What I learned when I embarked on Britain's longest and most iconic road trip... in an electric car (2022)

One of the most stressful days of my life was in 2019, when I drove an electric car 235 miles from Ullapool in northern Scotland to Glasgow to catch a flight.

Chargers en route were blocked by skips or parked cars, and those that were accessible were dreadfully slow. The car’s 140-mile range was more like 90 in practice. I limped into Glasgow Airport car park minutes before my flight, with zero per cent left in the battery.

Two years later, the Government announced plans to radically boost electric vehicles, promising a total ban on new diesel and petrol cars by 2030. Laughable, I thought.

Still, progress has come fast and the landscape for electric vehicles in the UK has changed massively. But has it changed enough? To find out, I embarked on an electric road trip, the longest and most iconic in Britain: Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The car I’d be driving was the Kia EV6. Starting at £43,495, it has a decent range for a modern EV – 328 miles on a full charge – but nothing extraordinary. It’s a nice, albeit bog-standard, class-of-2022 EV.

The goal was not to make it from one end of the country to the other as fast as possible but to make it a proper road trip, stopping off at various places around the UK to get up close and personal with the charging infrastructure –would I find chargers when I needed them? Would they work? Would the car's range last as long as it claimed?

When planning an electric car road trip, plotting your route in advance is key. The Zap-Map app is a must-use, showing every charging point in the UK and who operates it (and which type it is – more on that later).

Day One

After picking up the car in Penzance, I decided I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Driving an EV is a bit like driving a go-kart. Foot on the accelerator to make it go, foot off the accelerator to make it slow down. The brake isn’t really designed to slow you down but to stop you in your tracks. Apologies to any people of south Cornwall who may have been on the road that day.

Still, we made it the 10½ miles down to Land’s End in one piece, and only lost 4 per cent of battery life in the process. For those who haven’t visited, it is a strange place, consisting of some disappointing attractions, including a sign you have to pay to be photographed beside. I charged up my vehicle, using the free charging point in the car park to get myself familiar with the process. It’s very easy: just open the charging point as you would a petrol car’s filler cap, and plug in.

Interestingly, particularly in the context of recent fuel price rises, I found that five of the 10 chargers I used on my journey were free. Again, Zap-Map is the place to find the chargers, though as far as I could tell it didn’t indicate which ones were free and which you have to pay for.

Leaving Land’s End around 5pm I set out for Dartmoor. I stopped very briefly in Tavistock to grab a bite to eat and give the car a quick charge. In the Tesco car park I learnt the reality of the UK’s electric charging network.

There are four kinds of charger. “Slow” chargers are essentially the same as plugging your car into the wall socket in your garage, giving out between 3-6kWh. You’d need at least 24 hours to fill up from zero. “Fast” chargers are a little better, at 7-22kWh, but realistically they’ll still take up to 12 hours to give you a full charge.

Unfortunately, these make up over half the UK’s charging network, and most of the free charging points fall into this category. Better are the more modern “rapid” chargers (25-99kWh), which can zap a car from empty to full in as little as 45 minutes, though the power they supply does vary enormously. They are a bit rarer than fast chargers, but you can find them at a lot of service stations. Generally the ones I found would take me from around 40 per cent to full within around an hour and a half.

The final chargers are the 100kWh+ CHAdeMO “ultra rapid” chargers. Alas, the Kia EV6’s charging port didn’t allow me to use such things, but if you have a top-of-the-line Mercedes, Ford or BMW, you’ll have more luck.

Sitting outside Tavistock Tesco’s with 76 per cent on the clock, I was informed by my car that it would take 5h 41m to get usup to 100 per cent. I contented myself with the two per cent added juice I could get during a quick nip around the supermarket, then zoomed on to Exeter, and on to the M5 to head up to Bristol, where I’d be staying overnight. I found a free rapid charger in a business park just outside of Taunton.

The car was down to 44 per cent, at which point the smartphone-user part of my brain was just starting to get a bit antsy. The charger promised that I’d be up to 100 per cent in 51 minutes, so I was happy towait.

The details

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Penzance Station Car Park TR18 2LT

Car pick up

As I pulled out of the car park, I realised how forceful the brakes on anEV can be.

Land’s End Car Park TR19 7AA

Rapid charger

This one was so easy and it was free – I was filled with a false sense of confidence.

Tavistock Tesco Car Park, PL19 9QN

Fast charger

In a 40-minute wait the battery gained 2 per cent.

Blackbrook Business Park, TA1 2PX

Rapid charger

It was hard not to feel likea weirdo charging at 10.30pm in the middle of an empty business park.

Bristol SACO, BS1 4QF

No charger

Just an overnight stay and acharge of my own batteries.

Day Two

I arrived in Bristol after midnight and, after some well-earned rest, day two began with a visit to Gloucester Services, widely considered the best in the UK thanks to its bucolic outdoor area, farm shop and properly cooked breakfasts (not a Burger King in sight).

I hadn’t been able to charge overnight so when I got there the battery was at 56 per cent. Thankfully, not only was theredelicious full English, but also a very good rapid charger – 57 minutes until full.

My next stop was the cathedral city ofLichfield. One of the clichés about electric cars is that cities are the only place you can find chargers. But not allcities are created equal.

While Greater London has 33.5 per cent of the UK’s entire charging network, Lichfield limps by with four slow “fast” chargers in its Tesco car park. Not ideal, but worth visiting to stretch my legs – andtohave a look around the awesome triple-spired medieval cathedral.

On to the M6 at Stafford, and then up to the Lake District, where I’d be staying the night at Storrs Hall on the shores of Windermere. The hotel recently added four rapid chargers on to its premises (open to public use but unfortunately not free-to-use, even for guests, so I paid £15 for the privilege). “We understand how hard it can be to plan journeys in an EV and so our hope is that itmakes it much easier for guests to plan their trip,” Heather James, marketing manager, told me.

If Storrs Hall’s experience is anything to go by, it might be worth more hotels considering adding a few chargers. “Our charging points are used many times every day; there’s definitely more demand than there used to be. We’ve actually had guests tell us they picked Storrs Hallbecause we have EV chargers,” explained James.

The details

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Gloucester services GL4 0DN

Rapid charger

This service station is a cutabove, and a Tesla driver gave me advice onrecharging!

M5 outside Birmingham B61 0QN

As the motorway started to get busy, I did wonder whether the rail strikes will scupper all my plans. Thankfully, there’s not a queue in sight.

Lichfield Tesco Extra Car Park WS136DZ

Fast charger

A two-hour stop netted mean additional 10 per cent battery life – not great,but a lovely cathedral city to visit.

Storrs Hall LA23 3LG

Fast charger, overnight stay

Despite being a slower charger, this one didn’t matter as I could charge overnight while we stayedin this comfortablehotel.

Day Three

Rejoining the M6 at Penrith, I stopped at Gretna Green to pick up a postcard and stretch my legs with a jaunt around the Courtship Maze with my partner. At Gretna I received my first grim portent of what charging in Scotland would be like. I plugged the car into a rapid charger, but by the time I returned from the shop, the power had cut out.

Still, I had a lunch appointment with a friend in Balloch, on the shores of Loch Lomond, so there was no time to waste. We knew there would be a rapid charger at the pub so all was well. Or so I thought.

Outside of London and the South East, Scotland has the highest proportion of the UK’s charging network. ChargePlace Scotland has the fourth largest share of the overall network.

However, technology has progressed quickly and as an early adopter, Scotland has been left with an ageing charging infrastructure that feels hopelessly out of kilter with modern EV needs. Both the rapid and fast chargers in Balloch failed entirely.

I headed south to Alexandria and found another ChargePlace Scotland charger. Again, the rapid charger didn’t work. Luckily the fast charger did perform, but was quick to let me know it’d take 11 hours to get me back to 100 per cent from 33 per cent. With no other option, I found somewhere to have lunch and after about two hours I’d gained 20 per cent battery life.

My hotel that night was in Drumnadrochit, 135 miles further north, so I had no choice but to continue. The plan was to stop at the rapid charger in Fort William, then head along the shores of Loch Ness to the hotel.

Here, the drive went from scenic to stunning. Passing the primordial volcanoes around Glencoe was jaw-dropping, with each turn in the road offering some new vista to take my breath away.

My mood came crashing down as I stood in the pouring rain in the Fort William car park, gazing up at the looming mass of Ben Nevis above me. ChargePlace Scotland’s app failed to work. I called the helpline. “Don’t panic,” said an operator called Vanessa. “I’ll just send a signal from here to that charge point and tell it to start charging. Bear with me.” I bore with her. “Has it started yet?” Vanessa asked. It had not.

Vanessa dutifully tried again. And again. And again. Nine times. “Have you made sure all your doors are closed?” she asked. Yes. “It could be because of the weather,” she offered. That would make sense – rain in the Scottish Highlands is uncommon, right? “Maybe you should just try the slower charger?” I did.

I got back in the car, soaked to the skin, and my mobile phone rang. “Hello, this is the Loch Ness Lodge Hotel in Drumnadrochit. We’re closing check-in in an hour, where are you?” An hour-and-a-half’s drive away; 15 hours from a full charge. The car claimed 25 per cent battery should take me 90 miles. It was a 51-mile drive. Did I trust it to properly calculate how far the battery would last? Ultimately, I had no choice.

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I got there at 10.30pm, half an hour after my hotel was supposed to close check-in. An especially kind staff member stayed late to accommodate me. I had an indicated 40 miles of range remaining. Forget the aircon, it’s the windscreen wipers that’ll bleed you dry.

I’d chosen the hotel because there was a rapid charger in Drumnadrochit, so once I’d checked in, I drove down there to plug in for the night. Imagine my horror when I saw it was a ChargePlace Scotland charger. Once again, the app failed and I called the helpline. Vanessa picked up again. “Have you closed your doors? Try jiggling the charger!” Nothing worked so I was stuck with the fast charger again.

“On most of our chargers you get 45 minutes of charging at the standard rate, then it’s £1 per minute,” said Vanessa. I waited 45 minutes. I got six per cent. Was it worth spending an estimated £607.50 to wait 10 hours to get back to 100 per cent? At that point I was so maddened with frustration at ChargePlace Scotland, I could have. Thankfully my partner managed to talk me into unplugging. Back to the hotel – I needed some sleep.

The details

Skelsmergh, CumbriaLA8 9AR

Fully charged, we were ready to go – unfortunately Kia’s built-in satnav tried to take us down a very tight lane, clearly forgetting how wide the car has to be to accommodate its battery – cue a 60-point turn

Blacksmith’s Shop DG16 5EA

Unable to access fastcharger

Our first Scottish charging experience, operated by BP Pulse. The power cutout moments after plugging in. A sign of whatwas to come.

Balloch G838HS

Unable to access rapid orfastcharger.

ChargePlace Scotland reared its head. Even after signing up to the app and using the website, this one wouldn’t charge. We chalked it up to one of those things and went a mile down the road to...

Alexandria, Loch Lomond Shores Car Park G83 8QL

Unable to acces rapid charger, fast charger OK

A two-hour stop for lunch netted me an additional 20per cent battery life.

A82 through Loch Lomond National park G83 7DN

Sitting in a traffic jam, I began to worry that we wouldn’t have enough charge to get us to the hotel.

Fort William, Camanachd Car Park, PH33 6AN

Unable to access rapidcharger

Befriended ChargePlace Scotland operator, Vanessa. Despite multiple attempts in the pouring rain, we couldn’t get the charger to work. Set off again thoroughly soaked.

Drumnadrochit, Tourist Information Car Park IV63 6TX

Unable to access rapidcharger

Charged OK for 45 minutes. Our second chat with Vanessa. She still couldn’t get it to work – so we crawled off to bed.

Day Four

There’s nothing better than a full Scottish breakfast to begin the day, and after wolfing down the best black pudding I’ve ever eaten, it was time to hitthe road. It was 20 miles to Inverness where I’d find the holy grail of a longelectric-car journey: a rapid charger that wasn’t operated by ChargePlace Scotland.

Down to 15 per cent when I arrived at the Ness Walk Hotel, I got out of the car and grabbed a lemonade in the bar before having a walk down the River Ness. No sign of any plesiosaurs thus far, but perhaps Nessie just got a job down in the ChargePlace Scotland office to vex and befuddle modern explorers that way instead.

I had to be at John O’Groats by 3.30pm and the 280 miles accrued by a90 per cent battery life would take methere and back to Inverness so off Iwent.

The A9, the road that takes you from Inverness to Wick, makes for beautiful driving. The blazing blue vastness of the North Sea on your right and the looming conifer forests on your left, twisting and turning up to the tip of thenation. Even the endless parade of caravans and lorries couldn’t dent myenthusiasm.

At Wick, you take the A99 across windswept moors up to John O’Groats. There was a palpable relief when I saw the town on the horizon. Thankfully, I’d made it.

The rapid charger at John O’Groats was the speediest I had experienced: 64 to 100 per cent in 32 minutes. Not operated by ChargePlace Scotland, you’ll be surprised to know.

Enough time to get myself an enormous portion of fish and chips at theNorthern Point Café and grab a fewselfies at the signpost, before I began the 120-mile journey back toInverness.

The details

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Ness Walk hotel Inverness IV3 5SQ

Rapid charger

Thank God for non-ChargePlace Scotland chargers. An hour’s stop took us from 20 per cent to 90 per cent, enough to get to John O’Groats and back.

The Mound, A9 to John O’Groats, Dornoch IV25 3JF

At a traffic stop it hits me that if the charger at John O’Groats doesn’t work and the car is even 10 per cent off in its calculations of our range, we’re not going to make it home.

John O’Groats Visitor Centre KW14YR

Rapid charger

The fastest rapid charger of all, 64 to 100 per cent in 32 minutes. Thank goodness…

ChargePlace Scotland said: Some of the older infra-structure on our network is not compatible with the mobile app – resulting in Jack’s experience not being up to the high standard we strive to achieve for our drivers. We recommend ordering an RFID card if travelling to more remote areas of the country.

The verdict

Three years after my nightmare electric car road trip, this adventure proved how much the UK’s charging infrastructure has grown into a proper network that makes journeys like this possible.

But even with the growth in charging points, I still wonder whether there are enough. As of May 2022, there were 510,000 electric cars registered in the UK, a 92 per cent growth on 2020. These numbers will increase and charging points will become bottlenecks.

I also think manufacturers need to be more honest about a car’s range. On a full charge my EV6 did 304 miles, slightly short of the 328 miles promised by Kia.

Still, if battery technology continues to improve and more charging points begin to appear, I think the Government’s 2030 all-electric ambitions can be realised.

My road trip proved that (with the exception of ChargePlace Scotland systems) the stress of electric cars has mostly evaporated. They’re also a more economical option. My trip cost £48.81 in fuel, whereas a compact family hatchback with a petrol engine might cost up to £200 with today’s fuel prices.

Let us know your electric car road trip experiences in the comments section below

FAQs

How do you make a long trip in an electric car? ›

Here are some tips for making the trip as enjoyable as possible.
  1. Drive in a way that maximizes your range. ...
  2. Plan charging stops around activities or meal breaks. ...
  3. Use available apps and map out your mileage in advance. ...
  4. Be flexible and have a backup plan. ...
  5. EVs are better for urban adventures than going off the grid.
Jun 1, 2022

How long does it take to charge an electric car on a road trip? ›

If your battery is nearing empty, it could take up to 50 hours to power it all the way up. Level two is the most common and delivers a full charge from empty in anywhere from four to 10 hours. As for cost, it varies, but is typically significantly cheaper than paying for gas — especially these days.

Can you do a big road trip in an electric car? ›

Ultimately long journeys in electric cars are similar to long road trips in conventional cars, so the following tips are valid for all. Take regular breaks (you'll soon notice how well this fits with en route charging!)

How far can you travel with an electric car? ›

In general, you can travel about 200 to 250 miles with an electric car before you need to recharge. However, the actual range varies by model and many other factors.

How much does it cost to replace batteries in electric car? ›

How Much Does an EV Battery Cost to Replace? Replacement ranges from $0 to $20,000 based on dozens of factors. If a battery is within its manufacturer warranty, typically 8 years and 100,000 miles, then you should get a replacement battery at no extra cost.

Can you sleep in an electric car? ›

Camping inside the vehicle is the most common place to sleep when camping in a Tesla or other e-vehicle. With many of these vehicles having large interiors, it makes a lot of sense to stay inside. The seats in most Tesla models fold down completely so you'll have a solid, level sleeping area.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car at Walmart? ›

Pricing ranges from 25 cents to 99 cents, depending on the vehicle's power level, with a $1 session fee.

How much does it cost to charge a Tesla at a charging station? ›

Is it free to charge a Tesla at a charging station? No, it isn't free to charge a Tesla at a charging station. Charging your Tesla at a Supercharger comes with a price, typically around 26 cents per kWh. This is often more expensive than using a different means of charging, such as a 120-volt or 240-volt outlet.

Do you pay to charge an electric car? ›

EV charging is close to $0.30 per equivalent litre assuming an off-peak kilowatt hour of $0.15 (better reflected as range).

What happens if electric car runs out? ›

Answer provided by. If you're driving an electric car and it runs out of power, the short and simple answer is this: the car will stop—and you'll need to call roadside assistance to get towed to the nearest charging station.

How long do batteries last in electric vehicles? ›

The battery on an electric car is a proven technology that will last for many years. In fact, EV manufacturers guarantee it. Nissan warrants that its electric car batteries will last eight years or 100,000 miles, for example and Tesla offers a similar guarantee.

How long does it take to charge a car at a charging station? ›

Charging an electric car can be done at home or at any public charging stations. Fully charging a car can be done in just 30 minutes, or it may take as long as half a day.

What are some advantages of an electric vehicle? ›

Advantages of Electric Vehicles
  • No fuel required so you save money on gas. Paying $0.10 per kW is the equivalent of driving on gasoline that costs less than $1 per gallon. ...
  • Environmental friendly as they do not emit pollutants. ...
  • Lower maintenance due to an efficient electric motor. ...
  • Better Performance.

Do electric cars need servicing? ›

Just like any other regularly used piece of machinery, even electric vehicles need periodic maintenance and the occasional repair. However, compared to ICE cars, far less work is needed annually. EVs do require a twice-a-year service check for the vehicle system and tire rotations.

Who owns the battery on an electric car? ›

Who owns the battery in an electric car? Most batteries are now included in the purchase price of an EV, but in the early days of electric cars, in the Noughties, some manufacturers would sell you the car but lease the battery separately.

How much is a Tesla replacement battery? ›

How much does a Tesla battery cost? Tesla battery replacement cost varies depending on the labor and parts needed. Typically, the most basic battery replacement in tesla costs between $13,000 and $14,000. For the Model S premium sedan, replacing a Tesla battery costs around $13,000-$20,000.

Is it safe to sleep in electric car with AC on? ›

Research has revealed sleeping in the car with the AC on can be dangerous and even life threatening due to carbon monoxide poisoning. One can die of suffocation as the same air is recycled within the car. Moreover the exhaust fumes from your own car can enter the car and suffocate you.

Can you sleep in a Tesla? ›

Answer provided by

Although pretty much all Tesla models offer full-driving mode, you cannot sleep while driving a Tesla. That's not to say that you can't actually do it, but you're susceptible to fines if you get pulled over. Additionally, you can cause an accident if the Tesla veers off course.

Does Tesla have a bed? ›

Dreamcase, an auto-accessory company, just released new bed boxes that are customized for the Tesla Model 3 and Model Xtoo. This bed is a portable folding memory foam mattress with a microfibre foam cover that comes in at a compact 37″ x 72.5″, which is about the size of a Twin XL.

Is charging an electric car cheaper than gas? ›

The Cost of Charging an Electric Vehicle at Home

Charging an EV at home is significantly less expensive than fueling up with gasoline, and it's also drastically cheaper than using a public charging station.

Can you plug an electric car into a regular outlet? ›

Home Charging

Level 1: Electric cars come standard with a 120-volt Level 1 portable charger. Yes, these chargers can be plugged into a simple household outlet, and don't require any special installation.

Is Tesla charging free? ›

Once upon a time, all Tesla cars got free lifetime charging

When the Model 3 was introduced customers received non-transferrable free Supercharging, however as the company grew and worked towards maintaining profitable quarters, the company cut the perk in May 2020.

Do electric cars have portable chargers? ›

Level 1 charging uses a standard 120-volt plug. Today, new electric cars come with portable charging equipment to allow you to plug in to any 120-volt outlet. Typically, the average daily commute of 40 miles can be easily replenished overnight with a Level 1 charger.

How do electric cars charge while driving? ›

Tech that allows EVs to charge while driving - YouTube

How long does it take to charge an electric car at a charging station? ›

Charging an electric car can be done at home or at any public charging stations. Fully charging a car can be done in just 30 minutes, or it may take as long as half a day.

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