In May of 2019, my wife Grace and I purchased a fully electric 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf. I wrote a travelogue about my adventurous road trip from Memphis, TN to Carbondale, IL. Now, it’s time for an update about what owning an electric car in Southern Illinois has been like so far.
Great on Short to Mid-range Trips
Our 2016 e-Golf has been simply delightful for short to mid-range trips. We do most of our driving in and around Carbondale, Illinois, a college town about two hours away from St. Louis, the nearest big city. Since it’s a fairly small town, even our busiest day usually only involves about zero to fifteen miles of driving. This makes it easy to keep the car fully charged every day. We just plug it in at night and between errands, and it always has a full or nearly full charge.
We also sometimes travel to neighboring towns. How does the car perform on these slightly longer trips?
My wife, Grace, usually carpools to her teaching job in Anna, Illinois. But she occasionally drives to the school and back for special events or when carpooling isn’t an option. It’s a twenty-one-mile trip each way, which makes it a forty-two-mile round trip. So if necessary, we could do a full day of errands, followed by a round trip to Anna, and still have plenty of range left without charging.
We also occasionally drive to Marion, Illinois for meetings or events. Marion is about eighteen or nineteen miles away, so that trip is similar range-wise to our trips to Anna. There’s apparently an electric charger in Marion at a car dealership that we could use in a pinch, but we haven’t bothered visiting it yet since we haven’t needed it.
There are also two nice chargers at John A. Logan College, which is on the road between here and Marion. The chargers are located in two separate parking lots (Lot B and Lot F) and were easy to find using the PlugShare app. The completely free charger in Lot F was in use when I arrived, so I know I’m not the only Southern Illinoisan driving an electric car! The other charger in Lot B was part of the ChargePoint network. The bad news about that charger is that I had to create a ChargePoint account and pay a $10 membership fee in order to use it. But the good news is that the actual charging was free, and now I can access any ChargePoint charger in the future.
There aren’t many public chargers in Southern Illinois, but two of the biggest towns around here — Carbondale and Marion — do have chargers. I anticipate more chargers popping up as more people switch to electric and demand for chargers increases. If you want people who drive electric cars to spend time in your town, at your business, etc., make sure there are electric chargers nearby.
Range is not at all an issue for our day-to-day driving. We drive it wherever we want locally, charge it overnight, and relish in the fact that we never have to buy gas or oil again! This is especially helpful because Illinois just passed a regressive gas tax hike. Everyone’s gas costs are going up right now in Southern Illinois, but our transportation costs are very low and very steady because we drive an electric car. No gas tank to fill, no oil changes, no maintenance costs at all so far, and very few in the foreseeable future. I’m sure there’s been a slight increase in our electric bill, but it’s so low that it’s undetectable relative to seasonal variations in all of our other electric use (AC, lights, etc.). We’ll know more when we have a full year’s worth of data for the sake of comparison.
The only concern we have right now in terms of additional expenses is the ridiculous $100 electric vehicle registration fee that recently passed in Illinois. But that hasn’t kicked in yet, and it’s balanced out by the fact that we’re not paying for gas anymore. So even though it’s ridiculous that we have this EV fee at all, at least it’s less than what we would have paid in taxes if we were still buying gas for our old gas-guzzler.
Overall, our electric car will still be much more affordable to own and operate than a gas car.
All of the other aspects of performance are great too. It took us a while to learn about all of the bells and whistles of this make and model since our previous car was a nineteen-year-old station wagon that didn’t have many fancy features. But now we really appreciate the powerful air conditioning, excellent acceleration and handling, regenerative brakes, rearview camera, and so on.
Carbondale, Illinois to Grantfork, Illinois
The longest trip we’ve gone on since buying our electric car is the trip we just took to Grantfork, Illinois to visit family. At ninety-six miles, this trip is a bit beyond our usual eighty-something mile range. Therefore, we had to find a good charging station along the way. Thankfully, the PlugShare app helped us find a great spot in Carlyle, Illinois, which was just a mile or so out of our way.
Case-Halstead Public Library
The Case-Halstead Public Library in Carlyle, Illinois is a wonderful electric car charging spot. They have a single free charger in their parking lot, and like most libraries, they are very hospitable. I’m almost hesitant to let people know about this spot since they only have one charger and I don’t want it to become so popular that it’s occupied every time we go there! But I do want to thank the library for their hospitality and inform my readers about a good spot when I find one, so here you go.
On the trip there, the spot was available without a wait time. We plugged in and enjoyed the library’s air conditioning and hospitality while we waited about two hours for the car to charge enough to continue on our way. Someone offered us water or coffee, which was nice, and our daughter Bedelia had a great time exploring their children’s section. Books, magnetic building blocks, dozens of soft puppets, and enough materials to keep a three-year-old entertained for two hours, which is impressive.
Highland Plaza Square
While we were in Grantfork, we also decided to meet up with two friends who live in Belleville, Illinois. Our friends were kind enough to drive almost all the way to Grantfork for a meet-up in nearby Highland, Illinois.
Highland is only about 7 miles away from Grantfork, so there really wasn’t any need for us to charge our car in Highland. There’s a free charger in Highland, though, and it was only a block from the restaurant, so we decided to give it a try.
It was a great spot! The charger was near the corner on a full block of free street parking. There was a sign saying that only electrics could park in front of the charger, which is a helpful way to ensure that the spot doesn’t get “ICEd” — a term in online forums for when an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle blocks a charger.
There still aren’t many fully electric cars in Southern Illinois yet, so most charging spots are available on either the first try or soon thereafter. The next time we come through Highland, we may park at this spot for a while just to charge a bit, enjoy the park, and maybe even stop for something to eat nearby.
I can definitely see how installing a charger can be a boon for surrounding businesses and other destinations. This charger definitely increases the chances that we’ll spend time in Highland occasionally rather than just passing through.
Case-Halstead Public Library, Take Two
On the way home from Grantfork, I was driving back to Carbondale solo while Grace and Bedelia were off on an epic adventure on their way to Ecuador for a Habitat for Humanity trip. As it turns out, it’s a good thing that I was driving solo this time, because the only charger they had at the Case-Halstead Public Library was unavailable!
The car currently charging was a Tesla of some sort, and the car parked right next to it (in a mostly empty lot) was a Leaf. I was concerned that those two cars might be using the charger all day. Since I was traveling solo, I decided to be a bit adventurous and see if I could find a charger that supposedly existed 6-7 miles away at a campsite by a large lake.
That adventure turned out to be a wild goose chase! After Google Maps foolishly led me down a grass road that was technically closed and seemingly abandoned, I found my way to the parking lot in question. The PlugShare listing led me to a big parking lot surrounded by RV campsites. I didn’t see an obvious charging spot, so I parked and look around on foot for a few minutes. I couldn’t find a charger anywhere.
It was a beautiful natural area, but the lack of a charger definitely detracted from my appreciation of said beauty.
I asked a worker at the park if there were any electric car chargers there. He said no. If that charger exists somewhere in some other neighboring lot, I didn’t find it. All that they had in that lot were standard wall outlets for RVs, which are much slower for charging than the J1772 charging station that the app had indicated was present.
I knew in advance that this particular site might not be the best place to charge. There was a listing for the site on PlugShare, but no recorded check-ins, which meant that no one who uses the app had ever charged there. I submitted a report about the erroneous listing to PlugShare, so hopefully, future travelers in our area who are looking for a place to charge won’t make the same mistake. The app’s check-in feature helpfully includes an option to say that I wasn’t able to charge there. This is a quicker way than the error report process to clue other users into the fact that there’s not a working charger somewhere.
Luckily, by the time I was done with my campsite misadventure, the charger at the library was available. I’d used up almost an hour of time and almost twenty miles of range. But at least I had a good story to tell, and now I was at a pleasant spot that actually had a charger available.
The Journey Home
After a week out of town visiting family and a zany side quest searching in the woods for a non-existent charger, it’s good to be home.
What comes next for our electric car? Hopefully many fun trips around town and throughout Southern Illinois!
Now that we’re used to driving our electric car, I probably won’t do a full post about it every time we go on a trip or visit a new charger. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you want to see quick posts and pics along those lines. What I will do here, though, is write a full post any time we have a particularly interesting story to share, or any big news to share about electric cars and electric transit in Southern Illinois.
If we want to come anywhere near the Paris Agreement goals of keeping global warming below 1.5°C or 2°C, we need to transition away from all fossil fuel use as rapidly as possible. This includes, but isn’t limited to, replacing internal combustion engines with electric vehicles and electric public transit.
Individual consumption choices aren’t everything. If we’re serious about responding to the climate crisis, we need to make systemic changes to our transit systems and all other major systems of our society. In the meantime, while those changes are in the works, switching to an electric vehicle is a good way for many people to participate in that transition. And now that high-quality used electric car models are coming on the market, it’s becoming easier each day for a broader range of people to make that important transition.