Our Last Ford F-150 Lightning EV Pickup Road Trip Was a Nightmare

Our Last Ford F-150 Lightning EV Pickup Road Trip Was a Nightmare

I’ve learned quite a few things driving MotorTrend‘s owned 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat extended range pickup for the past year. For starters, my ABCs: Always Be Charging. If there’s an open plug nearby, our Lightning is hooked to it so as to not waste the downtime. Lesson two: As my colleagues running our 2023 F-150 Lightning XLT in Detroit have learned, speed matters, and 70 mph is the frustratingly low sweet spot between maximum speed and range. And lastly, the 20 minutes or so spent route planning via the FordPass app and third-party sources like PlugShare can save at least twice that time on a road trip. Unfortunately, that last one went out the window when my wife and I got the call Labor Day afternoon about a family emergency nearly 600 miles away. Without hesitation, we grabbed our suitcases, stuffed them with clothes, and piled into the Lightning. That’s where things almost immediately went awry.

All Downhill From Here

Despite the expected afternoon traffic, the trip started innocently enough. Comfortable with a 93 percent charge and 287 miles of range (see those ABCs), I tapped our destination into the navigation, and the onboard route planner spit back the expected route up I-5 with just two charging stops of 45 minutes each planned, one in Harris Ranch 226 miles north and the other just north of Sacramento. This seemed ambitious given our Lightning had crested 200 miles on a charge exactly twice up until this point. (That’s not a typo. EPA-rated for 320 miles, we managed just 240 on our official Road-Trip Range test, one of the high-water marks.) But with family in need, I quashed that thought. Ford touts its third-party owned and operated Blue Oval Charging Network as “North America’s largest charging network,” and the route planner undoubtedly has access to real-time powertrain data I’m not privy too. We pointed the Lightning north, parked Blue Cruise at 70 mph, and started eating up the miles.

Things were looking promising schedule-wise as we passed Kettlemen City, a hair under 200 miles and just over four hours into the trip. We seriously considered stopping, as the Electrify America station in town sports 10 towers, but figuring the Ford knew more about their real-time availability than we did (and averaging a comfortable 2.2 miles per kWh), we pressed on. Besides, it was only an extra 30 miles to the Electrify America station the Lightning picked out for us at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, a popular stopover almost exactly halfway between Los Angeles and Sacramento. That would turn out to be a fateful decision.

We pulled off I-5 with 37 miles of range and a 14 percent charge, navigated through the 98 Tesla Supercharger stalls, dodged the holiday crowds stopping for dinner, and found the distinctive green glow of Harris Ranch’s six Electrify America towers. Two were occupied by charging vehicles, one was completely offline with its screen dark, and one showed a “Charger Unavailable!” message, but the final two appeared to be online. We plugged into the first open tower, yet despite futzing with the connector a few minutes, the charging session wouldn’t start. I reached over to grab the cable from the adjacent charger to try that. No dice.

A line was forming up now, and the two vehicles fortunate enough to actually be charging were nowhere near charged, so I called Electrify America. In the past, I’ve had luck getting the company to remotely reset its chargers to get a charge session going. After waiting on hold for about 10 minutes, I finally got an agent on the line and explained the issue. She told me that the Harris Ranch chargers were “tagged for maintenance” and apologized for the trouble. She tried a reset, but the four broken towers were unresponsive.

My best bet, she said, would be to turn tail and double back 45 minutes and 30 miles to Kettlemen City, where the chargers were online. Given our low state of charge, complete lack of faith in Electrify America, and the urgent need to get to my family north, I opted to try plan B. Across the freeway overpass sat three significantly slower ChargePoint DC fast chargers, which I learned about when editorial director Ed Loh was also let down at this very same Electrify America station in our long-term Volkswagen ID4 back in the spring.

The ChargePoint app said there was one tower open, so we loaded back up, raced past the growing line of cars waiting to charge, and crossed the freeway. I slipped our massive Lightning in between a charging Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt and plugged in. Nothing. This charger was down, too. Defeated, demoralized, and out of options, we ran back to the busted Electrify America chargers and hopped in line behind a BMW i4. While we waited for a charging ID4 to finish up (the other working tower had since gone offline), I tried to see if its owner might allow us to cut in front of him. “We’ve all got places to go, too,” he said. Fair.

So we waited. The unsympathetic i4 owner got on the charger about 20 minutes later, and a long line of other EVs piled up behind me. We waited some more. The 350-kW tower that was working, it seems, just barely met that definition. Nearly two agonizing hours later, I was finally able to get our Ford plugged in and charging at the absurdly low rate of just 33 kW. It was now almost 8 p.m., and our midnight arrival now looked more like 2 a.m.

After nearly an hour on the charger and without much to show for it—64 percent state of charge and just 182 miles of range—we cut our losses and planned on stopping again at another Electrify America station the route planner added for us, 100 miles up the road. Once there, we charger surfed to find a working one (the first 350-kW tower we plugged into was barely pushing 40 kW) and watched our estimated arrival time creep up to past 3 a.m.

We were tired and angry. Angry at the situation. Angry at Electrify America for being so historically and uniquely awful at its one job. Angry at the Ford Nav system for sending us to a charging station that, given available data, it could have known was, at best, a huge gamble on a holiday weekend.

We spent 25 minutes charging back up to 64 percent and weighing our options. We could keep pushing at this glacial pace, arriving just before dawn. Or we could find a hotel along the route with a charger, grab a couple hours of sleep, and plan on arriving at sun-up. Option two felt smarter given our frayed nerves and heavy eyes. We found a hotel along I-5 about 100 miles north in Sacramento with multiple 50-kW DC fast chargers on site. That well-located charger would give us the chance to grab a couple hours of sleep, wake up with a full charge, and end this nightmare of a road trip with a final 160-mile pre-dawn blast.

Was the return trip any better?

Roughly a week later, as our family emergency stabilized, my wife and I made plans to return to Los Angeles. I vowed not to make the same mistake twice, so the day before we left, I spent about an hour futzing with PlugShare and the FordPass app’s route planner for the return trip, only selecting three chargers with good ratings and amenities in the former and loading them into the latter for the return journey.

Starting with the battery charged to 100 percent and the range meter reading an ever-optimistic 324 miles (as we’ve covered previously, Ford thought it would be a good idea for the Lightning to display best-case EPA-rated range when charged above 80 percent on either a Level 1 or 2 charger), we cued up our preplanned FordPass route in the Lightning. Before we even pulled out of the driveway, our range meter dropped down to 200 miles, and “Range Revised Due to Route” flashed on the instrument cluster. Adding insult to injury, the F-150 completely changed our charge strategy: The Lightning now wanted us to stop four times on the return trip and at different chargers than those I’d already picked, including once at Harris Ranch again. Fool me once.

My wife and I spent 10 minutes swapping out the chargers for our initial choices and hit the road for home. Despite the early major hiccup, the trip back was essentially uneventful. Some chargers worked, some didn’t, though thankfully the stations I picked were relatively healthy with minimal waiting.

Given our average consumption of about 2.9 miles per kWh, we might have been able to skip a charge stop. The problem was we had no way of accurately estimating our range. The range readout never updated its initial pessimistic estimate, resulting in us pulling up to each of our three charging stations with an average of 39 percent charge remaining. This despite the Lightning’s onboard trip planner routinely estimating we’d pull up to our stops with between 10 and 20 percent charge remaining. Frustrating, but at least we were sure not to get stranded again.

I asked my wife if she had any thoughts on our inglorious adventure. “When you’re dealing with a family emergency, the last thing you should have to worry about is your relatively new vehicle,” she said. She’s right.

There are undoubtedly some inherent limitations in EVs when it comes to getting places with urgency, and neither Electrify America nor Ford made things any better. The former’s abhorrent reputation has chased nearly every automaker into the arms of the rival Tesla Supercharger network. The latter could’ve done much to mitigate Electrify America’s issues with smarter software programing, but it’s a year into our electric pickup’s stay, and Ford hasn’t yet. We’ll eventually get to the point where traveling with an EV is as easy as it is with a gas-powered vehicle, but trips like this are reminders that huge growing pains remain, largely with the state of the infrastructure still incapable of supporting the growing EV marketplace.

More On Our Long-Term 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat:

MotorTrend’s 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat Extended Range  
SERVICE LIFE 12 mo/18,501 mi
BASE/AS TESTED PRICE $69,269/$80,889
OPTIONS Equipment Group 511A ($10,000: extended-range battery, Blue Cruise, Tow Technology package, twin-panel moonroof), Max Tow package ($825: onboard scales with Smart Hitch, integrated trailer brake controller); Toughbed spray-in bedliner ($595); tray-style floor liner with carpeted mats ($200)
EPA CTY/HWY/CMB FUEL ECON; CMB RANGE 78/63/70 mpg-e; 320 miles
AVERAGE MILES/KWH 2.0 mi/kWh
ENERGY COST PER MILE $0.21
MAINTENANCE AND WEAR $53.28 (3/23: windshield washer fluid, $3.28; 4/23: tire rotation and inspection for first service, $50)
DAMAGES $199.95 (4/23: four-wheel alignment after off-roading, $199.95)
DAYS OUT OF SERVICE/WITHOUT LOANER 2/0
DELIGHTS Foldout center console table is a great place for an impromptu picnic.
ANNOYANCES Given its size it can be hard to park the Lightning at some EV chargers.
RECALLS 1: (NHTSA Recall 23V418: Microscopic cracks may form in the rear light bar causing the reverse lamps to fail; fix to be implemented by the fourth quarter of 2023. )

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