A Gas Station Involuntarily Saved My Electric Vehicle!

This story starts, as so many like it have, with good intentions and high hopes. I picked up my brother on a sunny January day in St. Louis, and he gleefully stated that “it has to be 50 degrees out here!”, which it wasn’t quite that warm, but warmer than the usual January day in St. Louis. We drove southwest on highway 44 out of a bright sunny Saint Louis in our 2016 Nissan Leaf and stopped at the newly installed Chargepointe superchargers in Eureka, Mo. My brother was anxious to get to the office where he needed to sign some paperwork, so when the chargers wouldn’t charge the car, and the customer service person was amazingly slow and unhelpful, wasting 10 minutes of our time, we just drove on without charging, knowing that we had other options after the paperwork was signed in Union, MO. Finished the paperwork, looked at my charging options, and drove about 10 miles north to Washington, MO where a car dealership has 2 Level 2 chargers. Just to be safe, b/c I was down to about 22 miles, I called the dealership and was assured that yes, they had 2 chargers and they were fine. Drove up there, the first charger we tried wasn’t even hooked up to a live electrical line – there’s a button on the front of the Level 2 charger that is lit up green when it’s getting electric, and it was not lit. Nobody in the building could help – one guy said that a lot of construction was going on and that the line was probably down b/c of that. So we drove across the dealers lot to their other Level 2 charger – which also wasn’t live. And where the staff was also uninterested, ignorant, and refused to help. So, I’m at about 16 miles of range on the guess-o-meter (display on the dash that tells me how far I can drive on the charge in the car’s batteries) and have ZERO other charging options in range. I had a couple of choices – look for an unguarded 120 volt plug on the side of some building, call AAA to get towed to a supercharger, or check into a hotel which would allow me to plug in overnight, which would mean spending the night. My brother, who is a talented mechanic, hopped out of the car and tried to plug the Level 1 charge cable into plugs on the wall of a retail establishment and then some other commercial establishment, but both times he couldn’t get the plug to properly seat in the receptacle b/c of the shape of the plug head, so we drove on, searching in the darkening cold, for a plug that we could use just to pick up some driving range; so we could get to a supercharger that would allow us to get home. We were losing range at an alarming rate – 2 miles of range were lost in driving around looking for a plug. We drove by a gas station and my brother saw an ice machine sitting on the side of the parking lot, alone and unloved, plugged into a receptable just above ground level – he tried the plug and it worked!! Hallelujah – salvation! I felt a little guilty for unplugging that ice storage machine, but I justified that by noting that it was below freezing outside at that point, and the ice in that machine wasn’t in much danger. And besides, what’s less popular than an ice machine on a cold night in January in Washington, MO?

We ended up sitting there for 3 hours to amass enough charge to make a run for the supercharger in Eureka, about 23 miles southeast of where we were sitting. Fortunately, my brother was in a great mood, because he had just closed an important deal, so he didn’t attempt to choke the stupid out of me for taking this car on this trip, instead of our 2013 Chevy Volt, which would have run it’s gas backup system when it ran out of charge and which would have required zero recharging on this trip. And during our 3 hour stay at this lovely gas station, my brother got bored enough to read the user’s manual for the car, and we figured out why the supercharger in Eureka hadn’t worked for us – most likely because I had the car turned on while we were trying to start the charging process. Apparently, our car needs to be turned off to start the charging session – after the supercharging session starts, you can turn the car on, run the heating, radio and seat heaters, etc, but the supercharging station (a.k.a. DC Quick Charger) expects the car to be turned off to start the charging session. If we hadn’t been running late and fearful that the office we needed to get to would be closed by the time we got there, if we had gotten a quick and competent ChargePointe customer service rep, if maybe I had bothered to read my car’s user manual, none of this would have happened. Just a series of unfortunate incidents.

We made it back to the supercharger in Eureka, which started charging as soon as we plugged in with the car turned off, picked up 80+ miles of range quickly at a cost of $4.18, all the while running the heating and my seat heater. Getting that charge revived our good spirits, and we got home with no more drama!

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