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You don’t need an EV to suffer a scare — Petersen Automotive Museum

I just returned from a 4,400-mile road trip and am here to report that even if you aren’t driving an electric vehicle, you can suffer from range anxiety.

One of the complaints we of the internal-combustion engine ilk have about battery-powered vehicles is their limited range, and the apparent difficulty of finding a place to recharge those batteries while on a road trip, such as my recent journey from Nevada-to-Michigan and back.

Actually, I’m among those who think EVs make a lot of sense for a lot of people, especially if there could be a way to recharge the batteries as conveniently and quickly as we refill the gas tank on our petroleum-fueled vehicles.

Not that our more traditional vehicles are immune to range anxiety. 

I made the drive in my 2020 Nissan Frontier, a V6-powered crew cab pickup truck that, on my recent 4,412-mile roundtrip, done mainly on interstate highways, averaged 22 mpg. 

Only once did I run the tank down to the point where the “fuel needed, idiot” idiot light shone, but it was while I was traveling across long open stretches of New Mexico and Oklahoma, and a few times saw signs reminding there would be no service for the next 40 or more miles. So yes, there were some moments of range anxiety nonetheless.

It can be even worse when I’m not on a tight schedule, when I can avoid the interstates and travel the way I like best, as we did when I was a kid on family vacations — two-lane roads across prairies and up and down mountains. 

See the USA, sang Dinah Shore. William Least Heat Moon wrote of the Blue Highways. I once did a drive from Michigan to Montana and back that included only around 20 miles of interstate, and that was in Wyoming where there was no alternative route I could find.

The Cars movie lamented how the interstates ruined the economies of small towns. Add in businesses closed during the recent pandemic and fuel can be increasingly difficult to find.

Recently, on a trip to Colorado and back, I discovered another issue. One road was closed because of a rock slide and another had a bridge out. In both cases, it meant long, 90-minutes or more detours, and in one case on a remote route devoid of gas stations.

One evening on my most recent trip, I checked my email and saw a report from one of the auto companies reporting that its new electric vehicle would have a range of 400 miles. I recalled that report the following day when I noticed my trip odometer, which reminded me I’d driven 360 miles on the fuel I was about to replace.

Hmm, I thought. An EV that can go 400 miles and my truck needs to be refilled even sooner. Epiphany: Maybe there’s something to consider about the coming electric vehicle revolution.

Ah, but there’s still the issue of places to recharge, though I was pleasantly surprised the morning I visited the Heart of Route 66 car museum and discovered four Tesla charging stations in the parking lot.

On the other hand, I’ve seen reports of people on Tesla road rallies lined up for blocks to plug into the few available units in a small town. 

And I remember driving an EV that supposedly had around 100 miles of range, but at 70 mph on the freeway, I drove an hour and then had to use limp-home mode. Once home, it took being plugged in overnight in my garage to replace the power I’d used in an hour’s drive.

I wonder what my anxiety might be to attempt my annual (and in some years semi-annual) desert southwest to Michigan trip.

On yet another hand, there was that time a few years ago in western Kansas when I was running way too low early one morning when that “get fuel” light had been glowing for way too many miles as I reached a small rural town where I was frantic because I couldn’t find a gas station. I was desperate enough that I risked driving up and down residential streets, hoping to find someone who might direct me to a gas station.

I spotted a man who appeared to be getting into his car to head to work. I pulled up in his driveway, powered down my window and explained my plight. He smiled, said he was on his way to the one station in town, and that I should follow him. I did, seemingly on fumes.

While I gratefully refilled my tank, he went into the station… and emerged with two cups of to-go coffee. One for him, the other he handed to me, along with a wish for a good trip back home.