The tale of Teslas being stranded in Chicago and unable to charge due to the frigid weather is only a small part of a much bigger story.
In order to find out exactly what the problem was, Kyle Conner of Out of Spec Reviews on YouTube took it upon himself to fly into Chicago to experience what was going on firsthand.
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Extremely cold weather led to charging problems, but there’s more to it than that.
Chicgao’s recent EV charging disaster was compounded by rideshare drivers, faulty chargers and a lack of knowledge about preconditioning a battery pack and how vehicles charge in extremely cold weather.
Charging Stations Down—Tesla Superchargers Back Online, But EA And EVgo Issues Persist
What he found was a whole bunch of issues that compounded the charging problem and it wasn’t limited to Teslas. In fact, Tesla Superchargers were the best of the bunch there, as usual, with the bigger problems being linked to Electrify America and EVgo charging stations.
As Kyle points out in the video, even the new Electrify America fast chargers, which were promised to be more reliable than the older units, were failing at a high rate in the frigid Chicago weather. Surprisingly, an older EA unit was functional though. The EVgo sites had issues too, with several of the chargers out of service.
Meanwhile, the Tesla Superchargers, many of which weren’t functional a couple of days ago, were almost all back online by the time he arrived in Chicago. Kudos here to Tesla for working hard to get its fast chargers back up and running after a brutal sub-zero cold spell. EVgo managed to bring a couple of chargers back online by remotely rebooting them, but not all were functional when Kyle was in Chicago. The Electrify America sites largely remained offline for several days, with many still not functional when Kyle was there.
How Uber And Lyft Drivers Compounded The Problem
Let’s discuss the bigger issue in Chicago though and that’s the massive EV ridesharing fleet. When Kyle visited a Supercharging site in Chicago, nearly every Tesla there was either an Uber or Lyft rental car. There were Uber/Lyft Chevy Bolts and other EVs too.
These rideshare EVs clogged the charging stations and since most of these cars are rented out in an already-cold state and then often driven slowly and on very short trips, these cars never warm up sufficiently. Add in the fact that most Uber/Lyft drivers likely know next to nothing about EVs and preconditioning and you can begin to see why they contributed significantly to the charging issue in Chicago.
Additionally, most of these drivers don’t know that in extremely cold weather, it can take 45 minutes to an hour after plugging in before charging starts. During this time, the car draws a small charge to heat the battery so that it can accept a charge. If you unplug during this process, then it starts over when you move to another charger. So, if you see that you are drawing a small amount of power from the charger, keep the vehicle plugged in until that rate increases. This may take much more time than anticipated.
Kyle adds that different EVs precondition at various rates and notes that some LFP-equipped EVs will struggle to sufficiently precondition when temps drop down well below freezing. For example, with Tesla, the LFP battery cars are only RWD and can make half the heat to warm the battery since Teslas use the motor to warm the pack. This is something to consider if you live in an area that sees extreme cold. Perhaps think twice before buying an LFP-powered EV.
The Tale Of The One-Day Bolt Rental That Turned Into 3 Days Of Hell
Lastly, there’s an interesting Chevy Bolt rideshare story that’s covered in the video. A rideshare driver rented a Bolt and proceeded to do his pick-ups and drop-offs. He had rented the Bolt for one day. At the end of the day, he took the Bolt to the charger with just 1 mile of charge remaining.
The stations were all full so he left the Bolt there in hopes of returning later to plug in. He couldn’t stay in the Bolt with the heat on because that would have fully depleted the battery. Over three days, he returned various times to try to find an open stall. He was hoping to get just 10 miles of range so that the Bolt could be returned to the rental site. It wasn’t until day three that a stall finally opened up and he could get his much-needed charge.
However, during those three days, the Bolt driver had to rent another car for ridesharing (a Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid) so that he could continue his money-making work. So, he had two cars on rent since the Bolt sat still at the charger. He did attempt to get it towed to the rental agency, but the two truck companies in the area were overwhelmed at the time, so it wasn’t worth the wait.
Kyle concludes by stating that rideshare companies must install their own charging stations. He sees this as the only fix moving forward and we tend to agree here.