Charging Ahead

Ease range anxiety while driving electric vehicles


by Dan Shryock

Photo Dylan Vanweelden

There’s a term used when talking about electric vehicles: range anxiety. It means a stress point for drivers concerned their car or truck will run out of power before reaching a destination. It’s also a new twist to an old worry. “Is there enough gas in the tank?” is being replaced with, “Is there enough juice in the battery?”

AAA Oregon/Idaho is making moves to help electric vehicle (EV) drivers feel more at ease on the road. AAA Service Centers in nine cities across the two states now have EV charging stations available for members who need to plug in. Locations in Portland, Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Clackamas, Salem, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Boise now provide charging locations where members can stop and recharge their EVs for up to two hours–for free.

“AAA is here to help our electric car owner members and enable them with reliability so they can feel confident driving EVs every day,” said Tim Morgan, president and CEO of AAA Oregon/Idaho.

More than 69,950 electric vehicles were registered in Oregon by July 2023, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Another 4,500 vehicles were registered in Idaho by July 2022, as reported by the Idaho Statesman. While the numbers may appear small, consider that Oregon’s EV registration rate jumped 171% since 2020; Idaho’s total is up 96% across the same period.

AAA Oregon/Idaho is looking to the future, Morgan said. EV vehicle sales will continue to grow and make up a significant portion of all Oregon passenger car sales by 2035. “We want to give our members peace of mind, and now we have a network of charging stations that they can rely on.”

Exploring Electric Vehicle Charging

Photo Courtesy Volvo of Bend

What is a Range?

The range of an electric vehicle, on average, is about 260 miles with a sufficient charge. EVs are commonly driven in population centers where charging stations are easier to find, and owners don’t stray far from home. EV use in rural areas lags because the vehicles simply cannot go the required distances. AAA Service Centers in Oregon with charging stations are located near interstates or along major thoroughfares. Likewise, Boise’s AAA Service Center and charging station is only a quarter mile from Interstate 184.

Managing the Anxiety

Onboard technology helps relieve drivers’ stress. Software built into each electric vehicle tracks speed, battery charge and more, calculating the number of miles that can be driven before the battery runs down. The data is displayed on a dashboard screen. If a driver enters a destination address, the vehicle’s computer system considers GPS information, creates a navigational map and shows where all charging stations are located along the way.

Understanding Charging Levels

Each electric vehicle has a battery that needs to be recharged, just as a gasoline-powered vehicle needs a tank of gas. An expanding national network of charging stations, including AAA’s nine regional points, have become the places to fill up the battery. There are three types or levels of EV charging systems.

Level 1–Imagine pulling into the garage at home, plugging one end of a charger cord into a common 120-volt AC electric wall socket and the other end into the vehicle. It’s as easy as that; the charge is slow but efficient when connected overnight. Anticipate gaining up to 5 miles of driving distance for each hour, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Level 2–Electricity moves much faster at charging stations such as those at AAA Service Centers. Two vehicles can charge at the same time at a AAA center. Each power cord carries electricity through 240-volt lines and has a standard connector that fits most electric vehicles. Expect to gain 10 to 30 miles for each hour at the station. Level 2 charging stations are also common at workplaces, shopping centers, restaurants and public areas. This connector does not always fit Tesla EVs, but most Tesla owners carry adapters.

Miles gained during a charge may vary depending on how much power each EV needs and technical variations. Two hours of free service gives AAA members plenty of time to relax inside the Service Center and browse available information, services and merchandise.

Level 3–While the first two levels work on alternating current (AC), Level 3 stations rush electricity on direct current (DC) at 480 volts or more, providing as much as 100 to 200 miles of range in 30 minutes. If Level 1 were a quiet country lane and Level 2 were a city street, Level 3 would be a high-speed interstate highway.

AAA Oregon/Idaho plans to expand its EV services, Morgan said, and install four Level 3 charging outlets at selected AAA Service Centers by January 2025.

There’s an App for This

Photo Courtesy Volvo of Bend

There’s an App for This

Phone apps help locate charging stations anywhere in the United States. AAA partners with ChargePoint, which is available for both Android and iPhone. ChargePoint helps drivers find public charging stations and lists the latest price information. It also reports the battery status while charging, notifies a user when a charge is complete and handles payments.

Emergency Road Service

In the event range anxiety becomes a side-of-the-road reality, AAA’s roadside assistance trucks are equipped with mobile EV charging capability, giving stranded drivers enough electricity to drive 10-20 miles to a charging station. AAA Oregon/Idaho offers this service in Portland, Eugene and Bend and plans to expand the service to additional cities in the coming months. “If you run out of gas, we can help,” Morgan said. “But what happens when you run out of charge? We’ll have the vehicles to give your EV a charge so you can get on your way.”

AAA tradition

Morgan sees AAA’s move to electric vehicle assistance as a part of the organization’s continuing support of the American automobile owner. “This is the evolution of AAA and why it was formed in the first place,” he said. “When AAA was formed in 1905, it was really about how to provide greater mobility as people transitioned from the horse and buggy to cars. That newfangled internal combustion engine vehicle was a short-range vehicle then. The challenges facing EVs are not much different today as we strive to enable the EV road trip.” 

Dan Shryock is a Salem-based journalist working with magazines and websites in California and the Pacific Northwest. His primary focus is cycle tourism and he recently explored all 17 of Oregon’s official scenic bikeways for an upcoming book.