Reporter Harriet Blake jumps into a rental car only to learn on the road — without any prior instruction — it's all electric. Courtesy of Storyblocks.
Dec. 22, 2023
Last year my daughter and I went to Boston to see my mother-in-law, who lived about 45 minutes north of the city. We were given an economy car as requested. We tossed our bags into the trunk, hopped in the front seat and took off.
I noticed the car was quiet when we stopped at a light. I figured this must be a hybrid like my son’s car, which I’ve driven before. When we arrived at Nana’s senior community, we parked and went to unload our bags. That’s when I saw the words “electric vehicle” printed on the lift gate.
I did not know the first thing about electric vehicles.
“Oh gosh! How are we supposed to refuel?" I said, clearly freaked out. "Do we have enough electricity to do what we want with Nana and then return to Logan Airport?”
MILLENNIAL TO THE RESCUE
Traveling with a millennial has its benefits. Becky calmly took out her phone, googled EVs and discovered the nearest charging station was about 10 minutes away. We brought our bags inside, said a quick hello to Nana and dashed out to the charging station.
It was located in an empty parking lot near a bank. There were two pumps, or rather two stations, next to each other. Now, what?
Becky again googled “how to charge an EV,” which took us to an app. We installed the app and followed the instructions on how to pay and how to plug in.
We went to the dashboard and saw that we were 50 percent charged. But what did that mean? How far would that take us? With a gas tank, you know a full tank will take you about 400 to 450 miles, but how far does a fully charged car take you?
We needed to get back to Nana but we also wanted to see how many kilowatts the car increased after 10 minutes. Turns out not much. The electric gauge showed that we were now at 51 percent charged. This was going to be a long trip.
Tips on how to find EV charging stations. Courtesy of GreenCars.com.
The next day, we took Nana out to shop and have lunch for about two hours. We located a parking lot with a charging station and confidently plugged in, thinking that this would surely fill us up. Not at all. We made it to 65 kilowatts.
Finally we figured out — thanks to Google — how much electricity we needed to return to Logan.
We had plenty of juice, it turns out. A typical EV battery is 75 kilowatts. So by the time we left, we realized we would be fine.
It just would have been nice if the rental car folks had informed us that we were renting an EV and given us some instructions on how to charge it.
Apparently we are not alone in renting a “Surprise EV.”
Jared Wright is a senior air quality planner with the Transportation Department of North Central Texas Council of Governments. He says rental car companies should definitely be informing their customers about the vehicles they are renting. That said, the renter should be able to easily navigate their EV travel.
GET EV SAVVY
Here in North Texas, Wright suggests that new EV drivers check out the DFW CleanCities website. Drivers can find the nearest charging station by zip code as well as learn the basics with their EVS101 link.
As the website explains, all electric vehicles, aka battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have a battery that is charged by plugging the vehicle into charging equipment. BEVs always operate in all-electric mode and run solely on electricity that they get from an electric source.
There is also the plug-In hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). These are powered by an internal combustion engine and an electric motor that uses energy stored in a battery.
PHEVs can operate in all-electric mode, which can be plugged into an electric power source to charge. Once the battery is depleted, the vehicle will operate on gasoline, similar to a conventional hybrid, until the battery is charged again.
“Knowing where the charging stations are is key,” says Wright. “There are more stations in urban areas. TXDOT has received $400 million to invest in charging stations. The first phase is to build out faster charging stations along highways so that in 30 minutes you can charge 80 percent of your battery.”
The length it takes to charge an EV depends on several factors, he says, including the size and current charge of the battery.
THREE LEVELS OF CHARGE
Chart shows three charging levels and how fast each charges. Courtesy of NCTOG.
There are three levels of EV charging infrastructures, says Wright.
A typical Level 1 charging station is when you plug into an standard AC (alternating current) outlet (120 volts) at your home and it slowly recharges the EV overnight. This provides you with two to five miles per hour of charge.
A Level 2 station is faster and uses a washer-dryer style AC outlet (204-220 volts). It can recharge the EV in several hours. This provides 10 to 20 miles per hour of charge.
The third level is the DC (direct current) Fast Charge, which uses a DC outlet (480 volts) and provides 180 to 240 miles per hour of charge.
Charging tips from GreenCars.com.
TRY IT OUT
For those consumers considering an EV purchase, Wright says renting an EV might be a good idea. The driving experience is not that different, but it is a quieter drive, more efficient and less costly.
According to DFWCleanCities.org, EVs cost less to operate than the fueling costs of gasoline cars, since electricity is cheaper than gasoline. In addition, the website notes, “electricity prices are not as volatile as oil, which makes budgeting for an EV charging more consistent each year as electricity prices stay more consistent.”
In addition, the cost to maintain an EV is usually lower than conventional fuel vehicles because there are fewer moving parts in the engine. EVs have single-speed transmissions and regenerative braking (reduces wear on brakes), and they don’t require oil changes, saving users money.
“The main difference,” says Wright, “is that you have to change your habits on refueling. It takes more planning. It’s great for short daily commutes to work. EVs work well for most people’s typical daily mileage. Drivers traveling many miles a day or taking road trips will need to plan more.”
Lori Clark, Transportation Department Manager at NCTCOG, points out that smart phone apps such as PlugShare are great for locating charging stations.
The Department of Energy offers more tips on plugging in, including how to pay at public charging stations.
A fully charged EV, Wright says, gives you 200 to 250 miles, or over 400 miles if you have a larger battery.
The EV battery, he says, last about 10 years or about 200,000 miles. The question of how to dispose of a dead battery is an issue. Currently, he says, the North Central Texas Council of Governments doesn’t really have any great recommendations regarding recycling.
The MIT Climate Portal reported earlier this year that EV batteries are very hard to recycle, but some of their components, especially nickel and cobalt, may be valuable enough to repay the investment. The Portal notes that an option might be to reuse and not recycle an old EV battery.
“An older EV battery may no longer be useful for long-distance driving but could still have enough storage capacity to find a second life elsewhere.”
Wright agrees. He knows of one landscaping company that uses the old batteries to power up their lawn equipment.
FUTURE OF EVs
In North Texas, Wright says that while only one percent of drivers are driving EVs, there has been a 50 percent increase of EV registrations in the state. Within the next 10 years, EVs are expected to be the dominant car to own and rent.
We reached out to Enterprise and Hertz to get their thoughts on EVs.
Enterprise public relations manager Michael Wilmering said the company is making the gradual transition to EVs.
“At Enterprise Mobility, we believe the best path to the electrification transition is one that maintains a long-term perspective and put the customer at the enter of everything we do,” said Wilmering. “We know navigating the transition will be hard, which is why our top focus is the overall experience, not just the vehicle. For us, the details of the customer journey and operating an EV fleet across our diverse mobility are key…We have several thousand EVs available today in select locations throughout the US, Canada and Europe. We’re working with several charging companies to help us facilitate the ongoing installation of charging stations throughout our neighborhood and airport operations. And, more importantly, we’re focused on identifying how much power each of our locations has available and modeling power needs for varying levels of EV penetration.”
(Wilmering declined to address my issue with my rental, however.)
Hertz, it turns out, has been quite proactive in the EV market. Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr is quoted on a recent press release saying,
“Electric vehicles are poised to transform the future of mobility, and that’s why Hertz is investing the largest electric vehicle fleet in North America. I can think of no better partner in Hertz’s shift towards electrification than America’s cities, where innovation is happening.”
Scherr is referring to a new public-private partnership between Hertz and US cities to accelerate the transition to EVs, which, he believes, will yield both economic and environmental benefits.
The Hertz Electrifies Denver partnership began in March 2023. Hertz added 5,200 EVs to their Denver fleet and increased the number of neighborhood charging stations. They also added in 4,000 EVs to their fleet in Atlanta, 6,000 in Orlando and 2,100 in Houston, where Mayor Sylvester had this to say:
“Electrification can benefit every community in Houston. We’re proud to work with Hertz and bp pulse to build up electric fleets and charging infrastructure and bring education and training that will provide new opportunities to all Houstonians.”
A Hertz spokesman says that renting an electric vehicle gives potential EV buyers a no-risk way to try before they buy.
In November, the Denver International Airport Hertz office gave rental car customers and ride share drivers a chance to see and drive the newest EV cars, including models from Tesla, Subaru, Polestar and Kia. AAA was on hand to share information on safe driving and EV charging with a demonstration of its mobile EV charging truck.
My first foray into the world of EVs was daunting, but now armed with some basic EV knowledge, I know it won’t be my last.
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