Can an F-150 Lightning really road trip?

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Tom
Update by Tom Suddard to the Ford F-150 Lightning XLT project car
Apr 23, 2024 | ev, F-150 Lightning

We've spent nearly a year and nearly 20,000 miles driving our electric Ford F-150 Lightning, an experience we've documented in real-time on our Builds and Projects forum and are now summarizing in these project car updates. 

The number one comment we get? Always, without fail, boils down to a simple statement: That will never work for long trips.

Or will it? America's EV charging infrastructure has been rapidly growing, both in station number and location and in reliability. How do we know? Because we've been there every step of the way. Here's a sampling of our posts showing the past year of progress, though we've been engaging with the infrastructure regularly since 2017 in various cars. 

One caveat before we begin: Like most EV owners, we rarely use public charging. Instead, we normally charge the truck at home, so it's full every morning when we walk outside. That's our F-150's killer app: Every local trip, meaning trips shorter than about 300 miles, don't involve any stops or any public charging. Instead, refueling is something that happens cheaply and automatically as we sleep. Fuel stops have been completely removed from our day-to-day lives. 

Here's our summary of a July 2023 roadtrip from Texas to Florida, immediately after purchasing the truck:

I took the lightning on a worst-case scenario for EVs: An 1150-mile all-highway trip across a part of the country that has some of the least-developed charging infrastructure anywhere. 

And, honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal. But it could have been a total non-issue with a few tweaks.

In total, I spent $88 and 4.08 hours charging across two days and 1150 miles. Honestly, I'd struggle to do this drive without four hours of stops in a gas truck, anyway. I charged five times total, but one of these was a false start at a slow charger, and I left after a few minutes. So that's two charging stops per day. Note that I'm not counting the slow charge to 75% I took at the hotel—it was free and I would have parked at the hotel overnight, anyway.

First, let's talk charger locations: The furthest I traveled off the highway for a charger was 12 miles. But that's only because my preferred charger (.7 miles off the highway) was broken, and the one I ended up at was just off a different highway. Every other charger was so close to the highway, I could see them while taking the exit. Most chargers are in a Walmart parking lot, which meant it was easy to find food/restrooms/etc. while waiting.

Second, let's talk charging time: The longest I charged was 1 hour 16 minutes. The second longest was 1 hour 5 minutes. These stops could have been way shorter, as I spent a disproportionate amount of time charging from 80% full to 90% full. But I had to charge all the way in order to bridge broken chargers along the route. In a world with reliable chargers, I could have saved about an hour from my trip. And a 45-minute charge also meshes better with how long of a break I like to take twice a day.

Third, let's talk charger reliability: Every single charger I stopped at had multiple broken stations, and all but one delivered less than the promised power. And this was the result with homework—there's an app for charger reviews called PlugShare that's basically charge yelp, and I used it to avoid the worst-reviewed stations along the route. When you put a destination into the truck's nav system, it automatically forecasts battery usage along the route, then picks appropriate chargers and adds them as stops. But it doesn't really read the charger reviews (just an average of the score), so the truck's recommendations would have been far slower. If most of the chargers that currently exist actually worked, then this trip would have been a total non-issue.

So what's my verdict? Honestly: Not that big of a deal. Electrify America's stations are hot garbage, but at the end of the day I did a massive trip in a really inefficient EV without significant hassle. I'm pretty impressed with how far we've come since my Nissan LEAF.

Not bad, but definitely room for improvement. Here's our next trip, from August 2023:

I'll write more once the trip is over, but a quick update: I added 700 miles to the Lightning's odometer between Tuesday night and Wednesday night, and will hopefully add another 400 today. No, we're not evacuating for the storm: we're headed to the Lime Rock Historics!

Unlike my trip across I-10 a few months ago, this one has so far been a breeze. Almost every single charger is working as intended, so charge stops are basically a non-issue. This is a complete 180 from last time when every station had multiple broken chargers.

My favorite stop, next to I-95 somewhere in South Carolina:

And, after a month bouncing around the Northeast in our truck, the trip from from September 2023:

We're back on the road, finally headed home to Florida.

We've got a charging stop between New York and our stop in DC for the night, and I realized I don't think I've showed the Nav screen yet. Basically, put in your destination and it figures out how much power it will take, plans charging stops, and tells you when, where and how long to stop. This is our view while charging:

So Nicole and I got home Monday night, after driving from Washington, D.C. home to Daytona Beach, Florida in one day. We didn't start with a full charge, as there was only a wall outlet to plug into overnight. Total distance was just under 800 miles, and the truck was fully loaded in the frunk, cab and bed, though not towing anything.

The drive took us just under 15 hours, but would have been 14.5 if it wasn't for absolutely terrible weather/traffic for the last 50 miles. We pretty much only stopped for charging, with a few non-charging rest areas thrown in when necessary. Google Maps says that it's 11 hours without any stops at all, but we've never managed to do it in less than 12-13 in gas cars once traffic/bathroom breaks/meals are factored in. So there's a slight time penalty with an electric truck. Total cost for this 800 mile drive was $139.98, which was all expensive public charging except for the $13.69 recharge once we arrived at home. That makes our cost per mile $0.174975

The only time we couldn't pull right up and plug in happened at one EA charger where half the stalls were broken and the other half were occupied, costing us about 20 minutes. And every Electrify America charger put out less power than advertised, usually by 20-75%. But overall, every charger worked and we arrived home when the truck estimated we would after planning its stops.

Yesterday's national average gas price for regular was $3.838, so this trip would have cost $255.87 in fuel in my old F-250. Or, to think about it another way, our cost was the same as road-tripping in a truck that gets 21.93 mpg. If we'd been able to start with a full charge of cheap house electricity, this equivalent fuel mileage would jump to 27.9 mpg. I guess that means I need to wire in a 240v outlet at my sister-in-law's house….

This was the final leg of a 3.5-week-long road trip that took us across the Northeast and added more than 4000 miles to the truck's odometer, plus another 600 miles added to a borrowed Lucid EV. And, overall, I absolutely love the truck. EV infrastructure is growing rapidly, and every single network except Electrify America seems to be building fast, reliable chargers, and doing it quickly. And after four fill-ups at Tesla Superchargers, I'm really excited for next year's opening of the Tesla network to the rest of us. We visited areas as urban as downtown D.C. and NYC, and as rural as upstate New York. The vast majority of our charging happened at public DC fast chargers, but we also took advantage of level 2 chargers and home outlets when available, mostly because I'm cheap and love free electricity.

The tech is not there yet for somebody who's driving 800 miles every day. But even for me, who roadtrips a lot, I believe the upside (11 months of incredibly cheap, incredibly convenient fuel at home) outweighs the downside (one month of public charging on a roadtrip). Plus, it's hard to overstate how much faster, quieter, and just plain better this drives than a new F-150 with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost or the Coyote.

And one more note: After parking the truck in my driveway with an empty tank at 10pm, I walked outside the next morning to run errands and it was full. I still don't understand why this feature isn't front and center in every single EV commercial.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions, but I figure documenting all this might be helpful as we go through a rather interesting time in car technology. And if nothing else, maybe we'll read this again in 10 years and say "driving an electric truck down I-95 really warranted a whole post and math and stuff? Why?"

Then, a trip from Florida, through rural Kentucky and back in October 2023:

I'm finally headed home after about 2000 miles of leading Classic Motorsports Road Tours through rural Kentucky. Over those miles, I stopped to charge zero times and I spent $0 on charging. During past tours in the GTI, I would have to stop for gas daily in order to keep driving. This time, the truck was full every morning when I walked outside. Success!




  

Then I hit the road home through Great Smoky Mountains National park. Here's a shot from my lunch stop and charge in Cherokee, NC:



I stopped in Atlanta to grab our empty open trailer for the final leg home. After a free charge overnight at the hotel, I'm now charging at the halfway point. Range in this configuration is about 200-250 miles. 

 

It's been fascinating watching the pace of the nation's CCS fast-charging infrastructure expand as we've road-tripped our truck. However, there's a caveat here: Tesla has had a huge, reliable, incredibly good and incredibly far-reaching fast charging network for years. And in every single non-Tesla EV review, ours included, there's a sentence that says something like "Not being able to use Tesla's perfect network is this car's Achilles' heel."

Indeed, every challenge we've had with public charging would have been solved if we'd just been using Tesla's Supercharger network. Which is why we're very excited about a gift from Ford that just arrived in the mail:

 

 

That's right: Ford is sending free Tesla adapters to every Lightning owner, us included, and we've already confirmed it works at a local Supercharger. Road trips have always been possible in our truck. But now, with Tesla's network supporting us? They just got easy. Ford's Nav system automatically adds Superchargers to routes now, too.

 

"WHAT ABOUT TOWING! TALK ABOUT TOWING!"

Don't worry—we've towed a few thousand miles with our Lightning, too, and have much to say on that topic. Long story short: Don't believe everything you see on the internet. But we'll cover that in the next update. 

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Comments
deaconblue
deaconblue Reader
4/23/24 2:17 p.m.

Yes there is a Tesla SC station two exits down the freeway from my exit.  Yes you can go across country with the Ford Lighting.  But no you can't get to the cabin or around much in the UP of Michigan with it, let alone if its towing a trailer.  Back to long time plugged in with Level 2 charging at best.  IMNSHO, I still think the RamCharger will be a more versatile option for when towing anywhere off the interstate system vs the Lighting, Rivian R1T or the Cybertruck. As always, YMMV.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Publisher
4/23/24 2:26 p.m.

Yes; definitely fewer charging options in the UP. 

Out of curiosity, roughly where's your cabin? Sounds like a fun challenge to figure out how to get there, and it seems like it would be hard to get further than 50 miles from a fast charging station.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
4/23/24 3:52 p.m.

I'm still impressed this truck can pull a '74 Caddy with a stuck rear brake drum out of a garage with no problem. laugh

Spearfishin
Spearfishin Reader
4/23/24 5:16 p.m.

I like it. I think it feels more limiting than it actually is. I keep thinking that me and my dad couldn't have towed my new boat back from Florida to VA in one day like we did with my gas F150 (getting absolutely garbage fuel mileage the whole way), but that's basically the more extreme version of the trade-off you highlighted...I could be getting much better, quieter, more powerful usage out of my "normal" day to day, and I'd just have to drive a different truck on the once a year, gotta drag a heavy load, a long ways, in a short time, trip.

racerfink
racerfink UberDork
4/23/24 5:43 p.m.
Tom Suddard said:

Yes; definitely fewer charging options in the UP. 

Out of curiosity, roughly where's your cabin? Sounds like a fun challenge to figure out how to get there, and it seems like it would be hard to get further than 50 miles from a fast charging station.

So, take three hours out of his day to go charge, when he could be spending it at the cabin?  LOL.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Publisher
4/23/24 6:22 p.m.

Why wouldn't he just charge at the cabin, assuming it has electricity?

Until a few years ago, the family had a cabin in the Ocala National Forest. It was equally remote.

Getting gas was a 20-minute drive. Charging my EV didn't require leaving the property. 

sleepyhead the buffalo
sleepyhead the buffalo GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
4/23/24 6:40 p.m.

looks like the bottom of the market is around $36k right now?

I'll be curious to see how well the range holds up.  picking up a used lightning in a couple years might be the right replacement for the Leaf we bought from you.  and maybe give me the ability to start towing a project car around.

keep up the reports/articles!

deaconblue
deaconblue Reader
4/24/24 12:14 a.m.

Tom - the cabin is on the lakes near Curtis MI.  When not relaxing we use the cabin as a base camp for day trips all over the UP for a three week period in September.  The issue in the UP is that the drive from one spot to another is always at least 1 hour, sometimes 2 or even 4 hrs - each way.  Plus even gas stations are not on every corner in the UP, just like in a whole lot of other rural areas in the US. 

Here is my real issue with any / all EVs right now.  With my current ride (V6 AWD Durango), which gets on average 20 mpg in mixed use city/highway driving (when not pulling a trailer of course) and it has a 24.6 gallon tank.  At just about any gasoline station pump anywhere, I can add up to about 500 miles of driving range in well under 10 minutes.  And yes, adding 100 miles of range via a Jerry can is a bit slower of a process.  Now how much driving range can you add to the Lightning at a Tesla supercharge in that same 10 minute period, if all the conditions are right?

The cabin(s) typically have a 60 Amp service, so unless I want to unplug the electric stove (if so equipped), the best bet of finding access to a 240 volt outlet to plug-in say a portable Level 2 charger is at an RV camp ground.  

I am not saying taking our trip to the cabin in the Lightning is impossible, just that it would involve so much "wasted" time recharging the Lightning as to make the whole trip basically impractical.  Until automakers switch to say solid state sodium batteries and we have widely available 800 volt charging architecture darn near everywhere, I think our best most practical use vehicles will be either a plug-in or series hybrids, not pure EV's. That is why I really like the idea of the RamCharger for a pickup truck / SUV.

You can take all this along with $1 and you may still be able to get a senior coffee at McDonald's.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/24/24 1:07 a.m.
deaconblue said:

Now how much driving range can you add to the Lightning at a Tesla supercharge in that same 10 minute period, if all the conditions are right?

The Lightning is rated at 49 kwh/100 miles. Tom's seeing charging rates of 140-160 kw IIRC, so let's average that to 150 kw. 10 minutes would get you 25 kWh, or about 50 miles of range.

But thinking of a fuel stop as a standalone thing is what you need to change. The thing to do is to charge the vehicle when you're not driving it. Gonna stop for lunch? That's when you plug in the truck. Charging overnight but you don't have enough power to run the stove and the charger? Plug in the truck before you go to bed and you're not cooking, it'll be full in the morning - and that's roughly 230 miles of range, or about 4 hours of driving at 50 mph.

And of course, when you're not blasting around in the woods, you're not making regular stops at gas stations if you can charge at home. All those 10 minute stops you make every few days or weeks disappear in daily use. That's the tradeoff for maybe having to stop a little longer on a road trip.

Not saying it's always possible in places with little to no infrastructure or population. Just saying that you have to look at it a little differently instead of "here is how I always do it, it is the only way it can be done".

The Ram is an interesting one. I think they've balanced the ICE and battery size incorrectly - if you're going to carry around that whole ICE setup, the vehicle should use it most of the time because it's just wasted money otherwise. Plug-in hybids have this fundamental problem, I think mild hybrids make more sense. Don't pay for a largeish battery just to drag around a spare engine. Especially for sustained heavy use like towing a trailer, when you're going to exhaust the battery and drive on the ICE until you stop to charge.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Publisher
4/24/24 6:10 a.m.

Well said, Keith. Though a full charge is more like 300-320 miles on country roads.

Rather than plug in the truck before bed, just plug it in whenever and tell it "don't charge from 5-9pm (or whenever you're often using the stove) " then it will wait until then to start pulling power. 

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