November/December 2022


Balky chargers leave family stranded in dangerous conditions

Last January my wife and I decided to take the ID.4 (2021 Pro S) for its first road-trip. We likely shouldn’t have now that I know more, but the trip was across Wisconsin from Milwaukee to near Chippewa Falls, about 255 miles. Route planner ABRP told us we could go with one stop midway and make the journey in about 5.5 hours.

We loaded up the kids and stuff and headed out. About 45 minutes in on the highway, I quickly realized we would not make it to the midway charger in Tomah, that we’d have to stop in Madison (about an hour earlier).

Super important context: it was cold. Not like cold for Florida but Wisconsin cold. Single digits dropping to minus 15 degrees F.

Holy cow, does that cut the range! So what was planned as one charging stop turned into three, each for at least 40 minutes.

Inconvenience — and we’d get to our destination at like midnight instead of 9:30 p.m., but hey, that’s an adventure and learning.

The nightmare started when we got to the Electrify America station at the Walmart in Eau Claire.

At this point, we had 55 miles of range showing and the destination was 54 miles away, deep into rural roads to a cabin where we’d meet some family friends. I was not about to chance that as the car already had a 30-mile error in its estimation so far and now the temperature had dropped to minus 12.

I get to the EA chargers and none of them will work. In bitter cold, each time I start the charge, it starts as normal (we’ve already charged twice tonight) but as soon as it draws the electricity, it reads “charging process error” (or something close).

I try all four stalls. Same error each time.

It’s 11:30 at night. Temperature is dropping. I’ve got two kids in the back and an anxious wife, and I cannot get the car to charge.

I call EA. They try to help, restarting stations, initiating the charging themselves, telling me to lift up on the plug … we try everything. I get the same error and all the stations again. 

“We think it is likely too cold …”

It’s 15 below zero. In dangerous territory to be stranded. I know we can make it to somewhere for safety, but the car will not charge.

So I call my friend who’s already asleep at the cabin we are visiting and ask him to come and get us. “OK … I’ll be there by 12:50 a.m.,” he says. A real trouper and a good friend.

We wait in the car — miserable with worried kids who can’t sleep and a stressed and tired spouse, and I’m feeling like a total idiot for buying this car, for taking this car. 

We sit in the parking lot with frost creeping over the windows and the climate control keeping the cold at bay, but, damn, I’m getting worried.

At last, my friend arrives, and we load all our stuff and kids into his Palisade and make it to the cabin, leaving the ID.4. All are safe and asleep soundly by 2 a.m. (after my friend gives me the appropriate grief about EVs).

We drive back around 1 p.m. the next day when it “warms up” to 10 degrees and I try charging.

Hallelujah, it works! Charges up while we get the grocery run list at Walmart and drive around killing time. I end the session at 90% state of charge and then we head back to the cabin.

I share this to caution anyone to think twice before venturing on a road trip when the temps are near or below 0. The range got cut by 40% and we got stranded, unable to charge.

It was not a pleasant experience — and something I’ll never do again.

One update: From a customer service angle, Nick of EA called me three times and eventually reached me to talk about my experience, hear the feedback and discuss what they should investigate or improve. Impressed with that customer service. 

Of course, now they have to solve the actual issue, if the issue was the charger and not the car. But that was an important gesture and speaks to the culture there.

Minus-15 really was an extreme circumstance. Return trip, we drove home with temps in single digits, stopping at that charger and three others and they all were smooth and easy.


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