Tips for Handling Difficult Charging Stations

It should be as easy as getting gas, but it’s not

One of the benefits of charging your EV at home is you don't have to deal with charging stations. While the overall experience of taking an electric vehicle to a station has improved over the past few years, it still has a ways to go before it's as easy as getting gas. 

The issue is that dumping liquid into a vehicle is a no-brainer. Put a spout into a hole and away you go. Charging stations not only have to work on their own, but they also have to have a digital conversation with each car that is attached to them. It’s way more complex than, say, plugging your phone into the wall. 

EV driving around a nearly empty charging station

Electrify America

Every time a new EV is introduced into the world, charging station companies have to bring it into their labs to make sure there’s a hardware and software “handshake” between the station and the vehicle. That way, out in the real world, that car, truck, SUV, or even motorcycle makes a clean connection for the sweet, sweet flow of electrons. 

To help navigate some of the more common issues, here are a few tips to help you out:

Make an Account

Charging station companies have been smarter about adding credit card readers to their stations. That said, they don’t always work. Sure you can get a can of soda out of a machine with a credit card pretty easily now, but for some reason, card readers tacked to chargers exposed to the elements seem to fail pretty often. 

To tackle this issue, just sign up for an account with all the charging companies in your area. With an account, you can use an app to initiate a charge. In some instances, if you’re willing to pay a few dollars a month, your price per kWh will be lower than for non-account holders. 

An even better option is plug-and-charge support. The Ford Mach-E and other vehicles have this feature. With it, you sign up for the automaker’s account, sign up for a charging company’s account, then link them together. After that, when you get to a charging station, all you need to do is plug the vehicle in. No need to pull out an app or your credit card.

Unlock, Again 

A person pulls up. They plug the cable into their car, do all the right things with the app, but after a few minutes, the charging station tells them that something went wrong and to unplug the cable. Except, uh oh, it won’t come loose. 

Kia EV6 at Electrify American Charging Station

Electrify America

I see this happen all the time. It’s frustrating. Most of the time the trick is to lock and then unlock your car again. Sure, the doors are unlocked while you’re trying to detach from the electron cord, but the vehicle will still lock the cable when it’s initially attached. Sometimes even just using the keyfob to unlock a second time does the trick. 

A few vehicles have buttons in the area of the charging port that unlocks the cable. Give that a press. 

Finally, if nothing is working, check your owner's manual. Some vehicles have a hidden physical cord or button that can be used to detach the charging cable. The Audi E-Tron SUV has one of these in the engine bay, but you wouldn't know it without checking the manual.

Move Over

If you try to use a station twice to no avail, just move to another station. I’ve been to places where half of the stations are out of order. It’s a huge pain, but I move until I find one that works and charge up the vehicle I was driving.

They’re all a little different in how they work.

In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be an issue. But again, unlike gas stations, these computers with access to electricity have a lot going on inside them. It’s not your job to troubleshoot the issue, just move to the next station and get on with your life.

Report

It is your job (not really, but sort of) to report a bad station. Unlike gas stations with attendants that can be informed of an issue right away, charging stations are alone in the world. 

EVgo Inc charging stations

EVgo Inc

You can either call in an issue or just report it in the app. I’ve had Electrify America call me back a few days later about an issue. They thanked me for taking the time to report the incident and wanted me to know it was being resolved. 

Making a call to support is also what you’ll end up having to do if all the stations are being weird and you really need a charge. Usually, they can troubleshoot and restart a station, which hopefully solves the issue. Again, it’s a pain, but when you need electricity, you need electricity.

Be a Good Neighbor

Finally, when you see someone pull up to a bad station, tell them about the issue. They might have better luck, but more likely you’ve removed some frustration in their lives. This is also an opportunity to help new EV owners figure out the stations themselves. They’re all a little different in how they work. 

In other words, be a good person at the charging station. We’re all in this together, and while there are still growing pains surrounding the infrastructure, we can collaborate to help sort them out. Don’t be the person that instead of helping someone, shoots video of them struggling and posts it online. You’re better than that. 

Now let’s cross our fingers and hope all the stations are working along the route of our upcoming road trip.

Want to know more about EVs? We have a whole section dedicated to electric vehicles!

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