Confessions of an EV driver

By Guest - October 15, 2021

Well, have a laugh at my expense, here’s the full story of what happened. Nightmare. It’s quite long so you might need a cup of tea in hand.

Cast your mind back to December 2020: Under COVID rules we were able to travel from one area to another,  but being super cautious about infection I really didn’t want to be stopping at service stations.  We live in Cambridge and our daughter has a ‘boyfriend’ in Southampton (ideal because he is at the other end of the country so they don’t see each other much!). After she finished her exams she pleaded could she go and see him for a socially-distanced walk? Being the kind mother that I am, I agreed to drive her down, taking with me my Christmas cards that needed writing, and with a large stack of books to pass their 'walk' time, while I would sit in my car for 3 hours.

I charged the Tesla overnight which would give me a 300 mile range, but this is unfortunately 9 miles short of the full return trip. Not a problem, as I would use the Supercharger at Heathrow or Winchester on the way back, and swiftly back up to range.

I drove down to Southampton, and off they go for their walk (I had had a conversation that snogging would breach the 2m distancing, but 15/16 year olds.... I suspected that was going to be ignored). After I’d dropped her off, I drove to the parents of a friend of mine to drop off a gift on their doorstep nearby. No problem using the charge up, as I’d be recharging anyway on my way home. Then I looked at my dashboard and noticed that I haven’t got as many miles of range as expected. Doh! I hadn’t reset the charger to charge the battery fully, it was on our usual charge rate of 75% . The Tesla satnav tells me that the nearest Supercharger is just out of reach. Damn, I’m going to need to use a public charger, of which there are plenty.

I look at Google Maps and it shows me one at a service station quite nearby. How handy. I head off to the M27 motorway, but in the torrential pouring rain I misread the road-signs and end up going south rather than north down the M27 and it turns out to be a very long junction and I have to do a round trip of 10 miles to get back to where I started.  That’s used some of the range I really didn’t want to waste.  I head off to the service station... only to discover that the charging point is out of order. Bloody outrageous! Now I am seriously low on charge.

I look at Google Maps again and find the next-nearest public charging point is in the opposite direction - but I do have just enough charge to get there. Just. But there is zero chance to get to another charging point beyond this. It’s in the grounds of a country house hotel: large hotels, I have learnt, are a fairly normal location for a row of chargers. And there are three different companies with charging points there, so this place should be fine. I’ve learnt they all need separate charging cables but that’s no problem, I’ve got them in the trunk.  But I will have to download a separate app and set up the payment arrangements for each specific charger. Ridiculous, should be some consistency.

I drive off into the countryside into this enormous country estate, miles from anywhere, along a huge, long driveway lined with cedar trees and whatnot. It was very quiet. When I get to the top of the drive there is a big row of orange traffic bollards blocking-off access, and I realise that the hotel is closed either for COVID or repairs. I get out the car, knock on the door of the hotel...  no answer. So I feel all I need to do is move the traffic cones and I can see the charging point from where I am, so I can fill up with charge. As payments are contactless, I can charge, pay and be away before anyone notices.

It’s now pouring with rain. I go to the first charging point and set it all up (download the app, set up the payment arrangements which requires all the usual verifications with code numbers going to the mobile etc. - takes lots of phone battery as using 4G and my O2 cellular network has measly coverage with only 1 bar, so it takes ages). Simples? No. The charging machine isn’t working.

So I move my car to the second charging point. This one needs a different app, so back to the car, download the app, set up my payment for this one and back to the charging machine. The second charging point isn’t accepting any payment. I’m starting to panic. Keep calm, go into management mode!!

Third charger: I need to download another app for a different charging company and set up payment to this one. Ridiculous. So I’m downloading a third app and getting v. worried as I’ve got virtually no phone battery left, as the downloading has totally drained it.

At this point I decide that it’s absolutely imperative that I pee, like, right now. So I leap out of the car in the pouring rain, no coat, and dash behind the car, behind a large bush (there’s nobody about). I go back to the car... to discover that I closed the car door to stop the rain getting in (it’s pouring). I’ve locked myself out, with my phone on the driver's seat. The phone was my key. NOOOO! NO NO NO! How can I possibly have locked myself out of the car? I’ve shut the door numerous times with the phone inside and this is never, ever happened before! Later I realised that my phone had gone into power save mode and disabled its Bluetooth, which is how the car knows it's there, so the car thought I'd left and locked itself. But right now I can’t think straight, I’m actually shaking, mouth bone dry, and getting seriously worried. I’m really stuffed. I’ve got no power in the car to drive anywhere else, virtually no power in the phone although that’s now locked inside the car anyway. I’m locked out, I’m soaking wet (no coat). Bloody hell.

The nearest house is miles away off the country estate so I can’t even walk anywhere and ask for help. I’m going to have to break into the car.

I walk round the car to decide which window to break, and happy days, oh happy days: one of the rear windows is 1cm open. I try to pull it down and can only get it down 2cm before it slowly lifts itself back to the 1cm mark. I find myself a very large stick to jam in the window to see whether there’s any way I can use this small gap to my advantage. My telephone (the key) is on the driver’s seat, and I’m at the rear passenger window.

Then I have a brainwave: I did bring with me a spare key - one of the credit card style - and that’s in my handbag, which is in the footwell behind the passenger seat. That’s handy, but it’s underneath the large bag with all the books I’m going to read, and Christmas cards I’m going to write, while I’m waiting for my daughter to finish her rainy no-kissing walk. So first I have to use the big stick to shove the bag of books off my handbag. The first stick breaks.

I’m going to need a bigger stick.

I’m rummaging about in the undergrowth trying to find a big, strong stick. After 20 minutes (20 minutes) I have managed to shove the bag of books off my handbag, and to lasso the handle of my handbag and slowly edge it up to the 2 cm opening in the window. Then I use my fingers to get hold of the handle and pull it through the window sufficiently to get to the pocket in the bag that has the key card. I manage it (no skin left in my knuckles) and feel totally invincible! At least I didn’t have to hack off my leg with a penknife like that mountaineering hiker in the 80s. I’m back in the game.

Once I’d managed to get the spare key out of the car,  I went round to the driver’s seat to retrieve my phone and took the above photograph to show my husband how I’d spent my day. I didn’t ring him during this time not just because I didn’t have much phone signal,  but because I thought there’s really nothing he could do from where he is and I didn’t want to transfer my stress to him.  When I told him about it when I got home (at which point I was cracked up with laughter) he said he was so stressed listening he didn’t want to hear any more… but I made him bloody well listen to it all anyway! Note the bits of branch twig all over the side of the car, and the closed swanky hotel in the background. Nightmare. 

So, I finish downloading the set up for the third charging machine, go to use it and - what do you know - it isn’t working. The penny drops: They’ve obviously all been decommissioned because the hotel is closed.  Why the hell didn’t any of the 3 EV charging companies with stations here update their website details to say they were out of commission??!

I ring the emergency help number on the third machine, by which time my phone is now really low on charge. I’m getting very irritated when the message says ‘We are experiencing a high volume of calls and you might have a long wait’. No no no, you don’t understand: I need to speak to somebody NOOWWW! And then it tells me some frequently-asked questions (noooooo, I really don’t need those!) and eventually I get to talk to person, a real-live person.

My phone is now down to 3% battery. The gentleman explains that the machines are all decommissioned, but he will reactivate it for me… this time with a window and door left open to make sure I don’t lock myself out again. He recommissions the charging point, and fortunately I asked him to stay on the line while I got the payment setup. Just as well, as it turned out he couldn’t reactivate the contactless charging bit, so now I can in theory charge, but can’t pay for it, and until you've paid you can’t disconnect the charger!

When I explained, clearly desperate, this very, very, very, very kind gentleman said ‘This one’s on us’ and didn’t charge me for the charging. Thank you, thank you, ChargeMaster! The next day there was a thank you email flying to his company,  and emails of indignation to the M25 service station with a nonworking charge point, and the companies who had decommissioned their charging points at the hotel but haven’t listed this on the website of available chargers.

As we know, public chargers can take hours, like they’re powered by a hamster going round in a wheel. I calculated how many miles I need to get back to my daughter in Southampton and then get to a supercharger and add 10% extra mileage just in case. After sitting there for the remainder of my ‘reading time’ I have just enough charge to get to her and then the Tesla Supercharger, as long as I don’t go wrong with my road navigation. Note to self: Concentrate on the road signs woman! Fortunately everything goes to plan from this point and once I’m at the Supercharger I’ve got a full charge again and I can cruise home feeling it’s been a rather stressful/eventful day. One to remember for sure, and lots of lessons learnt:  Reset the charge range before long journeys, carry a spare key, remember that Tesla can remote-unlock your car ... and keep your phone charged!

According to my fitness tracker my heart rate went up to 190 at one point - what a day. So that’s what they call ‘range anxiety’!


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