I’ll start at the low point.
It involes a Lidl car park, outside of giant shopping mall in Lens, on a grey February morning. Lidl was our plan C, after trying and failing a few times earlier. There we found a 22kW charger which momentarily raised hopes. It simply didn’t work, and gave no reason why.
We stared out towards a 140 meter tall slag heap (*fun fact about slag heaps below). The same, ugly as sin, slag heap that I had been staring at 2.5 hours earlier as we set out early to get a headstart on a 10-hour drive ahead.
If you were to create a bingo board of all possible bad EV charging experiences, we had them all in the one morning:
- Charge point promised on map that doesn’t exist in the real world
- Charge point found, but requires a mail order RFID card
- Charge point simply doesn’t work and gives you no indication why
- Charge point touchscreen doesn’t work, neither does the app
- Charger found but is only a 3kW dribble
Before I go any further, I will say that we eventually mastered the nuances of charging in France, everything went smoothly the following week. Our trip was to the Alps, but many of these tips apply to EV driving in general.
So that you don’t make the same mistakes, here is what not to do:
- Avoid small towns where (AC) chargers are slower, harder to find, and often involve set up with companies you’ve never heard of. Stick with the big guns on the motorways where 43–150kW (DC) are standard, and the providers are concentrated to Total, Engie, Ionity, Tesla and something, or someone called ‘Fast Ned’ (we tried everything but Ned).
- Don’t leave home without first ordering a Chargemap Pass card (€19.90). It’ll save you messing about with downloading apps, and adding credit card details for each charger (see rant below**). Even if you only use it once or twice, Chargemap is worth it to reduce faff time.
- Don’t let your car battery drop below 20% — keep something in the e-tank in case the charger doesn’t work and you have to drive to the next one. We found motorway chargers roughly every 20 miles.
- Don’t worry about charging above 80% — EVs are designed so that the last 20% of charging is slowed in order to preserve the long-term battery life. It means more stops, but counterintuitively, saves time.
- Don’t hurry — driving above 80 mph rapidly drains battery. Allow 45 mins charge time every 2.5 hours. Set your expectations - it will probably take a bit longer than petrol, but it’s fine if you plan ahead.
Driving to the Alps.
How much time does it take?
From Calais it was 11 hours driving time, plus 2 hours of charging time. Traffic into Alps on a Saturday in winter is a horror show, so keep that it mind.
How much does it cost?
First thing to bear in mind is that fast charging is more expensive than home charging. We found the average price to be €25 per 45 minute charge. With 5 charges, the fuel costs came to €125. Add Euro shuttle (peak) tickets and motorway tolls, and it cost around €700 all in for 4 people, return.
Will my UK car charge in France?
Yes. Most electric vehicles*** in the UK and Europe have Type 2 sockets for slow (AC) charging, and CCS sockets for fast (DC) charging. Almost every DC charger on the motorway has it’s own power cable so you don’t need to bring this. But the slow chargers often require you to bring your own.
And here are some general tips
- Pre-download these apps: Chargepass, IONITY, Total, Engie, Tesla
- Many Tesla chargepoints are open to non-Teslas, but you need to look for them on the opening screen of the Tesla app
- Check the rapid charging limit of your EV. E.g. a 150kW charger is often limited by the car to charge at 75kW, or less.
- Filter out any chargers below 40kW, unless you are charging overnight
- Many charge points check bank account balances, before they let you use it — if using Revolut or Wise, make sure to have plenty of credit.
- Check r3charge.com for EV friendly hotels
- Not many chargers in the Alps, so top-up before hitting the mountains
- Driving in the winter requires more time and stops than summer
- Pump your tyres up to near max
- Roof racks are less aerodynamic than trailers
- Seat warmers use a lot less power than heating the car with AC
Overall, I would do this again — despite the painful start — and will look forward to trying again in Summer, a little older and wiser.
*The slag heaps of Northern France are UNESCO world heritage sites. Methinks someone, somewhere, didn’t want to pay for the clean up costs, so they convinced UNESCO they were (cough).. cultural.
**What EV drivers want:
To drive up to any charge point and tap your bank card to pay as you go.
What EV charging companies think EV drivers want:
Chargers where you have to download an app, set up an account, add your bank details, pay a deposit, verify your account details, all whilst standing on a cold motorway with bored kids in the backseat — then charge.
***Except Tesla, see link for details.