How to Use, Charge, and Drive an Electric Car

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How to Use, Charge, and Drive an Electric Car

My experience driving the Ford Energi for a month: How to use, charge, and drive an electric car. In November, I had the opportunity to try a 2015 Ford Energi as part of the #drivingonenergi program to promote electric cars in social media. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you likely saw a number of posts about my experience. 

I wanted to take a few minutes to share my experience on my blog, as I love anything that is eco friendly and I think electric cars are still a bit confusing for those who haven’t had a chance to try them.
Despite owning a Prius since 2008, having solar panels, and being fairly knowledgeable about eco friendly “stuff,” I still didn’t know that much about electric cars before I had this opportunity to try one. 
I had a number of concerns and questions such as:
  1. Will I run out of charge and break down on the way home from picking it up in Virginia?! 
  2. Can I fit car seats in the car?
  3. How the heck do I charge this? Will my electric bill go crazy? 
  4. What is up with the charging stations? How do I use them? Does it cost money?
  5. Are these cars affordable for the average person?
  6. Is the car safe?
  7. What are the space limitations?
2015 Ford Energy C-Max Review

So I wanted to give you the answers to some of these questions so you don’t think owning an electric vehicle is only for the super hippies. You too can be part of the special semi hippy crowd. And it’s a pretty cool club.

How to Use and Drive an Electric Car

Quick summary: It’s pretty similar to driving any other car. There’s not a lot to learn! It was simple and once I gave it a test drive, it was easy to see that it wasn’t as complicated as I had worried.

Will I run out of charge and break down?

Once I tried the car and saw how it worked, I realized that this was just crazy talk. The car operates off both gas and electric… Similar to how the Prius uses both gas and battery. 

For the Energi, on full charge, you can make it 20 miles or so on a charge. Whenever you brake, you recharge the battery a bit. If you run out of charge, the car simply switches over to gas power. I couldn’t even tell when it was happening. 
The Prius, on the other hand, uses a battery that doesn’t get charged at home. Similar to the Energi, you recharge when you brake. You switch back and forth from gas to battery with the Prius… for example, acceleration requires gas power. 
From what I can tell, the Energi would be great if you mostly travel locally- particularly if your job has free charging stations. If my husband’s job had a free charging station near his office building, he’d be very keen on getting one because he doesn’t do much driving besides to work and he would really never need gas. Also, some places offer some pretty great parking for electric vehicles which is one of the cool perks!

If you travel a lot, something like the Prius might get better gas mileage. I need to run some numbers on that, but I think that’s how it would work out.

Can I fit car seats in the car?

YES! I was able to get two Diono Radian RXT car seats into the back seat with plenty of room left in the middle for an additional person if I was transporting someone else. 
Here’s a picture of one car seat forward facing… behind the driver’s seat, my other son is rear facing. As you can see, there’s plenty of room in the middle.
Car seats in a Ford Energi C-Max

I’m not sure if a third car seat could be installed in the middle- there’s room for another if you have slim car seats like the Radian.

How do I charge the Ford Energi at home?

This was very simple. The vehicle comes with a long cord to plug into a standard outlet. It takes quite a while to charge in a normal outlet and the outlet needs to be used exclusively for the car (when in use). I usually charged overnight. Charging at special charging stations takes 2 hours max so it’s much faster there.

Charging a Ford Energi C-Max at HomeI think it’s possible to get an outlet installed at your home for easy charging. We did have some difficulty because our outlet in the garage is used by our freezer and the only other outlet in reach was by our front door. As a result, we had to run the cord across our walkway, creating a tripping hazard if we had unexpected guests. If we purchased an electric car, I would definitely investigate getting a special outlet just for the car.

My 4 year old usually plugged in the car with my supervision because he found it really fun. It’s super simple- just like plugging in a lamp. The charging area has a cover that you push the button on and it moves to the side so you can plug the car in. As it charges, there is a light that comes on in a circle around the charger- when the light is all the way around, your car is charged.

I’d like to say I have a good answer about if it affected my electric bill, but I’m just not sure. We have solar panels so around November our electric bill goes up anyways. If it did affect our bill, it wasn’t by much. And I didn’t buy gasoline for the entire month… I was at a half a tank when I returned the vehicle at the end of the month and I did fill it up upon return.

How do I use charging stations out in public?

Charging a Ford Energi C-Max in Public

This gets more complicated to explain because it ranges. I never used a charging station that cost money, but I believe the one near our Costco may have charged. Our gyms have charging stations that were free to charge and they were pretty simple to use. They had spots dedicated for electric vehicles. The gym was an ideal place for me to charge because the charging stations take 2 hours for a full charge and my gym offers 2 hours of free childcare. So I could go to the gym for 2 hours, get a full charge, a break from my kids, and a good workout.

Our local Wholefoods had charging stations that were free and easy to use. You just park and plug in your vehicle. Nothing complicated. I never used that station because there were always electric vehicles using the chargers when I went. I’m sure as more people get electric cars, more stations will be installed throughout town.

For the gym I use most, I was usually able to use the charging station for free. You needed to be a member of Chargepoint to use the station. I downloaded the app on my iPhone 5S and started an account. It was pretty easy. If you don’t own a smart phone, no worries… you can sign up online and they send you a little card you can swipe whenever you use a charging machine. It takes a week or two to get the cards though so you may want to plan ahead if you plan to buy an electric vehicle soon. You connect your credit card to your account so you can easily pay if you are at a station that charges.

Using Chargepoint app for charging an electric vehicle.

The app is convenient because you can search for local charging stations and it will show which are free and which cost money. It will also show if someone is using the spot. When you’re inside the store or gym, you can check the app to see if your car has fully charged yet. If you don’t have your card, you can click the charge button on the app and it will release the plug for you to charge your car.Very simple once you know how to use the machine.

My major complaint is people parking in those spots who didn’t own electric vehicles- super annoying. It was fine at most locations, but one gym has terrible parking and I found four non electric vehicles taking up the charging spots one day… not one car using the two electric charging stations there. I was sad. And mad. I think most electric car owners keep little notes in their car to put on windshields when people do this- but I think these cars need to be towed. Just my two cents.

Are these cars affordable for the average person?

I was surprised to see that these are fairly reasonable. No, they’re not $10k and you aren’t likely to find one used. But they run around $32k  and up for the C-Max Energi. I’ve seen some opportunities for 0% financing so I’d suggest hitting that up if you decide to purchase one.

There are also federal tax credits available if you buy this car… it’s a pretty sweet deal. And don’t forget you’ll get a lifetime savings in gas cost.

Is the car safe?

I actually wasn’t worried about this at all, but one of my Facebook friends sent me a panicky message about how my car might explode. Apparently there’s this rumor that electric cars are more dangerous in an accident because the battery will suddenly catch on fire. From what I found, the concern came because a Volt was being crash tested. They crashed car in lab… then put it in the back of the car lot and left it there. Weeks later, it burst into flame. They hadn’t followed proper procedure for handling the car after the crash tests which is the only reason there was an issue.

Best quote ever that I found on Myths and Facts about Electric Vehicles:

MSNBC’s Dan Carney snarks, “The lesson here is to get out of a crashed car within a few days, and be sure to turn off the lights when exiting.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy U.S. Department of Energy: Maintenance and Safety of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, electric and hybrid vehicles have the following:

  • Brake systems last longer than conventional cars due to regenerative braking.
  • The batteries are built to last for the lifespan of the vehicle. Many companies offer a long warranty on the cars. 
  • HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs have high-voltage electrical systems that range from 100 to 600 volts. Their battery packs are encased in sealed shells and meet testing standards that subject batteries to conditions such as overcharge, vibration, extreme temperatures, short circuit, humidity, fire, collision, and water immersion. Manufacturers design these vehicles with insulated high-voltage lines and safety features that deactivate the electrical system when they detect a collision or short circuit. EVs tend to have a lower center of gravity than conventional vehicles, making them more stable and less likely to roll over.
  • Emergency response for electric drive vehicles is not significantly different from conventional vehicles. Electric drive vehicles are designed with cutoff switches to isolate the battery and disable the electric system, and all high-voltage power lines are colored orange. 

For the 2016 Ford Energi C-Max, it received between 4-5 stars for safety ratings. Want to know more? Check out the 2016 Ford Energi C-Max Crash Ratings.

Also, I recall back when I got my Prius that a lot of people said they wouldn’t stand up in an accident and yadayadayada. So I tested the theory- accidentally- by getting hit full speed by some idiot who decided to merge into me off the ramp into the middle lane on the highway. I got hit multiple times by his car in the accident. He couldn’t drive away from the scene because his car (Dodge Neon) was torn to pieces so he took off on foot. I kid you not. He fled on foot. I got out of my car- uninjured- and gaped after his running self. I sort of loved my car after that accident. I can’t attest to how sturdy the Energi is, but my Prius withstood a pretty powerful accident. I’m still impressed. Needless to say, I don’t pay much heed to the “I’ve got a big gas guzzler so I’m safer in an accident” theory anymore. 

BUT I have to mention one safety issue- this car is extremely quiet, similar to the Prius. I recommend being very careful, particularly on quiet streets and parking lots, as I did have someone nearly run in front of my car when they didn’t hear me. I’m used to watching for that as the Prius has the same issue. The nice thing is that it has a great backup camera so you’ve got plenty of resources to keep you aware of what is going on near your vehicle.

And the silence is really nice. I got to drive home with it without my kids in the car and OMG… the sound of silence. So beautiful.

What are the space limitations?

This is the only thing I didn’t like about the vehicle. In terms of normal use, the space is fine. I think the space for passengers and drivers might be better than the Prius. But the trunk space is rough. The battery takes up a large portion of the trunk so you won’t be able to transport large items in the back. I had enough space for a Costco food run though!

Trunk space in a Ford Energi C-Max

If you own a second vehicle with space in the back, trunk space might not be an issue. We do a lot of home improvement projects so it’s nice to have the option to transport big stuff- but our minivan can do that (gosh I wish they’d make a minivan with fabulous gas mileage though!).

The only time I had an issue was when I wanted to bring the kids to ride their bikes… there was no way I would’ve fit even one small kid’s bike in the back… or the front for that matter. If I owned one of these vehicles, I would consider putting a bike rack on the back or top.

Useful Links:

Myths and Facts about Electric Vehicles

U.S. Department of Energy: Maintenance and Safety of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

2016 Ford Energi C-Max Crash Ratings

Here’s a video I put together with clips of my experience with the 2015 Ford Energi:

Want to save this for later? Pin the image below!

How to Use, Charge, and Drive an Electric Car

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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12 thoughts on “How to Use, Charge, and Drive an Electric Car”

  1. That quote about the car crash made me chuckle! This is all so interesting. I really had no idea about electric cars. I've never seen a charging station in my area but I never looked either.

    • Yeah once you know to look for them, suddenly they're everywhere. You can actually go to the Chargepoint website and look for your local charging stations. That will give you an idea if there are many/any. That isn't ALL of them though- our Whole Foods has two and didn't have them listed on there.

  2. Thank you so much for the review. I very rarely drive more than 20 miles from home. Actually, I'm within 10 miles from home for 90 percent of my trips. Right now, I have a V6 that is a dream on the highway but kills me in gas starting and stopping. I have seriously thought about getting an Energi. As far as I know, there are no charging stations near me, but now that I know that they switch from electric to gas, that's not an issue.

    • You can check the Chargepoint website to see if you've got any, but that doesn't list ALL the charging stations- just most of them (at least for us). But plugging in at home is pretty simple too. I WISH my husband's job had a free charging station by his building… he could charge only at the office and still make it back and forth without needing any gas. We don't use his car as much. But he drives the Prius so it's not a big issue until we need to look for a new car when it dies (someday… it's still going strong).

    • Yeah I think rural areas would have a lot less if any… one of big issues is that you really get the most savings if you don't have to travel very far. From my experience, if you live rural then you're traveling a lot further to get where you need to go.

  3. I always wondered how the charging worked. Glad to know the gas option is there.. I probably would be the one not fully charging. Very informative post though. We have charging stations at my job. It's always filled with non charging cars smh

    • That drives me absolutely INSANE. But I don't think they'll tow for that- imho they should. Those charging stations cost money to keep running, I'm sure, so they should be used! 🙂

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