By Scott Baughman
A few issues back, I was waxing rhapsodic about my Electric Vehicle – a plucky 2016 Nissan LEAF that I bought used in ‘21. In the interest of full disclosure – and to maintain the journalistic standards of this fine publication – in this installment I’m going to explain how not every electric car trip turns out great! On August 18, I recharged in Statesville at an Electrify America bay in the Walmart parking lot. The price was GREAT! I charged up to 80 miles worth of range (almost maximum on the ol’ LEAF) for only $4.73. BUT … it took to 30 minutes to charge! And there were extenuating circumstances which meant oh BOY did it take longer than this AND I had to yell at a guy in Mercedes!
So at this station there are 8 plugs. Of them 7 are the Combined Charging System (or CCS) and one is a ChaDeMo. Guess which plug my car needs? Yep, the ChaDeMo. When I arrived, there was one car plugged in, a beautiful ’21 Mercedes EQ5 (or close) – and guess which ONE stall Mr. Mercedes is using? Yep, the only one I need. I waited 15 minutes for him to check his charge and then as he was headed back to shop, I summoned the gumption to yell, “Sir, is there any way you can move the Benz to any other empty CCS? My car is too old to use anything but this big blue plug.”
He was confused so I gave him my go to analogy of VHS versus Betamax and it clicked. Remember the format wars of the 1980s in home video, long before we had streaming or even the Internet? When you wanted to watch a video tape you had to pick a VHS or a Betamax tape. If your VCR played VHS that was all it did. If it played Beta, that was all it did. And never the twain shall meet! Eventually, VHS won out and the Beta players were consigned to the collector’s bin of history. ChaDeMo had its day, but now it is the Beta of EV chargers.
He graciously agreed to move his car! Huzzah! I plug in and hit the ChaDeMo button and….CLUNK! Nothing happens. I hit the tap sensor with my phone in the Electrify America app. Beep! The blue light comes on and my car starts charging — for 5 seconds. CLUNK, CLANG!!
It started making noises I’d never heard before. The screen went blank and threw an error code asking me to unplug, reconnect and restart.
Nothing worked. I did NOT have enough energy to make it to a different charger. Nothing else is nearby up here in Iredell County.
Mild panic sets in…
I call the 1-800 number. I wait on hold for 15 minutes. I explain to the lady what’s up and she says, “Ooo..ChaDeMo, huh? Not many of those left. Too bad you don’t have a CCS. Let me try to start it remotely.”
Time passes, she reboots the machine. The screen goes blank and then STARTS LOADING WINDOWS 10!
We reboot. I reconnected the car. It starts! And dies after 5 seconds again. She’s very confused. I said “Hang on, let me check the ports” – guys — I’m desperate. I BLOW FORCEFULLY into the port like it is a 1980’s Nintendo cartridge. I plug it in, hit the restart button, make the sign of the cross and hold my breath.
It powers up! I thank the lady and hang up. I checked the estimator and it’s 30 minutes to full. I head across the parking lot to order some fries at the nearby McDonald’s. So, when it comes to EVs there’s never a dull moment. And my lesson here is don’t just plan your route with charging in mind, always check the area for charger status when you do a road trip. Come on infrastructure guys, we can’t get those new charging stations fast enough!