Reflections on long distance EV and camper trailer travel

We really enjoyed our 10 weeks and 10,000 km of EV and camper trailer travel. Here we discuss things we have learned about power consumption, trip planning and charging.

Our Trips

From March to July 2021 we clocked-up over 10 weeks and 10,000 km of travel with our Kona EV and Little Guy teardrop camper from South Australia to the Eastern states. This included a 2500 km trip from Adelaide to the Otways and Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and a 7700 km trip to Canberra, NSW and southern Queensland. See our trips page for details.

Map of our March to July 2021 trips

When we first set out towards Victoria, we were excited, but slightly anxious about how our long distance plans would work out, and whether we would enjoy this style of traveling. We have now become far less anxious and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and have learned a few things along the way.

Our Kona EV and teardrop camper.

We are very pleased with the Kona EV. It is comfortable and powerful enough to easily tow our small trailer. The driver assistance technologies (lane keep assist, distance sensing cruise control and rain sensing wipers) help to reduce driver fatigue on long trips.

Our teardrop camper is great, and it suits our minimalist approach to travel. However, it is not as aerodynamic as we had expected and reduces our range when driving at highway speeds much more than we had hoped. Without the trailer we can travel roughly 350km with a full charge, whereas the trailer reduces this to around 200 km. Fortunately, the maximum spacing of the fast chargers along the main routes from Adelaide into Victoria and NSW is around 200 km.

Charging

We find that we use fast chargers to get to an area, then slow charging (e.g. caravan park powered sites) meets our needs for driving locally. On our 2500 km Victoria trip we used only four fast chargers: Tailem Bend EVIE charger ($0.60/kWh), Chargefox chargers ($0.40/kWh) at Keith, Horsham and Ballarat. Otherwise, all charging was at caravan parks. Whereas on our 7700 km NSW trip, because of the longer distances, we used 25 different NRMA chargers (currently free), one Chargefox charger and two EVIE chargers.

Charging the car via the camper at a powered caravan park site

When covering long distances in a day, needing to charge the car two or three times for about an hour, slows us down. This means we take time to visit places we would not normally go to. Fast chargers are reliably well located, and mostly close to cafes, amenities and other attractions. They are also always in public view, and people quite approached us, interested and curious about electric cars, charging etc. Our teardrop camper is also a great conversation starter. We even gave a curious Ford V8 driver their first drive in an EV!

Fast chargers at Macksville

Each fast-charger along a long distance trip is crucial – especially with our low range when towing the camper. If a charger is occupied, this might delay us for an hour or so. As EV numbers rise, pressure on the few fast chargers will increase. Hopefully other drivers will not stay longer at a charger than they need to, and will use Plugshare to check-in or NeedToCharge, so they are contactable. If a charger is faulty and no substitute is available, we may need over 20 hours of slow charging instead. So we travel with the attitude that we might have to spend a night (or even two) using a powered site at a caravan park to charge enough to get to the next charger. Fortunately, this has not been necessary, but problems with charging have delayed us or caused us to change plans at times.

Trip planning

We make extensive use of A Better Route Planner (ABRP) to plan our long-distance routes between fast chargers, and help us decide where to make overnight stops (such as caravan parks where we can do a top-up charge overnight). ABRP does not easily handle the addition of the camper trailer and the effect it has on power consumption. In ABRP the default Reference Consumption for the Kona is 19.6 kWh/100 km, but we change this to 28.0 kWh/100 km, and add a 7 m/s head wind (25 km/h) and set the temperature according to local conditions. These settings are slightly conservative, and we almost always arrive at a charger or destination with more in the battery than predicted by ABRP. However, we like the security of this, as one day we might have to make an unexpected detour, and it is good to have some reserve!

A Better Route Planner (ABRP) and PlugShare phone apps are very handy for trip planning

PlugShare is helpful for checking charger status, and checking-in while charging. On our recent return trip we read on PlugShare that the Tanunda fast charger was out of service, and were able to change our route between Berri and Adelaide to go via Tailem Bend, rather than Tanunda. Had we not checked PlugShare, we may have needed to spend a night at the Tanunda caravan park to charge up.

WikiCamps Australia is also a useful app, as it helps us choose caravan parks along our route. The app allows you to filter caravan parks and camping sites, for example to see only those with powered sites.

A powered campsite near Myall Lakes, NSW

Power consumption when towing

Speed has a large impact on power consumption, especially when towing, but wind, hills and temperature also affect consumption to different degrees. When driving around 90 km/h with low winds, we have achieved 25 kWh/100km, while at around 105 km/hr, we have sometimes used up 33 kWh/100km.

When driving long distance, and especially a challenging stretch between chargers, we monitor our average trip consumption displayed on the Kona dash. We calculate the allowable consumption for the remaining trip based on:

(battery charge % – 10%) x 64 kWh / (number of 100 km)

For example, from Berri to Tailem Bend is 183 km. If we depart Berri with 90% charge, we calculate (90% – 10%) x 64 kWh/1.83 = 28.0 kWh/100 km (the 10% is the safety reserve we like to keep for our arrival). We therefore adjust speed to keep our average consumption at or below 28 kWh/100 km. This simple approach works best where the road conditions along the whole route are consistent.

Poor aerodynamics of the car plus camper are likely the main cause of high power consumption at speed. Some research we have done leads us to think that putting a tapered box on the trailer draw-bar and adding a smooth under-surface to the trailer would improve aerodynamics. But without trying these things, there is no simple way of knowing how much this would really benefit our range.

The aerodynamics of the car and camper are not as good as hoped

What have we learned?

  • Speed is a key factor affecting power consumption when towing
  • When driving long distances we keep a close eye on the car’s average consumption
  • It is wise to check the chargers ahead of your trip using PlugShare. Better to know in advance if one is out of order
  • National Park campsites with powered sites are rare but great, and we wish there were more of them
Beachport SA: One of the many nice locations we have been able to visit

What is next?

We have looked at whether we could cross the Nullabor to Western Australia towing the camper, and using 3-phase AC charging points along the way.  However, the on board AC charger (OBC) of our Kona is only rated at 7.2 kW, so it would take around 9 hours of charging to do each 200 km. That would mean the 2200 km from Adelaide to Esperance would likely take 11 days (one way!).  We look forward to the day when there are fast chargers at 200 km intervals along that route as well. In the meantime we are planning shorter trips in South Australia and a longer one in Tasmania.

See our trips page for details of our long distance trips.

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14 thoughts on “Reflections on long distance EV and camper trailer travel

  1. Thank you for creating your blog!
    I’m investigating making a tiny camper from a BYD T3 van which go on sale in Oz in a couple of days.
    Its slightly shorter than the Nissan ENV200 and there are lots of youtubers using these as campers.
    Range is 300km theoretical so I’m drawing 200km circles all over Western Australia and your story is really helpful for getting a better idea of what to expect as far as “fuelling” the adventure.
    I wonder if you’ve considered using a small fossil fuelled generator as an emergency backup, or if you think it is overkill and would never be used.

    Now i’m off o read more of your story. Thanks again!

    Like

      1. I fully support your fossil fool free stance, from my standpoint as an Extinction Rebellion Grandparent.
        I have also been stuck in rural WA in a stink-car at night with an empty tank due to my own ignorance and lack of planning, so my range anxiety applies to stink cars as well 🙂
        As one whose EV driving experience is one ten-minute stint in a Leaf I’m aware of my ignorance and looking for belt-and-braces security. Hopefully I’ll never use it, but I know my heart will beat slower crossing the Nullarbor if I know I have an emergency supply.
        What would be a cleaner/better solution? I think a portable PV array would be too low-powered or too bulky to be practical in a little van. Have you seen any other alternatives to plugging into the grid?

        Like

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