My first road trip in an electric car was almost a huge disaster

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider
  • I almost ran out of battery during my first long trip in an electric car.
  • But living with the Ford Mustang Mach-E got easier once I changed up my habits.
  • Road tripping in an EV is totally doable if you plan ahead and plug in whenever you get the chance.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“How far away are we?” I frantically asked my girlfriend and copilot for the 15th time in as many minutes.

It was 10 p.m. on a Friday, we were still a good 30 miles (48km) from our destination in rural Vermont, and the car Ford had loaned me for the week – a 2021 Mustang Mach-E – was running out of battery fast. Stressed out and potentially stranded wasn’t how I wanted a weekend of camping to start, nor was it how I’d imagined my first long drive in an electric car would go.

I’d set out from New York City six hours earlier, brimming with expectations about what road tripping might look like in our battery-powered future. But here I was, anxiously piloting the Mach-E into the pitch-black Vermont night, watching helplessly as the car’s battery level ticked down toward 10%, then past it.

If “range anxiety” is an EV owner’s persistent fear of running out of juice without a charger nearby, I was experiencing something more like acute range panic.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider

I had cut the A/C long ago in a bid to preserve the Mach-E’s last remaining electrons for running its two motors. In my darkest and dumbest moments, I considered going without the headlights too, in case they were contributing to the battery drain. We scrambled for some way to switch off the ambient lighting in the compact SUV’s cabin but couldn’t figure it out.

Doubling back to a charging station at this point would’ve added hours to our journey – and, since we had booked a private campsite and our host was waiting, showing up in the middle of the night wasn’t an option. We decided to forge onward and figure out the rest later. I slowed down, got behind a semi, and attempted to consume as little energy as possible.

The most frustrating part of it all was that I’d tried my best to do everything right.

At Ford’s suggestion, I’d used the FordPass app to plot a route from New York – chargers and all – and followed it to the letter. The app recommended stopping at an Electrify America station in Massachusetts and charging up to 67% battery. It estimated that would give us enough mileage to get to our campsite with 19% charge remaining, plenty to mosey our way to a charger the next morning.

But for some reason, the Mach-E started eating through battery at a worrisome pace on the second leg of the journey. We left the Massachusetts rest stop with some 180 miles (290km) of range to cover the 145 miles (233km) that lay ahead, but that buffer evaporated in the hours that followed.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider

In the final stretch of the drive, a message kept popping up on the Mach-E’s screen alerting us that battery level was critical and that we were out of range of any known chargers.

“Yeah, I freaking know!” I barked at the inanimate object, not in those exact words. No response.

By this point, cell service had become increasingly spotty, too. Things were getting dicier by the minute.

We eventually made it to our campsite – crisis was averted. But we were left with a measly 6% battery, good for just 13 miles (21km) of driving. The closest charging station? A tragic 15 miles (24km) away. “So close, yet so far” never rang truer.

Had our host not been kind enough to let us plug into his garage the following morning, we would’ve been utterly screwed. Fortunately, it turns out that Vermonters who open their farms up to campers tend to be pretty easygoing.

Charging the Mach-E using a standard household outlet would be excruciatingly slow, but I had no other choice. After four hours of strolling around the property and munching on farm-fresh eggs and veggies, the car had absorbed enough energy to allow for just over 20 miles (32km) of driving, enough to get to a more powerful charger. With that, the weekend finally started to turn around.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider

A Ford spokesperson told me that range predictions can be off when the Mach-E encounters an environment it’s not used to. Steeper roads, hotter weather, and a new driver with new habits, for instance, can throw Ford’s so-called Intelligent Range system for a loop, but the car should adapt and improve estimates over time, he said.

Sure enough, for the rest of the weekend, the Mach-E’s range predictions were spot on. Nearly every trip we took around Vermont actually consumed less energy than estimated. We generally arrived places with a few more miles in the “tank” than we’d expected and never had to relive the sudden battery drain we experienced on that first nerve-racking drive.

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Once I had a solid amount of battery to work with and a bit more trust in the Mach-E, I could focus less on the next charging fix and more on enjoying what the crossover had to offer.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider

The Mach-E’s punchy acceleration made it a joy to drive and, on a more practical level, made quick merges and lane changes a breeze. Unlike gas-powered vehicles, which need to rev up to speed gradually, electric cars deliver all their power nearly instantaneously. The Mach-E First Edition I had, all 5,000 pounds (2,268kg) of it, can rocket to 60 mph in around five seconds.

Stomping the accelerator and feeling the hulking SUV leap forward with all its might never got old, though the brutal torque of its sportiest setting, Unbridled mode, did get a little nauseating. The way the Mach-E does all of this eerily silently, without the familiar rumble of a combustion engine, makes driving it all the more thrilling.

At low speeds, practically all that’s audible is the hum of the air conditioning, and it’s exceptionally quiet on the highway, too. It all makes for a refreshingly comfy and relaxed atmosphere, especially on long drives. But I’d imagine the same applies to any EV.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider

Frustrated at first by the limitations of range and charging, I learned to live with the Mach-E once I stopped treating it like a gas-powered car.

EVs are a new technology that require a new set of routines and habits – if you don’t recognize that and adjust, they become a major hassle. Running a car almost to empty before thinking about refueling just doesn’t work when you swap a gas tank for a battery pack, for example.

But going places in an EV becomes pretty effortless once you start to fold charging into your day-to-day routine, picking up energy in short bursts when it’s convenient rather than all in one go when it’s necessary.

That sometimes meant taking a detour for a quick charge, but most of the time it involved plugging in when we were going to be parked for a while anyway. During each stop for coffee or a meal, I took the opportunity to replenish the Mach-E’s battery, even if it was only for a few minutes. Plugs are plentiful in Vermont, and finding them was a few taps away on the FordPass app or the Mach-E’s giant center screen.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Tim Levin/Insider

The same mentality applies on long drives – the most daunting part of owning an EV. When it came time to make the 300-mile (483km) trip back to Queens, Ford’s Trip Planner routed a 20-minute stop at a charger in upstate New York. That was just the right amount of time to use the bathroom, stretch our legs, and air out some damp camping equipment.

By the end of our trip, the Mach-E seemed to know my driving inside and out. We arrived back in the city with 76 miles (122km) of range, a full 20 miles (32km) more than estimated when we set out.

We can’t all rely on the kindness of farmers to get us out of charging binds forever. So if EVs really are the path forward, they’ll require adjusting our habits, changing our expectations, and learning to plan ahead.

Nobody ever said saving the planet would come without trade-offs.