Even though gas prices are down from last year, the cost of fuel is still high, and constitutes a major expense when driving long distances. So, with electric vehicles (EV) becoming increasingly available through several national car rental chains, you may be thinking about taking one on your next road trip.
Of course, there’s more to consider than the price of gas—like being able to find a charging station when you need one. Here’s what else to factor in when deciding whether it makes sense to rent an EV.
When it makes sense to rent an electric vehicle for a road trip
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Renting an EV may seem like a great way to save money and the environment at the same time, but it also comes with some logistical challenges. Here are a few to consider:
Renting from a national chain
Although it’s possible to rent EVs via peer-to-peer car sharing apps like Getaround and Turo, it may make more sense to opt for a national chain— like Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, or Alamo—when that’s a possibility.
Of course, your peer-to-peer rental could go off without a hitch, but if you’re traveling a long distance or run into any issues on your trip, being able to contact a company with branches throughout the country with questions, or for a replacement car, may provide some peace of mind.
The driving range
For the most part, rental companies offer EVs with a driving range (i.e. how far it can go when fully charged) of at least 200 miles. You can look up a particular model’s driving range on the EPA’s website, but that’s only an estimate: Other variables—like the weather and highway vs. city driving—factor in.
There are also extended-range EVs, which, though fully electric, also have small gas-powered motors, which recharge the battery enough to travel greater distances between having to plug in.
Your route and destination
Hopping in the car and winging it isn’t really an option when it comes to EVs. So, in order to determine if renting one is the right choice for your road trip, take a look at your route—and where you’re going to end up—and the availability of charging stations.
If charging stations are are few and far between on the route you had in mind, an EV might not be the best option for this trip. But even if there are an adequate number of charging stations, you’ll still need to map out your route carefully, ensuring you’ll be near at least one when the EV is due for a recharge.
When mapping out your route, pay attention to the type of chargers available at the stations along the way. DC—or level three—chargers are the fastest, getting most EVs to an 80% charge in 20 to 60 minutes. Level two chargers, on the other hand, typically take between four and 12 hours to recharge, and are better for plugging in overnight than at a stop along the highway.
The cost of gasoline and charging
Gas prices are also a factor when deciding whether to rent an EV for a road trip, though it may be difficult to assess costs if you’re booking the car far in advance, as they tend to fluctuate. Use AAA’s gas cost calculator to get an estimate of that expense, add it to the cost of the gas-powered vehicle rental, then compare that to the cost of renting an available EV.
While that should give you a preliminary idea of the cost, keep in mind that charging EVs isn’t necessarily free—and when it is, it may be at a station with level two chargers.
Ultimately, EV charging costs will come down to your route, how much time you’re willing to spend charging, and the amount of effort you put into finding free charging stations—which you can do using apps like PlugShare and ChargePoint.
The bottom line
If this is your first experience driving an EV, or if you’re having trouble deciding what to rent, you may want to consider a plug-in hybrid, which has fuel backup, and takes some of the stress out of looking for charging stations. That said, a hybrid may not meet all of your other needs, so you’ll still need to put some thought into the decision.