Wherein I learn some important lessons: Don’t get overconfident with an EV; Don’t believe LA valets about their knowledge of EVs; The value of quick charging; Plan carefully; and—as always—allow plenty of time.
I don’t like driving to LAX. I don’t like driving to Los Angeles, period--whether in a gasser or an Electric Vehicle (EV). I am basically a small town boy transplanted to California. Driving in LA is unnerving in the best of circumstances. Add to that EV range anxiety and you have a recipe for fretting every leg of the trip.
No. I never ran out of juice. I never had to be towed. I never fell significantly below my reserve requirements. I made the 320-mile trip successfully, picked up Nancy, my wife, at LAX and got us back to Bakersfield, but it was more of an adventure than I’d planned.
I’d planned a route across the desert outbound to explore the fast charger in Lancaster and planned to return by the more direct route over the Grapevine. Both routes require at least one stop using a portable charge cable, an EVSE in the trade.
Don’t be Late
I got off to a bad start. I left nearly an hour later than I planned. I knew our Nissan Leaf. I knew the route. I knew what to do where--or so I thought. As I was soon to learn, I was overconfident.
Don’t Get Overconfident
My first charging stop was Mountain Valley RV Park at Tehachapi’s glider port. I’ve always liked hanging out at the glider port. It’s a pleasant stop anytime. This route would allow me to cross into the high desert via Oak Creek Pass.
I pulled into the RV park with 28% SOC and the park was nearly deserted. I pulled up to the first power pedestal I came to and got out our Jesla portable EVSE. Plugged in, turned on the circuit-breaker, and plugged in the Leaf. I checked the lights. The car was charging. “Nema problema,” or no problem as the Croatians say.
I went off to the terminal to while away an hour and pay my fee. There was nothing to worry about. I’d done this before. Everything was under control.
After 45 minutes, it was time to meander back to the car.
Woops! I had only a 40% charge and the car wasn’t charging. Everything was plugged in correctly. Then I noticed the breaker had tripped. Why, I don’t know. There was no one around. I flipped the breaker on and the car started charging again.
This was where I was glad we’d invested in the Jesla from Quick Charge Power. The Jesla is a Tesla mobile EVSE modified to work with the J1772 standard plug, such as the Leaf requires. It’s a surprisingly compact package that can deliver up to 40 amps continuously at 240 volts. It’s not cheap, costing nearly three times more than EVSEs from either ClipperCreek or EVSE Upgrade, but it can deliver all the power our Nissan Leaf can take and probably as much power future Leafs will require as well.
Within about 20 minutes I’d gotten the charge up to 51% which should allow me to get to Lancaster within my reserve.
I quickly packed up my gear, because now I was definitely getting behind, and hit the road to Oak Creek Pass. I kept the A/C off until I cleared the pass and started down into the desert where the temperature was heading toward 100 F (38 C).
Lesson learned: Check your charging status. Don’t become overconfident and walk off thinking you’ll have a full charge when you get back. You might. Then again, you might not.
Going into the Red
I’d programmed all the stops into my GPS, including the DC Fast Charger in Lancaster at the Museum of Art & History. Or so I thought.
I drove conservatively, but kept up with traffic and when the GPS took me into town, I followed it. When I neared the destination I knew I’d made a mistake and picked the wrong charge station on the GPS—there’s a Level 2 near the fast charger.
Planning pays, as does studying Plugshare.com. I new the fast charger was nearby and followed my mental map and found it. I pulled in and—there was a Leaf already charging.
Oh boy. I hope he just didn’t get here, I thought. He had a blind up in his car and was lying back in his seat, taking a nap. (He must have had his A/C on. It was hot--very hot.)
I got out and checked the fast charger’s screen. He had only 10 minutes remaining of his 30 minute allocation. He was soon over 80% and hadn’t budged. However, he soon folded up his blind rotated his seat forwarded and got out of the car.
We exchanged pleasantries while he went through the shut down procedure and removed the massive CHAdeMO plug. We discussed EVs and his Leaf (he loves it) as I waited for the station to verify my card.
I was soon verified and lugged the connector to our car, plugged in, and pressed “start”. 40 kW of DC power was soon pouring into the car’s traction battery. It’s always amazing when this works the way it is supposed to.
The coolness of the nearby air-conditioned museum was beckoning and I wondered off. I again may have dallied a little too long. I came back and there was 26 minutes on the clock and the car was up to 96% state of charge. The station had already begun tapering the charge. There wasn’t much point in lingering longer.
After I got in the car, updated my paper work, and was ready to drive off with the A/C on max I noticed the temperature gauge. The temperature of the traction battery had increased two “bars” in Nissan lingo.
Off I went and since I was getting further and further behind, I drove more aggressively than usual to the next fast charge station in Santa Clarita.
Both the Nissan CHAdeMO and the ABB CHAdeMO were available. I pulled in and began charging.
With no one waiting to charge and a long stretch to an intermediate stop, the airport, and then on to a hotel, I wanted more than the accepted 80% SOC.
By now I’d driven the car more than 120 miles and had used fast chargers twice. When I got in to drive off I noticed that the temperature gauge had gone up a few more bars and was “in the red”. Just barely in the red, but in the red nonetheless.
Ok. Second lesson learned. When it’s summer in the desert, don’t push fast charging above 80%. I had plenty of time on the drive into LA proper to recall all those posts on mynissanleaf.com warning about overheating the traction battery from quick charging.
Valet-Charging—Trust but Verify
I reached our friends Sarah Forth and Joe Maizlish’s apartment in Silverlake with 60% SOC for a cool drink after a hot day in the blistering sun of the Mojave Desert.
Sarah offered to figuratively hold my hand as she guided me to LAX through downtown LA during rush hour. I took her up on that. That made the trip enjoyable and eliminated any wrong turns on my part that would eat up valuable charge.
We arrived at the Bradley Terminal with 35% SOC. I’d calculated that should be enough to get to our swanky hotel in Westwood with an ample cushion.
Sarah hopped on a bus to Union Station and I picked up Nancy, fresh off her flight from London.
Then we were off to the W Hotel in what the hotel calls West Beverly Hills. (It abuts the UCLA campus in Westwood.) Swanky doesn’t begin to describe the W. As the French would say it’s haute de gamme, top-of-the-line, upscale.
I’d picked the place because we’d been there before, they were on our route home, and—most importantly--they had a J1772 charge station. I called the hotel to reserve a room and asked the operator specifically if I needed to reserve the charge station because I needed a full charge for the next day. The operator assured me that there were "several" charge stations and that overnight charging would not be a problem.
Normally, I park our car and I plug it in. That way I know it is being charged.
When we arrived at the W, the parking attendant informed me that there's only valet parking. He then assured me that he would plug the car in for us. When I asked if he knew where to plug the car in he said yes he did.
When I opened the trunk he saw my portable charge cable and said, "Oh, that won't be necessary, we have our own chargers." That's good because I didn't want him to use the Jesla portable EVSE. It was there for someplace else and I told him that.
The next day the parking attendant retrieved my car. Immediately I noticed that it had not been charged. The attendant said that it must be charged because he unplugged it himself. However, the car's charge was at the same level as when I brought it in. It was not charged.
This was bad news, but it soon got worse. When I opened the trunk I saw that our Jesla portable EVSE was missing. This is a $1,000 charge cable! (That's almost two nights at the W!)
I insisted on going into the garage with the attendant to see how many chargers they had--and to find our Jesla EVSE.
I saw only one J1772 Level 2 ClipperCreek charger, and it was being used by a iMEV. The attendant then showed me where he unplugged my car. There was a Tesla charger on the wall. Our car is not a Tesla. It’s a Nissan Leaf.
Then the attendant picked up the connector that he had unplugged from my car, but I couldn't see where it went. So I climbed over some ladders and cables and untangled the charge cable. It was our charge cable. (Good.) Then I looked to see where it was plugged in to the wall. It was not plugged in to anything. It was just lying on the ground in a mess of cables and ladders!
What I later pieced together is this. The hotel has only one J1772 charge station, but it has two Tesla stations. That’s “several” stations to the uninitiated.
The valet thought, EV, we’ve seen those before. The J1772 is occupied or reserved for someone else, so he pulls the Nissan Leaf up to the Tesla station. He takes the Tesla connector and looks at the J1772 receptacle on our car and goes Hmm this isn’t going to work. Then he opens the trunk and takes out our Jesla EVSE, plugs it into the snout of the Leaf and then takes the other end to plug into . . . what?
I’d left the NEMA 14-50 plug on the Jesla after charging at the RV park in Tehachapi. The attendant looks around and sees that there’s no 240-volt receptacle that will take this plug. Uh-oh.
I don’t know what happened next. The attendant either walked away or forgot about it. Then he went off duty and didn’t tell anyone.
This whole episode could have been avoided if the valet company or the hotel had called me to tell me the problem. I would have helped them sort it out. EV drivers encounter all kinds of problems. We’re used to it. We are more knowledgeable about EVs and how to charge them than even a parking valet in trendy LA.
The W caters to a clientele that expects service and results. When someone turns their Ferrari over to a valet at the W, they want it handled correctly. And yes, there was a Ferrari parked out front as we were sorting out our little problem with the valet service.
I suggested that they valet service train their employees better or send them off to a re-education camp. Otherwise, we enjoyed our stay at the W.
Less learned: As President Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” If a valet says, “Sure, we do this all the time.” Go into the garage with them and make sure they plug your car it into the right connector.
Fortunately, I’d studied our route carefully. After calming down from all the excitement I pulled up Plugshare on my phone. The fast charger was still down on the UCLA campus. It’s been down for weeks if not months. Then I noticed the West LADWP fast charger alongside I-405 was nearby. In my excitement, I’d almost forgotten about it. It was only a few miles away and was relatively easy to find. We pulled in and the woman charging her Leaf was just finishing up. Within 45 minutes we were on our way to the Santa Clarita fast charge station.
By 10.30 when we finally were on the road, traffic had thinned out. So the delay probably worked to our favor.
Only now the dash display was warning me that tire pressure was low. Great, another dilemma to worry about. I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Some digital glitch. . .
Lebec’s Flying J Less Welcoming
We’d charge up to 89% at Santa Clarita and after cresting Tejon Pass arrived at the Flying J truck stop in Lebec with 24% SOC.
It just seemed like a fitting end to a star-crossed trip. When we arrived at the Flying J it took a good 10 minutes on hold before someone at Shorepower took my call. Meanwhile I was unloading our 240-volt extension cord and our Jesla to get the charge needed for the ride down the mountain to Bakersfield. After we were finally cleared to begin charging, we strode off to the truck stop for lunch.
Whoa. No Denny’s. Gone. Roped off. Tables removed. Empty. There’s not much of a lounge at the Flying J so it was back to the car. Fortunately, as an experienced EV user I’d packed an extra sandwich and some veggies and drinks in a cooler for such situations and I am glad I did.
The loss of the Denny’s at Flying J is all the more reason to get a quick charger somewhere in the vicinity of the Grapevine as soon as possible. With a quick charger, we won’t have to wait several hours at the Flying J getting sufficient charge for the next leg into the LA basin or on to Bakersfield.
I’d figured we need 7 kWh for the Bakersfield leg to arrive within my reserve requirements. Again, the Jesla delivered on its promise. Within 50 minutes we’d raised our charge 28% or about 6 kWh and had the charge needed to easily make Bakersfield. We arrived home with 20% SOC at an average speed of 52 mph.
Overall lesson learned: Don’t get cocky. Plan ahead and be prepared.
Oh, that low tire pressure warning? It was nothing. All the tires were properly inflated, just less pressure than the trigger point for the warning sensor. Not something to worry about.
This article is posted on my web site at Electric Vehicles
See also: Stats on a Star-Crossed Trip: Bakersfield to LAX & Return.