It's an EV driver's nightmare. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere with an Electrify America charging station that wouldn't charge our car.
It could have been worse. It was only 100 °F (38 °C) and not 120 °F (49 °C). The wind was only blowing at 15-20 mph (7-9 m/s) and not 20-40 mph (9-18 m/s). And I only got hit with one swirling dust devil while holding a cell phone in one hand and a thick charging cable in the other, peering over my polarized sunglasses to read the tiny screen on the phone.
Yes, we were fortunate. Others haven't been so lucky at EA stations and had to be towed. For us, the nearest tow truck was 30 miles (50 km) away. Home was another 116 miles (200 km).
Nor were not exactly in the middle of nowhere. But we could see it. (We were at a Chevron station and in a short walk there was a CalTrans highway rest stop--and that's it for a long, long ways.)
We also had cell phone service. That's not always the case in parts of California where we like to drive our EV.
And we eventually got the charge we needed. Eventually.
How? Miraculously, EA's infamous credit card readers were up and functioning. (The little green light was lit.) In desperation I finally asked the friendly EA assistant if I couldn't just try the credit card reader. She said, yes, it's showing that it's working, so try it. I again plugged the cable into the car, inserted my chip card in the reader, and then watched the screen go through its "initiating" motions. The cable locked to the car and after fumbling with frustrating screens asking if I want a receipt (No, I just want a charge), the station began to hum and start charging our Bolt--at a whopping 30 kW.
Again, we were happy that it was charging at 30 kW and not the 55 kW it should have been charging at. Yes, it was hot. We were tired. I was grumpy--to be polite. But it was charging and we were thankful for that.
So we jumped in, cranked up the A/C and sat back for a nice long charge.
We still don't know what went wrong. And neither does EA.
Our Covid-19 escape was pushing the limits of what we can do in one day. We knew that. We knew that EA's Coso Junction station had been operational less than two weeks. And we knew there was no backup if the station didn't work.
But we were game. I do my homework like a good boy. We've charged at EA stations before, not often, but more than once that's for sure. So I know how they're supposed to work. I monitored the few check-ins that had been registered on PlugShare and all seemed like a go.
And it was--initially. We drove from Bakersfield to Coso Junction, pulled in at 9:00 am to kiosk #1, and plugged in the cable. I loaded EA's app on my phone, swiped as instructed, held the cable until it locked, and heard the reassuring hum of the station charging the car. Amen. It worked, and like clockwork at that. We got our charge and drove off to Horseshoe Meadow in the High Sierra.
After enjoying a refreshing hike in the meadow at 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), we packed up for the long drive home. An hour later we pulled into Coso Junction again and that's when the fun started.
At 2:30 pm we pulled into the same kiosk that had worked well in the morning. It seemed to work at first. Then it stopped. I thought maybe I'd fumbled with the phone--clumsy fingers in the bright sun.
So I started again. No go. EA's app was telling me my "payment [was] declined." Ok, be that way I thought. We pulled over to dispenser #2, but EA's app produced the same message as before. Hmmm. Not a good sign.
I ducked into the car to get out of the wind and sun, pulled out my credit card and opened the account information on the app. It all looked good, but to be sure, I reentered all the information again. Then I saved it. Should work now, I thought.
Nope. After climbing out of the car, plugging in the cable, and swiping the app, EA was still declining payment. Oh, oh.
Now we were in a pickle and it was time to bring in the big guns by calling EA customer support.
EA's customer support is widely regarded as courteous and friendly. And they were. However, they could not clear up my account. They took a long time to even find a record of me in their system. And they never initiated a charge.
I don't know how long we would have been there if I hadn't noticed the green light on the credit card reader. EA never suggested trying the credit card reader until I asked them. We spent our time together trying to find out why the app wouldn't let me charge.
Obviously, my card was good or we'd still be in Coso Junction. The next day EA's $50 hold on my card appeared on my bank statement. The processing of the charge went through as normal for EA. And later payment for the charge cleared.
Here's the record of our first charge and of the aborted second charge later in the day. During the first session, we charged from 40% to 75% as planned. However, the second session doesn't look right. We definitely did not arrive with a 0% charge. We arrived with a 26% charge, shown as the end charge on the receipt. This is odd.
Later I received a receipt for this dropped session. I charged for one minute at 53 kW, gaining 0.8 kWh at a cost of $1.26.
Our helpful EA agent said that we had a negative amount in our "auto fill" account. Ok, then it should auto fill I thought. By this time I'd already entered all my credit card info and "saved" it as instructed by the app. If the problem was due to the expiration date, entering the information into the app while I was sitting at Coso Junction should have cleared it up. It didn't.
The next day I found that my inbox was showing a robo email from EA noting that I'd changed my "default" account information successfully. Good. That's what I was trying to do when EA's app kept displaying the message "payment declined" while I was sitting in a hot car in the middle of the desert the day before. So it was somewhat reassuring to know that I had done something when images of tow trucks were dancing in my head.
No Desktop Access to Account Info
EA's email message said to learn more by logging on to my account "online" or through the app. I followed the link in the message to EA's web site as instructed. Hmmm. I searched, and I searched. I couldn't find the tab, the link, the button, or anything that would take me to "account information."
I opened the app, tapped the account icon, and then tapped "billing details." There was my account information. It looked good to me. It showed that I had a negative balance of $0.78 from the day before. And below that was a message that it would auto-fill. Again, it looked good to me.
I called EA to confirm my observations. Yes, they said, there's no account information on the web site even though the email says to look there. Yes, the account information is only on the app.
One may wonder why EA's robo email provides a link to go online from a desktop computer when there's no account information there. Good question. If you meet an exec from EA or Volkswagen, its parent, please ask them.
While playing with the app later, I changed the vehicle information (I changed the model year of our Bolt). Again, an email popped up advising me that I'd changed the vehicle information and to check my account by going on line with web link. So the robo email with the misdirection wasn't one off.
EA Needs to Step Up its Game
We've been driving electric for six years and have never been stranded at a charge station. The use of RFID cards at EA's competitors ChargePoint and EVgo haven't let us down. We've never had to use a credit card until Coso Junction.
Our problem may not have been due to EA's app, it could be EA's accounting system. EVgo, in its previous iteration, had had issues with its payment accounting too, but I haven't seen any complaints lately.
As you may have guessed, my account information is easily accessible online at both ChargePoint and EVgo. I logged on from my desktop--not an app--just to confirm this.
I also confirmed that my EA app is working properly. I took the time out of my day to drive across town to plug in at an EA station. No problems. The app worked like it's supposed to.
EA's Coso Junction station has been a long time coming. For that all non-Tesla drivers are thankful. The station opens up the East Side of the Sierra Nevada, a major recreation corridor for Southern Californians, for non-Tesla EVs.
The station teased us drivers like a mirage in the desert. It was installed more than a year before it became operational. We longed for that station to open. It just sat there, gathering dust. We rejoiced when EA finally announced Coso Junction was live. It was a dream come true for many of us in this part of the world.
If it works--right.
EA's network may not be ready for prime time. They need to get these reliability issues fixed--and quickly. VW will be churning out ID4s in 2022 from their Chattanooga plant and the parent company won't be happy if they find VW customers stranded at a company-owned station. Early in EA's roll out of stations on the East Side, an Audi E-tron was stranded at an EA station in Bridgeport. They had to be towed. People who pay the kind of money you pay for an Audi don't take kindly to excuses.
Nissan drivers are already advised not to rely on charging at EA stations because of EA's preference for a competing charging standard to that used by the Leaf. (See Electrify America's DCFC Stations Favor CCS Charging Standard.)
Certainly, I'll think twice about using an EA station--when I have a choice.
EA's Coso Junction station is, unfortunately, all there is in that part of California. ChargePoint and EVgo are missing in action on the East Side.
EV Connect's one kiosk station in Inyokern 30 miles (50 km) south from Coso Junction is behind schedule. No one knows when it will go live.
And CalTrans station under construction at its Coso Junction rest stop is way behind schedule too. CalTrans has never made the charge stations in its 30-30 program a priority--and it tells.
In the meantime, all we non-Tesla drivers can do is plead politely for EA to get its act together--and soon.