Now that I have a fully electric car, it is rather important that the charging works every time. Having had an electric charging point in my garage for approximately six and a half years, it suddenly stopped working one evening last week. I had used it for two different models of hybrid car and had the plug end changed for one of them. It had also stopped working once before, but was quickly repaired. In all the years that I have had my garage charger, I had only needed to charge up once on a public device. I generally managed with friends or family to either use their chargers or a 3-pin plug overnight.
The first time I had ‘range anxiety’ I was in another county with only 60 miles worth of electric power and 120 miles to get to my destination. I did look up some possible charging sites, but I couldn’t find out what types of chargers and plugs they had. Fortunately, the people at the Airbnb where I stayed were really friendly and allowed me to use the nearest 13-amp socket and trail the cable through the window. By the morning, I had enough battery power to get home.
At the Park and Ride
This time, when my garage charger no longer worked, I had to find out whether the car or the charger was at fault. I resorted to my local Park and Ride, which has several fast chargers, several normal chargers and masses of Tesla chargers. It is now a game, like Bingo, to find the plug that fits into your car at a public charging point. The only common one is the good old 3-pin electric plug, but that takes all night and more to charge your hybrid or all-electric car. I fear that non-Tesla people cannot use the Tesla chargers.
So at 11pm on that evening when my garage charger went dud, I thought I would test out whether I could get my first ever ‘rapid charge’. The reason why I hadn’t tried previously is that hybrid cars cannot be charged with rapid DC chargers. They don’t tell you that in the instruction books. There are two types of plugs for rapid charging, and I had previously stopped at a motorway service area to see if any would fit my car. The less common one will. However, it is a nightmare to find out via the internet sites which sockets are available at the place where you intend to charge up. And even if the right charger socket is there, another car might be using it.
With the normal chargers, for both hybrid and fully electric cars, there are at least three different types of AC chargers in addition to the DC rapid chargers mentioned above. Not only that, but some public chargers have leads and plugs attached, but in others you need to use your own lead.
An expensive night
On my awful night at the Park and Ride, I only wanted to plug in as an experiment to see if it would work, but disaster struck. I couldn’t cancel the operation, and so I couldn’t pull the plug out. A car with an electric charging plug in it isn’t going anywhere. I got on the phone to the people whose charger it was, and they were on the phone for about 30 minutes, but they couldn’t help. The RAC told me to “Go online” – as if I had any internet there! Eventually, after about 40 minutes, it stopped charging and I found something that allowed me to take the plug out. The next day I found that I had been charged £25 on my credit card. Altogether, I felt very abused.
Learning from experience
What have I learned from this experience? First, I have realised that it is not a good idea to charge up regularly on public rapid chargers, because it is expensive. It also reduces the life of your battery. Second, and much worse from my point of view, is that my type of car (Nissan Leaf) and Mitsubishi are the only car makers that use the Chademo rapid charger, and they are being phased out. No wonder Chademo chargers are difficult to find!
Another thing I learned the hard way is that you must switch your engine off before trying to insert the charging plug. When that happened to us, the car wouldn’t switch off, and we had to call the AA. So, I am now very wary of giving anyone a charging plug – if I am sitting in the driver’s seat. It has been a very steep learning curve about how to do things with electric cars.
In future, I will try not to use public car charging devices! Since I have solar panels on my roof, it sometimes costs me nothing to charge up my car. I like the idea of ‘free motoring’. I am also on an electricity tariff that allows me to charge up between 12.30am and 4.30am at only 12p/kWh. This only costs me around £1.20. I also still have plenty to learn about my new device in my garage. It is supposed to be ‘smart’, but that means I need to communicate with it on my mobile phone. Really, I only want to plug it in and it will work.
On balance, I’m glad I drive an electric car
On balance, I am glad I upgraded to a fully electric car. I had to pay more for it, but now I am paying much less in fuel and maintenance costs, especially because I mostly charge it at home and avoid the public charging points. But, from my story above, it is obvious that the public charging network and the information about it will have to improve if more drivers are to be urged to opt for e-vehicles.