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4 Reasons NOT to Rent an EV Right Now

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We believe in modern EV technology so much that we’re in the market to buy or lease one, but after our recent experience renting an EV in Colorado… let’s just say I’m not in a rush to rent one again.

There are some great reasons you might want to rent an EV. It’s certainly a good opportunity to try living with a specific vehicle you’re thinking of buying, and if you’ll be driving a lot on vacation it’s an environmentally friendly choice.

I know that certain aspects of this article won’t age well as technology improves and the EV market becomes even more saturated, and some of the issues we experienced won’t be relevant for people who already own EVs. That’s ok. But there are still a lot of things to consider as you decide whether or not to rent an EV for your next trip.

How it started

My husband has been really excited by the Ford Mustang Mach-E for the last year. He’s test driven it, spoken to current owners and was strongly considering it for his next car. I figured renting one for the weekend would be an ideal way to see what it’s like to live with one so I used my Avis small business discount to arrange one for our trip (more on that here).

But then I thought better of this plan. Our flight would be arriving late at night after a long day at work and a two hour time change, and that’s not the time to figure out a next-generation car. A few weeks before our trip I changed the reservation to a standard car with a gasoline engine, which we could hop into a just drive.

Unfortunately Southwest and Avis had other plans for us! Our late night flight was so delayed that I received an email from Avis that our pre-arranged reservation had been cancelled; by the time we got on the rental car shuttle, my Avis app no longer showed an assigned spot number. Thankfully a phone rep was able to change the reservation timing so that it was active again.

When we arrived at the rental car desk, the kind representative handed us the keys, said “Mach E” and told us the spot number. As a President’s Club member, I’m entitled to a two class upgrade if available – I still don’t know if that why we were assigned a Mach-E or if it’s because of the original reservation. Either way, we looked at each other – both exhausted – and just shrugged our shoulders.

How hard could it be?

While they weren’t enough to stop us from buying an EV, below you can read about some of our struggles when renting an EV.

Apps, apps and more apps

If you don’t already own an EV, there’s a very slim chance you have the apps set up to charge one. Thankfully Apple Maps and Google Maps will show you EV charging options when you’re navigating and add a stop – it’ll show up in the same place where you’d normally add a stop at a gas station. But this is really the most basic option and doesn’t give you the full information you need.

Apparently the best EV charging map app is PlugShare – you can also access their web interface, which I did by accident when we found ourselves in a jam. The PlugShare app allows you to plan your route and provides real-time info on what chargers are available/in use, how powerful they are and even user reviews. Beware that these user reviews aren’t always accurate: one indicated that a charger we went to use was free, but in the end we had a sizable bill from it.

Be sure to check out some of the filters, including changing your minimum kW charging rate to something useful like 60. If you see that the app lists a few chargers of different power ratings at the same location, make sure you plug into the fastest one that’s compatible with your vehicle. You might even want to use the PlugShare website to check out options near the airport before your trip – for instance, I can see that the closest fast charger to our airport here in Columbus is the one at my city’s City Hall… but currently the fast chargers are all broken and only the slow 6kW charger is available.

Most EV drivers – whether owners or renters – will use the ChargePoint app if they aren’t driving a Tesla. ChargePoint is the largest charging network in the US and you’ll find these almost everywhere. All three of the chargers we used during our weekend trip were part of ChargePoint. If you do plan to rent an EV, I suggest that you download this app and set up your payment info in advance so that you aren’t left flustered in a random parking garage trying to get to a dinner reservation!

You’ll find plenty of charging stations that allow you to just tap your credit card without setting up their app, but know that you may pay a higher rate for energy than app users. For example, blink membership is free and gives a substantial discount on your energy usage – the station near my house gives a 20% discount. Some networks like EVgo charge a session fee for those on a free plan but waive the session fee for users who are on even the cheapest plan (which costs the equivalent of one session and doesn’t require a commitment).

Some vehicle manufacturers offer their own apps as well, but it’s unclear how much value they add if you’ll only have the car for the weekend and need to quickly learn a bunch of features. That can also be a nuisance if you’re a frequent renter, you could end up with a different brand each week: Ford, Kia, Genesis, Chevy, Tesla, Volvo, Polestar and potentially others are fair game.

Having a successful EV rental requires at least one new app, ideally two, and the number can go up from there if you want to take advantage of the faster chargers of the EVgo network or the extensive fast Electrify America network you’ll find at retailers like Walmart.

Your hotel choices may be limited

EV die-hards who say that renting one is no harder than owning one will often suggest just charging at your hotel overnight rather than scrambling to find a charger during the day. But plenty of hotels don’t have chargers.

Because we hadn’t planned on renting an EV, we booked a stay at the Thompson Denver. It’s a great hotel where our top-tier Hyatt Globalist benefits granted us free high-end breakfast and valet parking every day, and we booked on points so that our out of pocket cost was $0. But when we arrived at this high-end hotel and asked if they could charge our unexpected EV, they apologized and said that they don’t have any chargers on site.

It turns out that a little more than a quarter of US hotels offer charging for overnight guests. That’s a great start but far from universal, and it means you’ll have to go out of your way to book a hotel with EV chargers if you plan to rent one. That can be especially difficult if you’re trying to book rooms on points. Using the Denver example, Expedia lists over 300 hotels in downtown but only 61 with EV chargers (and some of the hotel websites don’t actually list it as an amenity, so Expedia’s info may be inaccurate).

Sometimes you’ll stumble on one at your hotel, as we did in the Finger Lakes. But if you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that it was actually out of service. It definitely would have thrown a wrench in my plans if I had made my hotel choice based on charging access!

If we had opted for Marriott, which has one of the country’s largest hotel footprints, we would have been limited to just 16 of their 108 properties in the metro area (not that they’re all in areas we’d pick for a vacation, and some are way out of our budget). Hilton has just two hotels downtown with EV charging, and they’re both limited service properties attached to the convention center.

I’m not trying to be a downer, but if the purpose of your travel is “vacation” then restricting yourself to only hotels with EV chargers, it’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog.

Read more: Best Credit Cards for Family Travel

You lose flexibility and gain hassle

Perhaps the biggest challenge of renting an EV is timing your charges. Particularly if your hotel doesn’t offer charging, you’ll have to plan for charges. All three times we charged our rental EV, things didn’t go as planned. There can be plenty of times when you don’t encounter these issues, but it’s important to acknowledge the variety of ways in which things can go wrong.

Charge #1: We opted to spend our first day hiking in Boulder and knew that we needed to have a pretty full battery that night. Since the city recommended taking the free 10 minute shuttle to the trailhead on busy weekend days, we decided to follow directions and park in a free public garage before boarding the shuttle. Public garages like that one generally have numerous EV spots, so we pulled in, messed around installing the ChargePoint app and got plugged in.

The sign in the garage requested that we only stay in the spot for two hours, which I knew would be tight but my other half insisted was doable. Incidentally, this was the fastest charger we found – 200kW.

Unfortunately the shuttle driver had other ideas. I won’t won’t go into the frustrating details of the shuttle experience except to say that our total shuttle time was closer to an hour rather than the advertised 20 minute roundtrip. Had we known that, we would have arranged our day differently or parked in a different spot.

We returned to the car to find that someone had unplugged it and we had received a ticket for being in the spot while not plugged in and charging – about 2.5 hours after we had left. That was certainly an unwelcome addition to our vacation! It’s still a mystery that the car was unplugged.

The moral of the story? Even if you find a great charger, the restrictions may not line up with your ideal schedule.

To add insult to injury, our app registered a bill of $34 for the ~40% charge we got.

Charge #2: The following day we headed down to Colorado Springs, 70 miles away. After a great hike at Garden of the Gods we plugged in to a charger in town while we ate lunch. We’d be returning the car that night 85 miles away and needed to return it at least 70% charged.

We were too busy enjoying our vacation so we didn’t think to check the wattage of the charger we chose. We just figured it was available and convenient! We knew we’d probably need to top off close to the airport but figured we’d get more of the heavy lifting done earlier in the day. Always check the charger’s power – not something owners of gasoline powered cars would instinctively consider.

Unfortunately, the charger had a different idea. In the 85 minutes we were plugged in, it added a scant 8kWh to our Mach E’s charge – that’s roughly 10%. Had we known to dig deeper, we could have found a faster charger a little further away from our destination. Not to continue using the same metaphor, but again I have to come back to the tail wagging the dog in this instance.

Charge #3: Since we had only added 10% to our battery’s charge and had another 85 miles to get to the airport, we knew we’d need to drive most of the way and then find a fast charger near the airport to avoid paying a penalty on the rental car. Fortunately during our drive I stumbled on the PlugShare website and was able to track down a bank of four fast public chargers along our route. It was even free!

There were level 2 chargers closer to the airport, but I knew we’d need a level 3 to avoid paying the fee (or missing our flight). I also knew that we needed a little extra charge as a buffer since we had to drive another 15 minutes to the airport. It’s certainly a lot more thought and planning than we would have needed to stop at the closest gas station and let the pump run for 5 minutes until it hit “full”.

We pulled into one charging spot, plugged in and opened the app… nothing happened. After a few more efforts, it seemed that the plug wasn’t connecting properly to the car. We switched to a different spot and that seemed to do the trick. Fortunately since it was a Sunday afternoon there were no other cars there, but as I write this article I can see that all four charging spots are currently occupied.

We sat outside of this closed municipal building in the blazing summer heat for 40 minutes (I had to pee for 39 of them, since we’d already been driving for over an hour). It turns out that in addition to paying attention to charger speeds, you have to know how fast your rental vehicle charges. In our case we learned after the fact that the Mach-E and Chevy Bolt – the two most popular rental EVs – charge at about half the speed of models from Hyundai and Kia.

I’ve never been so happy to have an 8pm flight, because if it had been any earlier we would have either curtailed our vacation day to meet the car’s charging needs or paid a fee for returning it with a “low” battery. Neither of those options is my cuppa tea!

In total we spent $37 on charging for the weekend, which is actually a little more than I estimate we would have spent on gas for the sedan we had reserved.

Check your insurance

Some of the charging network challenges are definitely easier if you rent a Tesla; over the years they’ve built out a huge network of Super Chargers around the country. Teslas also charge faster than most of the many EV rentals that are currently available. Legions of Tesla owners will tell you that they have no problem road tripping in their cars because of the seamless infrastructure – think about Apple’s old “It just works” slogan.

But did you know that many of the most popular credit cards with primary rental car insurance exclude some or all Teslas? I always recommend renting a car on a credit card that offers primary insurance so that if something happens it won’t hit your personal insurance policy. With Tesla – arguably the most frictionless of EV rentals – that’s not always possible.

Check out these exclusions:

While you can still rent an EV even if your credit card’s insurance excludes it, you’d have to either pay for insurance directly with the rental car company or accept that you’d wind up filing a claim with your personal insurance in the event of damage or a crash.

Should you rent an EV?

Electric vehicles are most certainly the way of the future in many circumstances. In my opinion, at this moment in time, I wouldn’t choose one for a rental on a casual leisure trip.

But I’m open to changing my mind. If you ask me in a year when we will likely own an EV at home, I’ll probably be far better versed in what it takes to make an EV trip successful. I will have chosen a car that charges quickly. I’m sure my phone’s memory will be out of space thanks to the apps of a million charging networks, and I’ll have my own routine down for mapping journeys to include the right chargers.

And I still might choose the gas-powered car at the rental desk.

Would you rent an EV for your next trip? If you’ve done it, what has your experience been like?

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