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Image credit: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Driving an EV means changing the way you think about “refueling”

Sorry, but you’re going to need to use an app.
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Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

You've finally taken the EV plunge. You're "one of the good ones," you think to yourself. It's all about reducing your impact on the planet and moving further away from fossil fuels. Here's to a cleaner, brighter tomorrow and maybe saving a few bucks on gas.

Then you pull up to your first charging station and you realize that shiny future is kind of a pain in the ass. At least initially.

Unlike your local gas station where you pull up, swipe your credit card and fill your tank, some EV charging stations will typically have users download an app, sign up for a service, then pay. Or you can call the number on the charger and talk to a customer service rep into sharing the electricity flowing to your new whip. During my time reviewing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles I've seen the same scenario play out over and over again. A person pulls up to a station, looks at the instructions, curses under their breath and pulls out their phone. Five minutes later they start charging.

Before you close the order tab for your new Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf or other EV, it's important to realize that while it's initially weird to use an app to charge a car when the gas station just wants your credit card number, when you go electric you're entering an entirely new way of interacting with your car.

For example, you can't just hook your gas car up to a petrol pump at home and wake up to a full tank. With an EV, you just plug it into the wall. It's also unlikely that your employer will top off your car while you're doing whatever it is you do. Again, all you need is an outlet or dedicated charger near a parking spot. Oh, and your boss' permission.

One of the companies putting up stations to keep your EV topped off, ChargePoint notes that 80 percent of charging is done at home and at work. Charging stations are more of a destination than a necessity for those with a garage just tooling about town or commuting. But there are times when you need or just want to charge while out in the world.

If you want to use one of ChargePoint's stations you can either download the app and register or call customer support and they'll charge your card and start the process. The first time, sure it's a pain, but after that, you're going to want to use that app to find places to get juiced up.

More and more of these stations are in retail parking lots. Target, Whole Foods, Walmart and a host of malls are now seeing EV owners as customers that show up and stick around longer than maybe they would have in the past because they can charge up the cars of those patrons.

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There are a finite amount of spaces at those locations. That's where the apps for these stations come into play. At a gas station, a car might occupy a pump for five to 10 minutes. At the mall, a vehicle could be in a stall sucking down electrons for hours. Pulling up the app from charge-station companies like ChargePoint, EVgo and Blink can tell a driver what spots are available.

It's not perfect; someone could swoop in and take your spot before you get there, but it's better than going in totally blind.

While ChargePoint and Blink don't offer a quick credit-card way to charge a car, EVgo does, and it's not that popular. "A majority of our drivers currently use the RFID card, a smaller but growing portion use the app and very-low-single-digits use a credit card." Jonathan Levy EVgo vice president of strategic initiatives told Engadget.

Those RFID car users are probably using the app to find stations, then doing a quick swipe to get the charging started.

Of course, there's still the issue of having to sign up for multiple accounts to make sure you're good to go, no matter what service you end up using. That's still a pain. Maybe in the future, there will be industry interoperability. You could potentially sign up for one service and still charge using the station of another.

So, when you take delivery of that new EV, pull your phone and start setting up accounts. Do it before you hit up the location charging spot. Because sometimes living on the cutting edge of technology can be frustrating, but once you've figured it out, you're going to be way happier about your new greener lifestyle.

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