An EV cautionary tale

DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE

By Jane D. Brown
Columnist

My friend Betty told me this cautionary tale recently. If you’re thinking of renting a car any time soon, you may want to keep it in mind.

“I love Zion National Park,” said Betty. “Every year I go at least once and often by myself. Last summer I embarked on my annual trip with yearning for the restorative peace and beauty of the place.

“When I arrived in Las Vegas without a hitch, I knew it was going to be a great trip. As a frequent user of the rental car company, I was told to choose any car I wanted on the lot. I happily threw my suitcases into a cute Subaru SUV. As I started the drive to Springdale, Utah, the town just outside Zion, I was singing along to music and looking forward to some beautiful day hikes.

Eighty miles into the desert I noticed the gas gauge was pointing near empty. I assumed the rental agency had failed to fill it up. I pulled into a gas station in Mesquite, NV, opened the gas tank door and… discovered that my rental car was an electric vehicle. I had seen no indication that my car was an EV – no sign at the rental center, no information card in the car, nothing.

I had never driven an EV and had no idea what to do. I called the rental agency for help. The representative suggested I drive 300 miles to the Salt Lake City airport to exchange the car. I asked where the charging stations were along the way were. “No idea,” was the answer. I asked how they thought I might drive 300 miles on an empty “tank.” Again, no clue.

Panic can be a useful emotion. It helps you outrun the tiger and live. But I was inside the tiger. I envisioned being stranded in the desert with no food or water.

I bought some crackers and a gallon of water at the gas station. My hands were trembling so hard that the cashier asked, “M’am, are you okay?” When I told her my predicament, she said there was a charging station at the next exit in the Walmart parking lot.

Gratefully, I made it to the Walmart, still imaging myself stranded in the middle of nowhere. I found four charging stations at the very back of the parking lot. I opened the “tank” again but had no idea what I was looking at – two different plugs. I looked at the charger that had two different cords. I managed to get one of them plugged in the car, only to realize that charging station was not working. Nor was the next one. Only two of the four stations worked.

Finally, the third charging station took my credit card but by this time I was so stressed that the woman charging her car next to me asked if she could help. I almost burst into tears and wanted to throw myself into her arms. An angel at the “gas pumps!”

I learned that her job is to travel the country evaluating the EV infrastructure. She said, “Frankly, the EV infrastructure doesn’t exist.” She told me it is almost impossible to find a charging station in many parts of the country. This is especially true in the vastness of the Southwest.

There’s so much I didn’t know about EVs – my little EV Subaru took FIVE hours to get to a full charge. A headwind can suck the charge even on a level road and more if you’re driving up hill. The number of people in the car also has an impact on the charge, etc.

This was not how I wanted to spend my vacation. Maybe the rental agency should have asked me: ‘Do you want to add range anxiety as well as Sirius XM to your reservation?’

Sorry to say, I’m done with EVs. At least until someone figures out how to provide the support required. And, I’ll never get into a rental car again without first opening the gas tank door!”
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Since Betty told me this story, the rental agency she used has sold off most of their EVs saying that it is twice as expensive to fix damage to EVs than gas-powered cars.

A couple of months ago two friends of mine drove cross-country in their Tesla. They said their on-board navigation system routed them so they would be near charging stations when they were about to run out, so their range anxiety was minimized. But, they, too, reported that chargers were not always working.
I’m glad I have a 10-year-old little hybrid that gets 43 miles per gallon. I sure like the idea of all-electric, but guess I’ll wait a while longer to look into that. I’ll be sure to keep Betty’s story in mind if I need to be renting a car anytime soon.


Jane D. Brown taught in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years and has lived in Chapel Hill since 1977.

This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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2 Comments on "An EV cautionary tale"

  1. Barrie Trinkle | April 22, 2024 at 10:37 am | Reply

    This was very educational! We’re a multi-Prius family and have been for years, but have also toyed with the idea of getting an EV, and this offered very useful info. However, I worry that this will just drive people away from EVs forever. In my opinion, the takeaway here really needs to be “What can we do to improve the charging grid and make EVs a safer, more usable option?”

    • I totally agree, Barrie. I’ve seen recently that some of the Infrastructure monies have gone to improving the EV charging grid and it’s just taking some time to get all that planned and in place. My fingers are crossed that we’ll all feel good about EVs in the near future.

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