the public charging network. Not inevitable, since Tesla has figured out how to keep chargers on the air.

  22. The only thing I would personally have against the F-150 truck and would suggest you both of y’all test out is the visibility in the front and to the sides. The recent truck designs have been linked to more pedestrian and cyclist deaths[1][2]. I tend to find the appeal to middle-aged folks to be that it offers them ‘protection’ vs others on the road (smaller cars and the aforementioned non-cars). On a further personal note, I don’t see the point of having a truck unless there’s actual stuff to use the bed for. Otherwise, a nice sedan for equivalent or cheaper does the job.



  23. So, I have a Prius Prime, a plug in hybrid. It has a tiny range, only 25 miles. Yet, it’s kind of a gateway drug for EV cars. I have a Mustang Mach-E on order. Yes, charging can be a challenge on long road trips. It requires some advance planning. But there are apps (Plug Share, and A Better Route Planner, plus apps for all the individual brands of chargers out there) that make it MUCH easier.
    With the Prime, I try to plan my charging stops around meals, if I can. I suspect that the secret with the Mach E will be to charge early and often, and look for hotels with or near EV charging stations, since a full charge will get me nearly five hours down the road, which is just about as far as I care to drive in a day. It will also get easier as time goes by. More and more charging stations are cropping up all over the country.
    Also, for me, road trips are about enjoying the drive, not getting there as fast as possible, so an extra stop or two are not a big deal. I also keep a little scooter in the back of my car, so that if a charger is not convenient to a restaurant, or whatever, I have a faster way to get there than my feet.

  24. Okay, watched the video. One problem that I have with the Mach-E is that they ONLY relied on the in-car reporting on chargers. I use PlugShare, and A Better Route Planner, and that gives me much more information about the state of the chargers on the road. Plus, they only used Electrify America chargers, when there are lots of other compatible brands of charger out there.

  25. So, for those of you out there who are nervous about EV range, you might consider a plug-in hybrid. I love my Prius Prime, though I will be upgrading to an EV only Mustang Mach-E.
    The plug-in hybrids generally sip gas through an eye dropper in town, since those are mostly short trips. I AVERAGE about 1200 miles per tank of gas in my Prius Prime, and my best miles per tank record was 3,300. Out on the highway, my Prime performs about as well, or slightly better than a regular Prius, depending on whether I can find a convenient charger. If I can’t, no sweat, the ICE engine will get me there, no problem.
    So, if you’re nervous about getting a full EV car, consider the plug-in hybrid option.

  26. electric for long trips works great if you’re retired or independently wealthy. For cubicle wage slaves like me who have to eke out every scrap of vacation hour, they are completely impractical. Gig workers and others paid by the hour have the same problem.

    Two examples:
    1. over the hill from Denver to the west slope, where we have a yurt. It’s 4 hrs by ICE. By Tesla it’s 6-8 hours. Now the trip doesn’t make sense for a weekend.
    2. to college to see orchestra, swim meets, etc. By ICE it’s 12 hrs, drivable in a long day. I priced it out using Tesla’s estimator, which is a best case scenario as you say. Now it’s 17 hours, which means two days and an overnight somewhere, four days in all. Not practical for a long weekend even.

    The other things I use my ICE for are various back country canoe/fish/backpack trips, most of which end up 50-100 miles from the nearest charging station. None of this is currently or foreseeably possible with an electric car.
    Of course all that is purely recreational, I do have a hard time justifying it. On the other hand all that also keeps me within hailing distance of sane, close enough to be not entirely useless during the work week..

  27. Doug K, I don’t know where you’re getting those numbers, but they’re way off. No way do you need 4 hours of charging for a 4 hour trip. And my 12 hour trip that I’ve been taking for years takes me 12 hours and 10 minutes in my Model Y.

  28. Since hubby & I live out in nowhere, our next car will be a plug-in hybrid. We’re looking at a Ford sedan if it will hold my wheelchair and extras in the trunk. By the time we’re done with that car, we figure the infrastructure will be good enough for a full EV. Having solar panels & batteries means cheap recharging at home.

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