Automotive Research

A guide to road-tripping in an electric car

As the number of electric vehicles and public charging stations rises in the U.S., road tripping in an EV has gone from a futuristic dream to an everyday occurrence.

While EV infrastructure can't yet match the convenience of gasoline, it has made big strides in recent years. The Department of Energy estimates that as of 2024, there are more than 53,000 public charging stations across the country, and newer electric car models routinely boast ranges of 300 miles or more with short charge times.

Whether you already own an EV and are thinking of driving it long distance, are considering one and wondering how road-tripping would work, or want to dip your toes in by renting an EV for your next adventure, here's how to conquer the open road with zero tailpipe emissions.

1. Choose the right model of EV

The ideal electric car for a road trip has a range of at least 200 miles and is capable of using Level 3 charging stations. EVs with shorter ranges, particularly below 100 miles, will need more frequent recharging stops and will prevent you from taking routes where charging stations are farther apart. These EVs are also less likely to be compatible with Level 3 chargers.

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, are essential for road trips. These high-voltage stations can recharge an EV battery from 10% to 80% in less than an hour. In fact, some of the newest EVs can use very high voltages to add hundreds of miles of range in 20 minutes or less. Slower Level 2 chargers are more plentiful but better for overnight charging or topping off at destinations along your route where you're already spending a lot of time. 

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, can refill most EV batteries to 80% in less than an hour.

As of 2024, Tesla EVs (and Ford EVs with the proper NACS-to-CCS plug converter) have exclusive access to most of the Tesla Supercharger network of more than 1,200 Level 3 chargers. This can be a key advantage, especially in areas that don't have a lot of other charging infrastructure such as the Big Sur coast in California. If that's important to you, a Tesla or Ford may be the right choice.

With public Level 3 chargers becoming more common, other EV makes are beginning to offer a similar road trip experience. In the years to come, Tesla also plans to eventually open their Supercharger network to other EV automakers who switch to Tesla's NACS charging standard, which most EV makers currently plan to do.

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2. Plan your trip thoroughly, ahead of time

The foundation of any EV road trip plan is knowing when and where you'll be charging. In bigger cities this may be as simple as picking from among the available charging stations, but chargers aren't a given in smaller towns and on long stretches of scenic highway. It's crucial to plan ahead so you don't end up low on battery and out of range of a charger.

  • If possible, choose a destination or route with plenty of chargers. The more available, the more slack and flexibility you'll have in case a particular charging location doesn't work out.
  • If you're planning to drive long distances quickly and without lots of stops, focus on Level 3 chargers; Level 2 chargers require many hours to completely recharge a 200-mile battery.
  • Look for available chargers at the places you'll be stopping anyway and top off your battery while there. An hour on a Level 2 charger can add 20 or so miles of range that will come in handy later.
  • Identify points in your trip where you'll be low on charge, and plan to either refill at a Level 3 charger in the area, or arrive there at the end of the day so you can use a Level 2 charger overnight.
  • Avoid depending on a single charger being available at a single key moment—you may arrive to find it in use or out of service. (Most major public charging networks' stations have at least 2 chargers, and often more, to avoid this issue.)

3. Take advantage of mobile apps & planning tools

There are many apps that make planning an EV road trip easier and more accurate.

Charging network apps: Most public chargers are part of a major charging station network such as EVgo or ChargePoint. Each of these networks has a mobile app so you can find their stations, and even see if they're out of service or currently in use. The apps can also streamline the process of starting a charge by storing payment info and allowing you to control the charger with your phone. The EVgo app can even reserve a spot for you at stations you plan to visit!

  • Good for: getting real-time data on charger status and availability; starting a charge quickly and easily

Save on charging with EVgo: AAA members save on EVgo standard charging rates, with no monthly membership or session fees. Learn more

The PlugShare app lists public charging stations across all major networks and is widely used as a one-stop resource for finding charging locations. | Image courtesy of PlugShare

PlugShare: This free app bills itself as "the most accurate and complete public charging map worldwide." It lists charging stations from all the major networks, as well as non-network public chargers at destinations like hotels. PlugShare allows users to leave reviews for chargers, so it's a great resource to check if a charger that's important to your plans is likely to be working when you need it.

  • Good for: seeing most public chargers in a single place; checking whether other drivers have successfully used a charger recently

Route-planning apps: Apps such as A Better Routeplanner and Chargeway can take your origin, destination, and any places you'd like to stop along the way, then calculate where you should charge and for how long. PlugShare also has a rudimentary road-trip planning feature, and iPhone owners can use the Apple Maps app with CarPlay-compatible cars to access a similar feature.

  • Good for: simplifying the planning process; understanding how much charge you'll likely have at various points in your trip

4. Stay at a hotel with chargers

Charging your EV while you sleep and waking up to a full battery every morning can make your trip much simpler. Use charger-finding apps to locate hotels with on-site chargers and ensure compatibility—most apps let you enter your car model to check charger compatibility.

If the hotel's chargers aren't part of an established charging network like EVgo or ChargePoint, check with the hotel ahead of time on the number of chargers, how they're managed, and how busy they usually are. Some hotels require charger reservations, while others are first come, first served. Some let guests charge all night; others have a time limit. Whatever the system, make sure to plan for it. 

If the hotel only has 1 charger, keep in mind that you might have to share it with other guests. That could leave you without enough time to fully recharge each night. 

Unsure? Consider a plug-in hybrid

If you're not confident about road tripping entirely on electricity just yet, look into buying or renting a plug-in hybrid. This can give you a taste of EV life—finding and using chargers, managing battery range, and the thrill of keeping the gasoline engine off—while having flexibility to use gas whenever you need or want. (Just don't expect to use Level 3 chargers, which most plug-in hybrids aren't compatible with.)


Go electric with Hertz

Save up to 35% off the base rate when you rent an EV.1

  • Book your electric car by June 30th and travel by July 30th, 2024
  • Free additional driver
  • Young renter fee waived
  • Free use of one child seat

Everything you need to know about EVs

Whether you already drive an electric vehicle or you’re just starting to research some, AAA has the information and resources you need.

Explore our rankings of the best EVs on the market and see which fit your budget, find charging stations, understand tax credits, and get the latest news on the future of industry.

Save on charging with EVgo

AAA members save on EVgo standard charging rates, with no monthly membership or session fees.


Get more from your drives

Earn 5% cash back on EV charging and gas purchases with the AAA Travel Advantage Visa Signature® Credit Card. Explore freely and save every time.

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