Can’t Beat The Heat!

Well, that was a hard lesson to learn. I departed the Joshua Tree Autocamp—highly, highly recommended—at 4:06am yesterday morning. Thanks to the very generous number of destination chargers there, and the lack of competitive customers, I was well-fueled for the stop at Cholla Cactus Garden on the way out of the park and the road ahead toward Santa Fe. It would be a long driving day, getting me in about 10:30pm. But it didn't happen that way. Coming ourt of JTNP, I made the decision to stick with the eastward exit and hop onto I-10, the southern tier of the east-west interstate system. The warmer tier.

Last year on this trip, I stayed on I-40 as I headed east out of SoCal, hitting Kingman AZ and eventually Tucumcari and points east as I made my way to the DFW area. Last year, I also did this trip in early June, and it was on average 10-15 degrees cooler. Not this time. I stoped in Blythe CA for breakfast and charging. Very hot already. After breakfast, I made my way to Buckeye AZ where the temp continued to climb. Everywhere was 115F+. I was looking forward to moving north toward Flagstaff once I charged up at the local Walmart. It was so hot there, that even indoors was warm and muggy.

Except for an uncomfortable moment when two semis got into a brake-checking pissing contest with each other, the drive up to Flagstaff was nice, and temps finally dropped into the 90s. By the time I was back to last year's route and charging in Flagstaff, it was actually 87 degrees. Downright crisp! But that didn't last. Heading east and into New Mexico—a simply stunning drive—temps climbed back up again, and by the time I reached the Gallup Walmart, it was over 110. I'd been to the Gallup Walmart charging plaza last year. Although one parking "corral" is a bit tight, it's pretty nice and features both Hyper [350kW] and Fast [150kW] Electrify America chargers. I pulled into a Hyper slot, plugged in, and watched the "Initializing/Initiating Charging" logo go round and round. And round. And eventually fail. So, I unplugged my car, and tried again. This time, my car refused to lock on to the plug. I tried three other chargers. Same problem. And if your car won't lock the plug in place, the charger and the car cannot communicate. That means no juice.

There are a lot of known gremlins with charger networks around the world. Some are plagued with connection difficulties, some experience routine breakdowns, etc. At first, I thought perhaps that the Gallup Walmart charger plaza was having an issue, so I dialed up Electrify America, which is normally fairly responsive, but found myself on hold for over an hour. A Hyundai Ioniq 5 driver tried to help me by holding the plug in place—as some plug connectors age, they have to be jiggled or held in place to establish the car communication—but no soap.

I've had to give up on chargers before and simply find another working one. But this time, it seemed the problem was my car. No matter what, I could not get it to lock onto a plug. Its as if Sophia—yes, that's my car's name—was saying "sorry, you're not sticking that thing in me any more." And she had the final word. I had about 52 miles of range left. So, I wasn't stranded on the side of the road. But I was stuck in Gallup NM. The next Electrify America was over 60 miles away, and if you check the Plugshare app for Gallup and zoom way out, you will there is not another charger anywhere other than Walmart, not even in people's homes. I was likely in Gallup for the night. At least.

There was a low-end Marriott [Spring Hill Suites] just a half mile away. I'll give a shout-out to @Marriott here. Their various brands housed me all through last year's trip, and except for stays with family, I'm staying with them again. Always reliable, friendly, good service. They are not flawless, they're just human, but they're good. They gave me a room quickly. Nice room with one bonus I could have done without: an HVAC unit that sounded like my tinnitus on a Peavy PA system.

Anyway, I got the valuables out of the car and into the room, and about an hour later, I drove back over to the Walmart and tried charging again. No luck. I returned to the hotel and initiated an online case with Audi Roadside Assistance. It's a good system, but it's not optimal for being stuck in the middle of BFE-nowhere. Because I did not want to deal with a tow in the middle of the night, I scheduled pickup for 8:30-9:30am, and requested flat-bed towing to Audi Albuquerque. [That was laughably optimistic for several reasons. Thank goodness it turned out to be unnecessary.] I also posted in the online etron GT forum about my experience. No one had encountered it before, but several smart folks opined helpfully on what might be happening.

When I got up in the morning, I drove back to the Walmart, plugged my car into a Hyper charger, Sophia locked on and began charging at a super fast rate, hitting 291kWh at one point. It seems she imply needed to cool down. When I arrived in Albuquerque, i had about a 7-8 minute repeat of the problem, but charged with little incident overall. I decided to swing by Audi Albuquerque and see if they could run diagnotics on the charging port. Unfortunately, their "etron guy" was not in that day. And being where they are, they are not deep in etron experience. But they likewise speculated that the high voltage battery subassembly simply exceeded its desired operating range. We all agreed its possible Audi even programmed it to behave this was, i.e., refuse to make a locked connection in order to protect itself until it cools down. I still don't know the definitive answer. Batteries are still the vulnerable point of the EV proposition.

yes, to the naysayers, this is proof that the "EV ecosystem" is not quite ready for prime time, and it certainly won't make the cut for the family road trip just yet. But that's one of the reasons why I do these trips: to find out whether it's possible—it is—and just how inconvenient it might be; generally, it's not. Until it is.

1 comment
- Phil Hammond

I’m glad you weren’t stranded on the side of the road! I suspect you’re right, that the system just needed a cool down. I hope the weather cools off a bit for the rest of your journey. See you soon!

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