As I frequently discuss on this site, when towing you should generally expect around a 50% reduction in the vehicle’s range. The weight of the trailer/caravan and its aerodynamic profile both play their part in reducing the distance an electric car can travel. Electric car efficiency is also heavily influenced by the speed at which you’re travelling. Therefore, when towing with an electric car on the motorway range can be significantly reduced. So we need to talk about the current state of UK motorway rapid charging.
Table of Contents
Introduction To Charging While Towing
I’ve previously written about destination charging an electric tow car, sometimes referenced to as Level 1 and Level 2 charging. This will include charging via a 3 pin plug or 7kW dedicated EV charger at your home or destination which could be a caravan site/supermarket etc.
I’ve also previously written about rapid charging an electric tow car explaining the different rapid charging standards, speeds and charging networks etc. Within those articles, I’m mainly discussing the technical capabilities/limitations of current charging technology/infrastructure.
What I want to discuss in this article is the current practicalities (or lack thereof) of charging an electric car while towing. Hence, with a trailer/caravan on the back of the car can you actually get into a charging bay or even get to a charging bay?
Current State Of Motorway Service Station Rapid Charging
As I stated at the start of this article, its when an electric car is travelling at high speeds, hence on the motorway where range reduction is most significant. Put a trailer/caravan on the back of an electric car with its associated weight/aerodynamic drag and the range is reduced further.
If you browse my electric tow car list you will see that the market is delivering more and more electric cars that can tow, and the driving range of these cars is increasing. As things currently stand it would appear that most electric tow cars on sale today could cover at least 100 miles towing even under a worst-case scenario (high speeds up a hill in bad weather etc).
If you were to travel over 100 miles with a trailer/caravan in tow its highly likely you are doing so via a motorway. Hence, you are going to want to rapid charge at a motorway service centre. In the UK there are four main UK operators which are the following:
On January 1st 2022 I sent an email to the PR teams of each of the motorway service station operators above. I asked them questions about their current provisions for charging an electric car that’s towing a trailer/caravan at their service stations. I requested a response before the publication of this article on January 31st 2022, below are their responses:
No response was received.
“At the moment, electric tow cars can charge at our sites by unhitching the trailer/caravan and using our dedicated charging points. The layout of each site varies so we advise customers to call the particular site in advance if they have concerns or to visit our website (www.welcomebreak.co.uk).
“At a number of our sites, it is possible to disconnect and park a trailer or caravan in the relevant car park to then charge an electric car that is being used for towing. We recognise this is not possible at all sites and is something we need to address as demand rises.”
“We will consider specific caravan and trailer charge points in future rollout plans as we do not currently offer any dedicated charging bays for towing vehicles. People towing vehicles can currently unhitch in adjacent bays without the need to drive through convoluted one-way or no-entry areas.”
Summary Of Responses From Service Station Operators
Infer what you will by the lack of response from Moto. With regards to the responses from Welcome Break and Roadchef, there are two key points to take away with regards to rapid charging an electric car that’s towing.
First, as things currently stand no network operator has rapid chargers in the HGV/caravan parking area of their service stations. Hence, currently, if you wish to rapid charge it will require you to unhitch and drive over the rapid chargers in the car parking area.
However, Welcome Break states that they advise customers to call prior to a site visit to confirm the layout of the site hence access to the rapid chargers. Furthermore, Roadchef state they recognise it is not currently possible at all of their sites to get from the HGV parking area over to the rapid chargers.
Extra provided feedback that while they do not currently offer dedicated charging bays for electric cars towing it is possible at their sites to unhitch and get to their rapid charging bays without the obstacle of one-way/no-entry access issues.
At this point in the development of electric car charging infrastructure, I don’t believe it should be too surprising that dedicated rapid chargers in the HGV parking areas have not been realised. Hence, the need to unhitch a caravan/trailer to drive over to a rapid charger.
However, as things currently stand an electric vehicle owner with a caravan/trailer in tow should not presume its possible to get from the HGV parking area over to the rapid chargers. Most motorway service stations operate on a oneway system for obvious safety reasons.
Conclusions On The Challenge Of Charging While Towing
I’m an electric car owner who also owns a small caravan site (Horton Common). One of the reasons I started electrictowcars.co.uk was not only to make people aware of which EVs can tow but to educate on the realities and challenges of towing with an electric car.
I believe the issue of charging while towing in terms of access to rapid chargers is not well understood by the general public and its not discussed enough within the media. Therefore, I wanted to write this article to bring more attention to the issue so electric car owners who wish to tow plan their journies accordingly.
I’ve previously discussed this issue with GridServe who now operate the Electric Highway chargers at many UK motorway service stations. GridServe with the design of their own first dedicated EV forecourt at Braintree, Essex have considered EVs towing with the layout of the chargers which is good to see.
However, its clear that the current layouts of existing motorway service stations are going to present a challenge/obstacle to electric cars towing and accessing rapid chargers. That is until rapid chargers are installed in the HGV/trailer/caravan parking area.
Therefore, its vital that these access issues between the HGV parking areas and car park rapid chargers are addressed ASAP to avoid situations where EVs are driving the wrong way through one way systems and through no entry signs in order to get to and from a charger.